Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 13, 2007

President Karzai seeks out former Taliban officials for mediation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked a group of former Taliban officials to mediate with the rebels to seek peace and a solution for Afghanistan, Reuters reported Thursday.

The move comes in response to growing criticism of Karzai, as five years into the war, the Taliban are considered stronger than ever.

The Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan and a former deputy minister, Abdul Salam Zaeef, told Reuters that he and other former Taliban officials need foreign support as insurance that they will be safe if their speak with the Taliban. However they realize that mediation is necessary. “Using guns and aircraft and... killing is not good for Afghanistan, it’s not bringing pleasure for the people,” Zaeef said.

Zaeef also said that is important that Afghans have a sense of “the purpose of the Americans. What do they want? What are they doing here? How long will they be here in Afghanistan?” This will prevent Afghans from becoming more upset by foreign policy and turning to the Taliban for a quick solution to their daily troubles.

For the full article, click here.

Rogue Afghan security forces have become a larger problem

Counterinsurgency strategy calls for backfilling foreign troops with domestic forces, but this hasn’t been adequately applied in Afghanistan, according to an article in today’s Globe and Mail. According to police records and locals in and around Kandahar, it seems that this strategy hasn’t had the desired effect though, as rogue security forces – known locally as topokan or gun lords – have infiltrated military brigades and are gaining influence.

Abdul Rahman, who lives near Kandahar, relates that he had felt confident a few months ago that life was improving under the protection of Canadian troops, but after their withdrawal he is struggling to sleep at night.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt offended by Amnesty’s report on their record on torture and illegal detention.

Egypt’s foreign ministry came out with a clear statement rejecting Amnesty International’s critical report, released this Wednesday, believing it to be both inaccurate and unfair, BBC News reports today.

The foreign ministry said Egypt has made “real and continuous achievements in the field of human rights.” However they do acknowledge that since 2001, the U.S. has transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt as part of the “war on terror.”

For the full article, click here.

U.N. bows to Turkish objections to genocide reference in new exhibit

Turkish officials demanded and succeeded in blocking this week’s opening of a United Nations exhibit commemorating the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Turkey objected to references in the exhibit mentioning the Armenian genocide in Turkey during World War I. The New York Times takes Ankara to task for these moves in an editorial today.

Turkey has always vehemently denied claims and repressed discussion of the Armenian genocide, in which Turkish nationalists brutally murdered 1.5 million Armenians, the editorial says. The Times goes on to say that it is also disappointing that the U.N. granted Turkey their wish and did not fulfill their role as a leading voice against genocide.

Mass grave revealed in northeast Afghanistan

A mass grave holding the bodies of Afghan victims murdered by officials of the pro-communist government that came to power in 1978 was found in a desert just outside Faizabad in northeast Afghanistan, Reuters reported Thursday.

Bone fragments were discovered during the initial stages of building new residential buildings. Sibghatullah Khaksari, the head of a local government agency, told Reuters that they have dug out 400 bodies, mostly men, so far, but fear there could be more victims. After as many bodies as possible have been identified authorities plan to rebury the remains and erect a monument for remembrance.

For the full article, click here

Rights group says Egypt a center for torture

Amnesty International recently released a critical report on Egypt’s record on torture and illegal detention, which takes the country to task for not abiding by international human rights standards, BBC News reported Wednesday.
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International in the United Kingdom, said that there is evidence of “Egypt being a destination of choice for third-party or contracted out torture in the ‘war on terror.’”
The U.S. has transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt as part of the “war on terror” since 2001.
The report details several individual cases of recent violations, and gives specific recommendations, including calling on the Egyptian government to investigate allegations of abuse and publicly condemn torture and other ill-treatment.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Iran sees feminists as weapon against the government

The Iranian government claims that Western countries are training feminists in order to foment a revolution in Iran, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The government claims that some women are being take to other countries and are being trained in soft subversion techniques in order to rise up and topple the governmen t in a manner similar to the fall of some of the communist governments in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, two women arrested while collecting signatures for a campaign aimed at prohibiting discrimination may be released if certain conditions are met, an Iranian official said Tuesday. Chief among these conditions is the appointment of a guardian for each woman to ensure that they will attend any further interrogations or trials.

To read this article, click here.

Baghdad offering compensation for displaced to return home

Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry is offering 1 million Iraqi dinars (U.S. $800) to each displaced family in Baghdad willing to return to their original home, according to an IRIN report today. Approximately 500,000 individuals throughout Iraq have been displaced since the Samarra bombings in February 2006. Of those, 180,000 have fled Baghdad. Since the U.S. troop surge began in Baghdad in February, about 10,000 individuals have returned to their homes in the city.

