Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 08, 2007

Murder of priest highlights growing violence against Iraqi Catholics

Father Raghid Ganni and three of his assistants were leaving an evening mass at the Holy Spirit Church in Mosul on May 3 when they were ambushed and shot, according to AFP. Catholic leaders are blaming al-Qaeda for the killing, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

Violence and threats of violence have caused almost half of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes, according to local Christian leaders. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that the government has met with Christian community leaders to present a plan for protecting the vulnerable group from insurgents.

For the full article, click here


Bangladesh refuses to allow rights expert to leave country

Sigma Huda, an independent expert on human trafficking, has been barred from leaving Bangladesh, The Associated Press reported yesterday. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, following reliable information, has learned that Huda has been charged under anti-corruption legislation.

As an independent expert for the United Nations since 2004, Huda has certain diplomatic privileges that prevent arrest or detention. Such privileges remain intact unless explicitly lifted by the U.N., something that U.N. officials say has not occurred.

According to UN Watch, an independent nongovernmental watchdog, Huda was refused exit as a “security risk for Bangladesh as she may give statements detrimental” to the government. Nazmul Huda, Sigma’s husband and former communications director during the previous regime, was also arrested on anti-corruption charges by the military-backed interim government. Bangladeshi officials have refused to comment.

Huda was set to attend the fifth session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva between June 11 and 18.

For the full article, click here.


Melting ice caps could spell ecological crisis in Viet Nam

According to Setsuko Yamazaki, the United Nations Development Programme country director in Viet Nam, over 12 percent of the country will be underwater if sea levels continue to rise due to melting polar ice, Viet Nam News reported Wednesday. Viet Nam stands to be among the countries at greatest risk and its most fertile land could be lost if current trends continue.

“If sea levels rose by one meter, the consequences for Viet Nam would be devastating,” Yamazaki said. “The country would face losses totaling US$17 billion per year; 17 million people would lose their homes; ... and 40,000sq.km of plains and 17sq.km of coastal areas in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces would be subject to unprecedented levels of flooding.”

“The most dramatic evidence of climate change is found in the polar regions. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his global World Environment Day message. “However, this is not just a polar issue... As sea levels rise, inhabitants of low-lying islands and coastal cities throughout the world face inundation.”

Recent recognition of global warming and its effect on Vietnamese society has led Hanoi to focus more closely on deforestation and emissions.

For the full article, click here.

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Poor living conditions in Iraq exacerbated by inadequate municipal services

“Saddam managed to bring us back electricity six months after the 1991 [first Gulf] war and here they are after four years they can't offer stable electricity for two straight hours,” said Hazim Nasser Jawad, an Iraqi taxi driver, in response to Iraq’s poor municipal services since the U.S. invasion, according to an IRIN article Wednesday.

Frustration is on the rise among many Iraqis that now depend on small amounts of electricity from generators or what can be purchased from the black market. The government has been unable to provide reliable electricity for its citizens, and as a result, poor drinking water and disease are becoming more prevalent.

Electricity Minister Karim Waheed says the poor services are due to insurgent attacks on the power networks feeding Baghdad from the north and south. The severed networks have affected water pumping. Many citizens have openly protested the lack of basic services in hopes of compelling the government to do more to help, but few changes have occurred.

For the full article, click here.


Iraqi Christians must flee or pay the price

Iraq’s Christian community has deep roots, but as the chaos in Iraq has intensified, increasing numbers of Christians are being forced to leave their homes, McClatchy Newspapers reported Thursday.

The latest threats against Iraqi Christians come as a result of the 1,000-year-old practice of paying the jizya, a tax that Muslims levy on non-Muslims men. Recently, an al-Qaeda related group has given Christian in Baghdad few options when it comes to the tax, which the article says are: “Convert to Islam, marry your daughters to our fighters, pay an Islamic tax or leave with only the clothes on your back.” With limited options, many Christians are fleeing their homes, with many going to northern Iraq or neighboring Syria.

