Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 18, 2007

‘Chemical Ali’ trial out of public spotlight

Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein’s cousin and the man known to Iraqis as Chemical Ali, pleaded innocent to any involvement in the Anfal offensives last week, the New York Times reported yesterday. Al-Majid and five other defendants claimed they had nothing to do with chemical attacks, village demolitions, deportations, torture and mass executions of Kurdish men, women and children in the late 1980s, according to the article.

The defendants were compliant, contrary to Saddam Hussein in his recent trial, but stressed that any action they took was the result of direct orders from Baghdad. In addition, al-Majid said he knew nothing about the poisonous gas attacks, even though the prosecution has strong evidence linking him to the campaign.

Several more trials are envisioned, but, Hussein’s execution last year, pressure from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office and the reduction of American financing for the Iraqi High Tribunal makes it hard to anticipate how far the Iraqi government will go in prosecuting former officials.

For the full article, click here.

Detained scholar continues to be denied rights in Iran

The Iranian government recently denied council to detained American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, The Washington Post reported today.

In a request to the Iranian government, Shirin Ebadi, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sought to obtain information on the charges against Esfandiari in order to represent her. Iranian officials have denied the request of council to represent Esfandiari in addition to denying a legal team access to her.

"I've known her for many years, and I know she is innocent," Ebadi said in an interview in Washington before speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations. As the article notes, “In 2000, Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, was imprisoned for her activities in a case in the same notorious jail where Esfandiari is being held.”

Ebadi points out that the Iranian government is breaking its own laws in denying Esfandiari the right to legal council. "Our goal is to inform Iranians and the international community that the government is not respecting its own laws and regulations,” Ebadi said. “Her arrest was illegal."

Haleh Esfandiari is the Middle East Program Director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and has been held without charges since May 8 in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Her detainment comes amidst planned U.S.-Iranian talks on the strategy in Iraq.

For the full article, click here.

For the Wilson Center’s biography of Haleh Esfandiari, click here.


Hearing addresses question: Do negative views of U.S. policy bolster support of extremism in Muslim countries?

Thursday, in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, Dr. Steven Kull, the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), testified on the connection between anti-U.S. policy, attitudes and extremism. Through surveys and focus groups in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan, Kull assessed responses concerning U.S. policy, attitudes and terrorism to test the hypothesis that negative feelings toward the U.S. drive Muslims into the arms of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda.

The results were insightful and contrary to much of the political rhetoric involved with discussions of extremism within Muslim countries. Kull found that the majority of respondents in Egypt (93 percent), Indonesia (66 percent), Morocco (76 percent) and Pakistan (67 percent) had unfavorable views of the current U.S. government, however, only 1 in 7 respondents agreed with the methods and views of al-Qaeda. When asked why anti-U.S. attitudes exist, many pointed to their sheer disappointment with the policy and actions of the current U.S. government, as well as to hypocrisy related to the Middle East, particularly with regards to the America’s handling of the occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Kull also pointed out that a majority of the respondents in the four countries believed that there was common ground by which to establish peace and collaboration with the U.S.

Kull posited advice for future policy decisions by noting that “when the U.S. acts on its own initiative, without multilateral approval, these public feelings are also apt to be highly focused at the U.S. itself.” In closing, Kull added that the best course of action for America should be “to provide reassurance through credible evidence that the U.S. has not targeted Islam itself.’

For information on this hearing, click here.

For detailed data concerning the in-depth surveys conducted by Dr. Kull, click here.

Labels: ,

New Egyptian law forbids Christians who convert to Islam to revert to former faith

An administrative court ruled in favor of the Egyptian Interior minister who refused to issue new identification papers and birth certificates to Christians who had converted to Islam but wished to revert to their original faith, Middle East Times reported on May 11. The law does not bar Muslims who converted to Christianity and then reverted to Islam from getting new identification papers, the article notes.

The Christian clergy and intellectuals said that the law is “contradictory to Egypt’s citizenship laws” and Constitution and called on all Christians to “take a serious stand” against it.

This ruling is further demonstration of the continuing religious intolerance of the Egyptian government. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that only Islam, Christianity and Judaism can be used on official documents, therefore discriminating against followers of the Baha'i faith.

For the full article, click here.