Iraq's central government has implemented a 15 day timeframe in the capital for those occupying homes of the displaced to return the property to the rightful owners or provide proof of permission to be there. Many Iraqis, however, may not trust the government to actually protect them from the sectarian violence if they return to their homes. One Baghdad-based political analyst summed up this sentiment: “The government is unable to protect its key offices and almost 90% of Baghdad areas, how can it offer protection to the thousands of families who have left their houses? It has to put an army or police check-point in each street…This will not succeed. The government needs to get to the root of the problem, which is not a military one; it’s about bringing this society together again renouncing all their sectarian differences.”

For the full article, click here.

HRW condemns Vietnamese government

Human Rights Watch last week issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese government to stop the persecution of citizens attempting to exercise their freedoms.

Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy group that is now over a year old, has been the prime target in the government’s ongoing crackdown on dissidents. Many of the founding members of the group have been arrested, sentenced, harassed, and interrogated. Family members of group members have also been harassed.

Originally, the group had 100 signatures on its manifesto, but this number rose to over 2,000 in August of last year. Five of the original signatories were sentenced to prison, though some had their sentences were later suspended. Father Nguyen Van Ly has been the most recently imprisoned, receiving a sentence of eight years in prison. Additionally, Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh were sentenced, while Le Thi Le Hang and Hoang Thi Anh Dao received suspended sentences.

Two prominent human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, are still in jail awaiting charges, while two other lawyers, Le Quoc Quan and Tran Thuy Trang, are missing after their arrests. Their families have been forbidden from talking about the case.

In addition to the members of Bloc 8406, the government has also persecuted Christian Montagnards and members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. In the Central Highlands, more than 350 Montagnards remain in prison for practicing their faith or taking part in peaceful movements for land reform and increased religious freedom.

To read the report, click here.

Asylum seekers sought by Cambodia and Viet Nam

Twenty-five Montagnard asylum seekers hiding in the jungles of Cambodia are being sought by Cambodian police with the help of Vietnamese agents, The Cambodia Daily reported Wednesday. The non-governmental organization Adhoc is worried that the individuals will be arrested and deported, as was reportedly the case last month with 10 other Montagnards.

The provincial police chief for Ratanakkiri, Ray Rai, claims the extra police in the region are only there for extra security during the Khmer New Year.

Kurdistan calls for dialogue with Turkey

Before a group of Turkish journalists, Qubad Talabany, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the U.S., called for dialogue between the KRG and Turkey, Today’s Zaman reported. Tensions between the two governments have risen recently over the Kurdistan Worker’s Party’s (PKK) actions in southeast Turkey. The upcoming Kirkuk referendum has also raised concerns that regional powers may attempt to intervene in the process, as indicated by recent remarks of governmental officials on both sides.

“If we don’t sit down and speak to each other as Turks and Kurds we will never be able to resolve the PKK problem, the Kirkuk problem, nor our future strategic problems that may lie ahead,” Talabany said. “All we seek is a reciprocation of our affection, reciprocation of that brotherly relationship where Turkey continues to help Kurdistan’s economic development. Hundreds of Turkish companies have been party to Kurdistan’s development. We have seen what a good and solid relationship can do for our economy and yours. ”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

UNDP roundtable on harmonizing diplomacy and development in at-risk regions

At a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) roundtable in Washington today, two experts on post-conflict reconstruction gave their take on how diplomacy and development should be most effectively linked in regions that have been recently affected by, or may be prone to conflict.

Ambassador John Herbst, the coordinator for the U.S. State Department’s Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), which helps to mobilize American civilian expertise to nations in crisis, addressed some of the achievements that his office has garnered since its inception in 2004 in spite of admitted funding constraints. Herbst noted that S/CRS is the only State Department presence in Darfur, and employees there are currently working with rebel leaders to sign on to a needed peace agreement. In Chad, S/CRS is conducting refugee assistance interventions, and in Haiti employees on the ground are helping to reintroduce a police presence into the largely-lawless Cite Solei. Herbst went on to extoll the virtues of civilian engagement in post-conflict and at-risk regions, calling these types of interventions “the diplomacy of the future” and adding that the establishment of a U.S. civilian reserve corps would also be of much benefit.