“What is happening today in Iraq against Christians is shameful,” said Iraqi Christian legislator Ablahad Afram Sawa. “Most of the churches in Baghdad have closed their doors.”

Sawa estimates that nearly half-a-million Christians have fled Iraq since 2004. 1.4 million Iraqis now live in Syria, including roughly19,000 Iraqi Christians who have registered in Damascus with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

U.S. forces have maintained that they had been aware that there were isolated incidences of forced removal of Christians occurring in some portions of Iraq, but were unaware that the incidents were actually a part of a large scale campaign. Troops have recently erected barriers around some Christian communities and have begun collecting census information to help identify Christian residents.

For the full article, click here.

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Fourth Iranian-American detained in Tehran

U.S-Iran tensions continue to build as a fourth Iranian-American has been detained on charges of trying to destabilize the Iranian government, The Associated Press reported today. Ali Shakeri, a business man and founding board member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peace building, is being held in a Tehran prison.

ISNA, a news agency often used by Iranian officials for leaking information to gauge public opinion, reported today that the case was being studied in the security department of Tehran’s prosecutor office.

Although the other three Iranian-Americans detained in recent weeks have already been formally charged by Iranian judges, it is not known if Shakeri is merely being detained or if formal charges will follow. President Bush has insisted that the four detainees be “immediately and unconditionally” released, amidst allegations that the U.S. was seeking to interfere with Iranian internal affairs. Iranian officials continue to claim that they have uncovered a spy network developed by the U.S. and its allies, an assertion that has been repeatedly denied by the colleagues and families of the detainees and the U.S. government.

For the full article, click here.


U.N. human rights chief speaks at CHRC briefing

As part of her Washington visit, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke today at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus Members’ Briefing. Arbour discussed the international human rights framework and her requests for legislative action on the part of the United States.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is charged with promoting and protecting the rights enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and in numerous international human rights laws and treaties. The OHCHR mandate includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, coordinating related activities throughout the U.N., and strengthening and streamlining the U.N. system concerning human rights. OHCHR also leads efforts to integrate a human rights approach within all work carried out by U.N. agencies.

OHCHR acts as one of the three major U.N. human rights institutions. Along with OHCHR, international human rights treaties and conventions and the Human Rights Council, help to collectively ensure human rights advocacy and protection. One new development emphasized by Arbour today was the likelihood of a new Human Rights Council obligation to perform Universal Periodic Reviews to monitor and critique the status of human rights in all U.N. member nations. In addition to this new additional system of review, the Human Rights Council will also hold talks on the continuation of the primary discussion concerning human rights violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. While the council will vote at the next scheduled meeting, Arbour was confident that the issue would continue to be discussed based on the need to ensure that human rights protection is universally implemented in all cases.

The High Commissioner also called for the U.S. to ratify several human rights treaties. Arbour was critical of the disconnect between America’s rhetorical advocacy for human rights and lack of actual formal support for treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the forthcoming Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

For more information on the OHCHR, click here.

For details on binding international human rights law, click here.

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Egypt dismisses Bush’s remarks

“What President Bush said about Egypt is an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs,” remarked Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in reference to Bush’s speech in Prague on Tuesday, in which he called for the release of imprisoned opposition leader Ayman Nour, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Nour, who came in a distant second to incumbent President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, is currently serving a five-year sentence for forgery charges. Nour and his lawyers have been negotiating for his release on medical grounds, but have thus far been unsuccessful. Nour’s wife, Gameela Ismail, and others fear that Bush’s comments will only hurt their case, as it is possible that state-run media will now use them to portray Nour as a “U.S. agent.”

The Egyptian government criticized Bush for commenting on Egypt’s internal matters in light of America’s oft-maligned practices in Guantanamo. The Egyptian parliament’s foreign relations committee stated, “The U.S. President should have talked about the prisoners of Guantanamo who are deprived of the simplest of legal defense guaranteed by all human rights conventions.”