CHRC briefing on American and European approaches to international law, human rights and the threat of international terrorism

A Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on Tuesday focused on American and European approaches to international law, human Rights and the threat of international terrorism. The witnesses present tried to answer the following question: what is the appropriate framework to fight terrorism through a human rights lens?

After acknowledging that there is a legal black hole as far as fighting terrorism is concerned, Mark Agarst, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, stressed that the international legal framework should be focused on collective security. The Honorable Piet de Klerk, Human Rights Ambassador of the Netherlands, noted that fighting terrorism in relation to human rights is a delicate task. Even if governments need to find an answer when society is under attack, it is difficult to deal with terrorism as it does not obey any traditional warfare rules (no identified enemy or boundary), he added. Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First, said that as far as the United States is concerned, its position on international human rights is not clear. The U.S. was a leader in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but at the same time believes it has sufficient domestic legislation to protect human rights within its borders, she said. She compared the U.S. to a “hooligan” who stands outside the “Human Rights Cathedral” and provides support but never enters it.

After stressing that there are no comprehensive conventions on terrorism at a European level, de Klerk said he believed that whatever rules apply to terrorism, they should never “compromise our values.” He repeated several times that human rights should remain a moral authority, and an important element in fighting terrorism. Massimino and Agrast joined de Klerk in his statement. Agarst added that the most hopeful development for human rights is the emergence of sympathetic voices within the professional corps. De Klerk said Europeans and Americans should keep working on the definition of terrorism and acts of terrorism to determine what is punishable. Considering that criminal law is an effective law to combat terrorism, it should be used extensively and more fully, he concluded.

All three witnesses stressed the pressing need to have an appropriate legal framework to fight terrorism. Moreover, they all emphasized that the U.S. should be a strong leader in human rights promotion and that European governments should be pushing the U.S. on this point. Agarst concluded with the statement: "The struggle against terrorism cannot be won if we forfeit basic human rights."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

U.N. to hold Human Rights Council elections

Despite objections by various international human rights organizations, the United Nations Human Rights Council will hold elections for 14 new council members, BBC News reported today.

According to U.N. Watch, the selection of certain controversial countries, such as Angola Belarus, Egypt and Qatar, could damage the council’s credibility on fundamental human rights issues. U.N. Watch and Freedom House classified the controversial candidate countries as "authoritarian regimes with negative UN voting records [on rights issues]... [who] are not qualified to be council members.”

19 human rights groups joined together on Monday to urge the U.N. General Assembly to reject Egypt’s candidacy for a council seat due to a record “full of serious human rights violations that have been practiced widely for long years.”

After the dismantling of the much-maligned Human Rights Commission last June, there is pressure on the Human Rights Council to maintain a better reputation and not admit countries that have poor records on human rights.

For the full article, click here.

To access U.N. information on the Human Rights Council elections, click here.

For various NGO press releases and reports concerning the Human Rights Council elections, visit the following links: HRW Freedom House U.N. Watch (1) (2)


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

U.S.-Viet Nam relations continue to prosper despite crackdown on activists

Despite Washington’s harsh rhetoric in response to several court rulings against democracy activists, the United States remains comfortable with its diplomatic ties with the Vietnamese government, The Straits Times reported today. In June, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet plans to visit North America in a trip that signals warming relations between the two countries.

Expressing displeasure with the ongoing crackdown, the U.S. government issued a statement saying: “Such repression of individuals for their views is anachronistic and out of keeping with Vietnam's desire to prosper, modernize, and take a more prominent role in world affairs.”

As a result of the crackdowns, Triet will not receive some of the amenities associated with state visits. While an Oval Office meeting with President Bush will occur, Triet will not receive a state dinner or the usual stay at the Blair House.

Labels: ,

Committee on Foreign Affairs, MESA Subcommittee Hearing: “Public Diplomacy in the Middle East and South Asia: Is the message getting through?”

State Department officials assess public diplomacy in Middle East and south Asia at congressional hearing

In a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing today, a discussion on the effectiveness of various public diplomacy projects brought together Members of Congress, representatives from the State Department and members of the broadcasting community. The focus of the hearing was to bring forth awareness of the successes and short-comings of public diplomacy within the Middle East and South Asian regions.

Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) opened the hearing by expressing his support for expanded emphasis on public diplomacy efforts and a diminished emphasis on waging war, citing the successful use of diplomatic projects during tense periods with the former Soviet Union. Ackerson, along with Congressman David Scott (D-Georg.), maintained the need for grassroots efforts as a means of positively impact international attitude towards American ideals and values, particularly in the Middle East. An increase in public diplomacy, in coordination with a change in foreign policy, was agreed to be the best course of action in an era in which global public opinion of the U.S. is at its lowest and global terrorist attacks are at their highest.

According to the State Department representatives present, three measures must be achieved in order to meet the demands of a bolstered interagency public diplomacy strategy: further development of education and cultural exchange programs such as the People to People Program and the new addition of the Fulbright Program for Pakistan; expanded communications initiatives that would include more local TV time to facilitate citizen discourse; establishment of a more substantial focus on “Diplomacy of Deeds” to accompany radio and television projects.

The witnesses also expressed their desire to further develop “Interfaith dialogue” programs to stress that the present tension in U.S./Middle East relations is the product of a refusal to tolerate extremism rather than a war against Islam.

For more information regarding this hearing and to access transcripts, click here.

Labels: ,

Crackdown on activists continues in Viet Nam

On Tuesday, a Viet Nam court sentenced a farm worker organizer to five years in prison for subversion against the state, Reuters reported the next day. This is the seventh political activist to be convicted for subversion since March, bringing the total to 20 dissidents detained since November.

Vietnam acted when it did to give it enough time to assess the overseas reaction, especially in the United States,” said Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales in Canberra.

With National Assembly elections falling on May 20 and a trip by President Nguyen Minh Triet to the U.S. slated for the summer, international organizations continue to pressure the government for an explanation as to the series of charged activists.

Martin Gainsborough, a political analyst of Viet Nam at the University of Bristol (UK), classified the arrests and trials as “the reflex action of an authoritarian state ... If you are such a state, you are always afraid things will get out of hand.”

International human rights organizations are also calling for the U.S. government to reinstate Vietnam as a country of particular concern on a U.S. religious rights blacklist due to continuous violations.

For the full article, click here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

U.S. law group hosts discussion on Afghan judicial system

In a luncheon today sponsored by the American Society for International Law’s (ASIL) Women in International Law Interest Group, Joan D. Winship of the International Association of Women Judges spoke concerning the current state of the Afghan judicial system and issues of equality within that system. Despite the dismissal of women judges during the Taliban’s reign, interest has started to peak once again with the hope of increasing awareness among Afghanistan’s youth.

In association with the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) and the Afghan Women Judges Association, the “Legal Awareness Program” has started to gain popularity in high schools around Kabul. Although the program is currently only administered in all-girl schools, the hope is that the desire for equality and rule of law will allow more schools to participate in this program.

The Legal Awareness Program is designed to educate and train high school women and their teachers on the relevance of international human rights law within the new Afghan constitution and judicial system. The program focuses on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in addition to various regional declarations, as a means of confirming the rights of all persons within Afghan society. The essential aspect of this program is to create awareness among a whole generation of young Afghans as to the prospects of an equal and just society that does not discriminate against educated and professional women.

The goal of the Legal Awareness Program is to continue progress in the battle against gender discrimination in Afghan society. Although the number of female judges in Afghanistan rose from 34 in 2004 to 50 in 2007, a female judge has still never been appointed to the country’s Supreme Court – a feat that will hopefully be realized through the education and motivation of those participating in this program. As social barriers are beginning to break, the IAWJ is determined to provide an educational foundation which takes precedence over previous generations of illiteracy and dependence to bring forth a new emphasis on equality and rights for the Afghan people as a whole.

Labels: ,

Afghan, Pakistani forces continue to clash along border

For the second consecutive day, Afghan and Pakistani forces collided along their shared border near Teri Mangal, an Afghan town, The Associated Press reported yesterday. This area, governed by neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, has been the site of recent clashes due to the attempted erection of a Pakistani security fence along the harsh border terrain.

Although both sides claim a peaceful resolution to the border dispute, the existence of Pashtuns on either side of the border presents a challenge due to apparent ethnic divides with the Afghan people.

The clash comes amidst a meeting in Pakistan between Rahmatullah Rahmat, an Afghan governor; U.S. military advisors; and Pakistani officials. Although the assailants are unknown, this border region is notorious for Taliban activity.

For the full article, click here.

For the interview with imbedded correspondent Rahul Bedi, click here.