Ben Slay, the director of UNDP’s Regional Centre in Bratislava, also cited specific cases where area-based development has been effective in conflict prevention or post-conflict reconstruction. In south Serbia, $20 million in UNDP-administered aid has helped to improve infrastructure, basic service delivery, education, and political participation in the wake of a conflict in 2000 and 2001 between Yugoslavian forces and Albanian insurgents, Slay said. Additionally, Slay said that the creation of a multi-ethnic police force and the appointment of ethnic Albanians to high-level government positions have helped to placate ethnic tensions in south Serbia. In Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine beset by tensions between ethnic Russians and Crimean Tartars over land and language rights, among other issues, Slay detailed effective integrated development initiatives that have focused on equitable land distribution and basic service access (notably to water and sewage), improved job creation, and enhanced cooperation between the government and citizens. Slay said that challenges remain, though. These include increasing inter-agency collaboration among government ministries, securing higher levels of private investment, and improving access to credit and legal safeguards for entrepreneurs active in the informal sector.

As a final note Slay added that, in general, post-conflict development aid tends to be more effective if it is granted in incremental and manageable allotments, as too much at once can be overwhelming and lead to chaotic reconstruction efforts.

A stepping-stone for equality in Egypt

At a ceremony at the High Court building in Cairo on Tuesday, 30 Egyptian women were sworn in as judges, a move that drew that ire of some conservative Egyptians who argued that the appointments were against Islamic law, Reuters reported the next day.

President Hoshi Mubarak first appointed a woman judge in 2003 – a move which also drew criticism and debate in the Egyptian media – and while a senior Egyptian judge argued that the latest appointments were simply a calculated display mean to appease the West, the new appointments should be seen as stepping-stones for the promotion of women’s rights in a male-dominated society.

One of the new judges, Eman el-Imam, said: “I am so happy and proud. God willing, women will be able to show they deserve this.”

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan should be a persistent concern

In a response to Charles Krauthammer’s March 30 Washington Post op-ed, “Which Is ‘The Real War’?” retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones and Harlan Ullman in a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Post question Krauthammer’s opinion that the war in Iraq is strategically more important than the campaign in Afghanistan.

They argue that “defeat in Iraq or Afghanistan would have dire consequences” and affirm the importance of recognizing the pressing need for not only military force in Afghanistan but also political solutions.

Jones and Ullman write: “Where we are losing in Afghanistan is in the battle to create a fair legal and judicial system; overcome rampant corruption; build a police force; control the drug-production epidemic; and bring job opportunities to the Afghan people.”

For the full letter, click here

Medical waste a growing health hazard in Iraq

Iraqi doctors are growing increasingly concerned about the health hazards posed by indisposed medical waste, according to an IRIN report on Sunday. Hospitals no longer have enough fuel to burn their medical waste so they have resorted to leaving it outside the main gate to be collected and deposited in rubbish yards. Security concerns have impacted pick-up schedules though. Last year, at least 15 rubbish collectors were killed doing their jobs.

Whether from the rubbish yard or directly in front of the hospital, some poverty-stricken families have resorted to filtering through the waste to find goods to sell in the market so that they can purchase food. “We find some good metal things which we can sell in the market. Some people buy syringes with needles from us. I don’t think the needles can harm us because they must have been sterilized already,” one woman who sorts through the waste with her two children said.

“Poor people searching for stuff in rubbish that can be recycled or sold do not know what they can contract in dumps. Bacterial or viral infections can be easily contracted from the waste disposed by hospitals and clinics,” a Baghdad specialist in infectious diseases said.

Doctors throughout Iraq are urging their government to take action to properly dispose of the waste and raise awareness of the health hazards associated with waste contact.

For the full article, click here.

Tribal reconciliation alternative in Kurdistan

Tribal influence within Kurdish society is extensive and appears to be superseding courts in northern Iraq, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s “Iraqi Crisis Report” last month. Conflicting parties often meet in a mosque to settle disputes, with financial compensation the frequent outcome. Before closing the case, both parties must sign an agreement stating that the conflicted has been resolved.

The practice has become so commonplace that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have both created social bureaus to deal with these cases on a daily basis. Between 2003 and 2005, the PUK’s social bureau has resolved upwards of 1,800 disputes, 184 of which were murder cases. The social bureaus will not, however, handle cases regarding women, due to the potential social impact, and espionage and theft, since such cases are in the public interest, said Mawlood Talani, head of the PUK’s social bureau.

Some lawyers and judges are concerned with the practice and believe that it undermines the legal system. “If the two main parties don’t want to insult the courts and law, they have to dissolve these bureaus. The parties want to increase the power of the tribes,” said one lawyer. However, such change does not necessarily come easily. “There is no legal system. The nature of Kurdish society is tribal,” a criminal court judge said.

For the full article, click here.