For the full article, click here.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scholars discuss Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

‘How would Egypt’s government look if the Muslim Brotherhood was given a share of the power?’ This topic was the initial focus of today’s discussion at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. The event was moderated and co-sponsored by the U.S.-Egypt Friendship Society. Panelists included Dr. Bruce Rutherford, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Colgate University; Robert Dreyfus, independent journalist; and Sameer Jarrah, Visiting Fellow at The Brookings Institution.

If the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928, had a share in the government, “it would fall short of the Western norms of democracy,” Rutherford said. Reflective of the Brotherhood’s current structure, he continued, non-Muslims, particularly Copts, and women would not have equal rights. Limitations on freedoms would also exist, he said. On the other hand, if given a share in the government and forced to take on greater responsibility, the Brotherhood would likely fractionalize along generational, family, and urban versus rural lines, resulting in a “less threatening entity,” Rutherford said.

“Democracy isn’t the question. What policies would they implement?” asked Dreyfus. Citing the frequent suicide-bombings of Hamas, a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dreyfus argued that the Brotherhood has not sworn off violence and could bring additional instability to the region if they were to assume any power in the Egyptian government. “What are the social, political and economic implications in having a radical, fundamentalist organization that operates in cell-like, secretive fashion?” he asked.

The successful management of social welfare is how the Muslim Brotherhood was able to gain power over the years. That is why, according to Jarrah, the Brotherhood has a following of approximately 50 million people throughout the region – approximately 9 million in Indonesia alone. Due to the size of the following and his belief that democracy is for all, Jarrah encourages dialogue at all levels of society.

The future of the Muslim Brotherhood specifically was not actually the main point of contention among the panelists and audience. Rather, the role of the U.S. in regards to Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood was much more passionately debated. Expressed opinions varied greatly: The U.S. should decrease its military footprint in the region. U.S. involvement in Egypt’s affairs has only made matters worse. The U.S. has some clout with Egypt in regards to foreign aid assistance but needs to deal with all political party members. The U.S. can provide more efficient guidance through syndicates.

All-in-all, little consensus was achieved by the time the audience disbanded.

U.S. aid to Afghanistan marked with conditions

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to make the $6.4 billion aid package to Afghanistan conditional despite criticism from the White House, Reuters reported the same day. The aid package will focus on economic and development projects through fiscal year 2010.

The conditions include barring the distribution of aid to areas where Afghan officials are engaged with the drug trade or are sympathetic to the insurgency. The bill would also call for the Bush administration to report twice a year to Congress on the flow of Iranian arms into Afghanistan.

“We cannot allow a resurgence of the Taliban. If we do, al Qaeda will once again be able to use Afghanistan as a state-sponsored launching pad for terror,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.)

The White House responded to the bill, claiming that the conditions set an “unrealistically high bar” and would further harm vital areas in need of assistance.

For the full article, click here.

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White House to maintain concern over Viet Nam crackdown

White House to maintain concern over Viet Nam crackdown

During the planned late June visit by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, President Bush is expected to personally confront the issue of jailed dissidents amidst the crackdown on democracy in Viet Nam, Reuters reported today.

“The United States and Vietnam have seen enormous progress in their relationship over the past several years,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino. She added, “President Bush will also express his deep concern over the recent increase of arrests and detentions of peaceful democracy activists in Vietnam, and note that such actions will inevitably limit the growth of bilateral ties.”

With the removal of Viet Nam from country of particular concern designation under a U.S. religious rights blacklist in 2006 and the accession into the WTO, Hanoi has continued to deny allegations of a crackdown from international human rights organizations.

For the full article, click here.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Checkpoints: the latest threat to Iraqis

“Sectarian violence is affecting all people and places in Iraq and there is no safety anymore. Before, I was afraid to go out because of explosions, but now checkpoints have become much more dangerous than any other hazard in Iraq,” remarked Samia’a al-Din. Al-din has not seen her son or husband since their arrest at an Iraqi checkpoint in March, IRIN reported today.

Due to the current state of unrest in Iraq, Iraqi police have been known to arrest or detain individuals on questionable grounds. Citizens that once turned to the authorities for protection against known killers are now equally afraid of the authorities. Many citizens have common stories involving missing or murdered relatives.