Labels: , ,

Rights groups urge U.N. Human Rights Council not to accept Egypt’s candidacy

Egyptian rights groups expressed their “surprise” in response to the news that Egypt would be applying for membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council, in a recent statement, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Given the fact that the Egyptian government has committed numerous human rights violations throughout the years, the statement asks the Council to reject Egypt’s candidacy in this Thursday’s elections. Human rights violations in Egypt have included arbitrary detention, torture and rigging of elections. Egypt has been under emergency law since 1981.

For the full article, click here

10 Copts wounded, 59 Muslims arrested following sectarian clash in Egypt

Egyptian authorities arrested 59 Muslims on Saturday and charged them with arson and incitement of sectarian strife after clashes with Coptic Christians on Friday, Reuters reported the same day.

Tensions rose in Behma, 40 miles south of Cairo, after Friday prayers, leading to clashes. Christian-owned houses and shops were set on fire and roughly 300 Muslims and 200 Copts fought with sticks, bricks and firebombs. The circumstances in which the clash began are still unclear. According to sources, the violence has been triggered by controversy over church construction.

The ability to freely construct churches, has long been a central grievance for Egyptian Copts.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi Deputy PM calls for regional cooperation

Speaking at a Wilson Center forum in Washington Monday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih acknowledged that his government must do more to meet political benchmarks, but urged regional and internal stakeholders to bolster their commitment to the resolution of a conflict in Iraq that he deemed pivotal for the “future of the Middle East and Muslim societies that have been radicalized.”

Characterizing the central issue in his country as an urgent battle against “al-Qaeda on behalf of the rest of the world,” Salih maintained that eradicating extremism is imperative, but stressed that expanded political efforts are needed in such a struggle.

“Insurgency can’t just be defeated by military means, it must have a political component, Salih said.

Salih identified several key elements of this political framework, including power-sharing across sectarian and ideological lines, strengthening the clout of moderate decision-makers, and securing a shared regional commitment to combating terrorism. He also spoke on the progress of specific aspects of the framework that are often cited as crucial to national reconciliation. On the status of legislation intended to equitably distribute national oil revenues, he played down wrangling over the specifics of the plan – though he did assert his desire for a reduced state role in managing oil fields, a key point of contention among lawmakers – and maintained that consensus had been achieved as to the basics of a draft that he said should be ready for Parliament by the end of May. On the topic of constitutional review Salih was less optimistic, maintaining that the process was “underway,” but warning that it may not “be achieved within the prescribed time period.” On reforming de-Baathification policies, he admitted that the process had been overtaken by “political agendas” that had “done more harm than good” and called for a drastic response to atone for the “abuses” carried out in the name of the policies.

Salih also emphasized the need to maintain good relations with Iraq’s neighbors. He underlined the importance of working with Turkey to rein in Kurdish PKK fighters in northern Iraq – a source of longstanding tension between the two nations; called on Iran to recognize the threat that terrorism in Iraq poses to its own interests and to not use the country as “a stage for settling scores;” and demanded that Syria “shape up” and be more willing to engage in bilateral talks for the purposes of moving towards regional stability.

In responding to questions on the influence that Iraqi’s religious community and women’s rights organizations can have for bringing about a resolution to the conflict, Salih praised the efforts undertaken by both parties and suggested that both are key to amplifying moderate voices for reform.

Mubarak announces upper house elections

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced last week that elections for the upper house of parliament are scheduled for June 11, followed by a second round on June 18. The Egyptian Shura Council has 264 seats (2/3 elected; 1/3 appointed), most of which are occupied by the National Democratic Party of President Mubarak.

Despite a constitutional ban on religious-based political activity, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood managed to win 88 seats in 2005.

Although the ability for the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in these elections remains in doubt, a senior Brotherhood leader cites the party’s desire and right to take part in free elections: “We insist on participating and we are ready for any problems or trouble. They cannot simply ban candidates because that would destroy the process," Issam al-Arian said.

Mubarak has been the subject of much criticism concerning political corruption and the level of transparency within Egypt since becoming president in 1981.

For the full article, click here.

Download the Transparency International corruption report on Egypt here.

Afghan refugees in India stage protest outside UNHCR offices

Taliban victims in India are struggling to obtain refugee status as the Taliban continues to fight in Afghanistan. On Monday, many Afghan families met to protest in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in New Delhi, The Hindu reported.

Pashtoon, a 36-year-old mother of five, found herself on the run to India with her children after the Taliban beheaded her husband five years ago. Like many others, Pashtoon has been seeking refugee status in India for several years. Pashtoon and 53 others who fled Afghanistan and have been denied refugee status, began an indefinite sit-in outside the UNHCR office on Monday.

“I have been refused a refugee status on the ground that I made a mistake during the interview. I am alone with five children and no money, I saw my husband being beheaded. Do you think my mind is equipped to answer questions with accuracy?” Pashtoon said.

Despite living in India for the past 14 years, Ali Ahmed has yet to be granted refugee status amidst decreased instability.

"Some of us have been living in India for the past 14 years, but the UNHCR refuses to grant us refugee status. We live in constant fear of being deported back in the absence of documents. We can neither work nor send our children to school. Seeking refugee status has been more daunting than facing death in Afghanistan," Ahmed said.

A UNHCR spokesperson denied allegations of being “insensitive to their plight,” citing the use and necessity of refugee status determination (RSD), the protocol by which refuges status is determined.

For the full article, click here.

Labels: ,

Iran's hard-liners see enemies on every side

With the recent detainment of Iranian-born academic Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a growing trend in Iran is making its way to the front page of the news. As Esfandiari made her regular trip to Iran to see her mother in December, everything seemed to be business as usual in Tehran. However, all of the normality of her birth country seemed to change as her Iranian and U.S. passports were taken and she became the subject of interrogations by Iranian intelligence agents. Later, Esfandiari was escorted to Evin prison, notorious for its special wing for political prisoners.

While the story would be grim enough if this was an isolated event, the trend in Iran is to arrest in the name of national security and public order.” In an effort to secure power and influence amidst a struggling economy, Iran’s hard-liners have begun to order the Revolutionary Guard to arrest those who are immodestly dressed.” The Intelligence Ministry has also detained women’s rights activists, labor organizers and many Iranian-Americans, such as Esfandiari. The crackdown started over a year ago after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began talks of a $75 million Iranian democracy program.

"The government knows well that if they allow civil-rights activists to have a public gathering, it can easily become a social movement that can soon get out of hand," says Abbas Abdi, a supporter of reform despite being one of the organizers of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.

While the crackdown is by no means good news, it is creating a dialogue concerning the tension between a hard-line government and a more moderate young generation with whom the change for progress rests. Splits have occurred between fundamentalist factions who struggle to identify themselves amidst the changing social and cultural demands among the majority of people.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi compromise needed in constitutional review process

As the deadline draws closer, a United Nations special envoy has reiterated its call for consensus among all political blocs in the Iraqi Constitutional Review process in order to prevent divisive coalitions and further deter progress.

“For a successful constitutional review process, all groups will have to come to the table to make compromises, and the process will need to be kept alive until it reaches a conclusion,” Ashraf Qazi, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative, said in Baghdad.

One of the goals of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is to ensure the successful implementation of a federal system within Iraq, creating an environment of collaboration across regional and ethnic divides to ensure that power and oil revenues are distributed fairly.

In a press release, the U.N. mission stated that, “UNAMI believes the constitutional review is an opportunity that should be seized to find an agreement that addresses the concerns and anxieties of all communities, and believes that such solutions exist and urges Iraqis to work together to find them.”

For the full article, click here

Labels: , ,

Aid needed for Afghan IDPs

After the United Nations and the Afghan government halted relief operations at the Mukhtar camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) last year, impoverished conditions and a lack of medical and educational necessities has left the inhabitants of the camp pleading for assistance, Integrated Regional Information Networks reported Sunday.

While the many of the 20,000 original camp inhabitants have returned to their homes, 5,000 families continue to reside at the camp without the proper facilities. Faez Mohammad, a camp resident, describes the situation at Mukhtar: “No one helps us here. Our patients suffer a variety of diseases in the absence of medical services. Our children are deprived of education because there is no school at our camp. There is no work we can do to support our families.”

In addition to being displaced, many families also face ethnic persecution due to tense relations with Uzbek militias: “Because I am a Pashtoon, Uzbek militias will accuse me of collaboration with the Taliban. It is very easy for them to kill, torture and detain Pashtoons under meaningless pretexts,” said Shah Alaam, an IDP from northern Jozjan province.

According to UNHCR country director, Salvatore Lombardo, the total number of Afghan IDPs has dropped from over one million in 2002 to less than 160,000.

For the full article, click here.