“Checkpoints are important in Iraq to prevent terrorism but unfortunately security forces aren’t behaving correctly with the local population,” said Professor Bakr Muhammad, a security analyst at Mustansiriyah Universtiy. “Sunnis are afraid to pass though Shia checkpoints as well as the Shias through the Sunni ones. It is a rare day on which people aren’t arrested or killed and surely most of them are innocent victims of sectarian violence. Such abuse is unacceptable and the government should so something to change this.”

The police claims to have checked into many cases in question, and has found no links to its officers and the incidences. More commonly, they point to insurgents as the party responsible. Consequently, the recent killings, disappearances and denials have lead to widespread distrust between the Iraqi civilians and the police.

For the full article, click here


Coptic Christian faces deportation and possible torture

A temporary stay of deportation was granted to Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian citizen currently residing in Pennsylvania, until June 7 as his lawyers scramble to convince the courts to release him, instead of deporting him to Egypt, where many fear he will be tortured. Khouzam’s original reason for entering and remaining in the U.S. was to flee the same persecution that he may now face upon his return, The New York Times reported today.

Khouzam entered the U.S. in 1998, claiming that he had been detained and tortured in Egypt for refusing to convert to Islam. He was allowed to stay under the Convention Against Torture Act, which states that “foreign citizens cannot be repatriated to countries where they stand a reasonable chance of being tortured.” According to Egyptian authorities, Khouzam was tried and found guilty of murder in Egypt before he fled to the United States. They say they have proved his guilt and that he must serve his prison term when he returns. The government has provided “diplomatic assurances” that claim that Khouzam will not be tortured when he returns. However, rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch say that these are not credible promises, based on Egypt’s notorious history of torture.

Egypt’s record has put the country on several watch lists, and has been described by The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as “a poor overall human rights record.” However, the Egyptian government’s response to accusations of state-sanction torture was that if any such incidences had occurred, they were only “isolated acts.”

The ACLU has taken the case and is working to get the stay prolonged so that they may further their argument for Khouzam’s release. In the meantime, Khouzam remains at a detention facility in Pennsylvania.

For the full article, click here.


Foreign Affairs Committee meets to discuss policy challenges in North Africa

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs met today to discuss U.S. policy challenges in North Africa. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch testified before committee members concerning current relations with North Africa, and specifically with the countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

Many issues were discussed, but terrorism in the region dominated the committee’s agenda. The spread of radical Islam throughout the region was at the forefront of many committee members’ questions and was addressed repeatedly by Welch. The committee agreed that in order to combat terrorism from radical groups such as al-Qaeda, the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative should be pursued. Under this initiative, the U.S. would work closely with governments in the region to enhance military protection and weed out terrorist groups.

On a country by country assessment, Welch detailed recent progress as well as setbacks. Libya, having recently been removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist regimes, is under consideration for full “normalization” – meaning they would open a U.S. embassy with an exchange of ambassadors. The focus on Algeria was a result of their ties with al-Qaeda, as well as their support of the Polisaro, a Sahrawi group pursuing independence in Western Sahara. The group has been based in and supported by Algeria, and the Algerian government plays a crucial role in mediating this conflict and seeing that it is settled properly. Intermixed with the Algerian-Polisario issue was the uncertainty about Morocco’s commitment to a resolution. Morocco and Polisario are in a stalemate over questions of land, rights, and autonomous government between the two. While Welch described Morocco-U.S. relations as traditionally “productive and friendly” he also emphasized the pressure the U.S. was putting on Morocco to agree to a joint proposal between the two sides that would finally settle their issues and allow each party to move past the economic and political woes that have accompanied this impasse. Finally, in regards to Tunisia, Welch had mostly praise for the country as he said it boasts low poverty and unemployment rates and serves as the region’s leader of social and economic reform.

It should also be noted that outside of individual country issues, Welch was also pressed on the inclusion of women’s issues in policy making. Welch responded that the advancement of women’s rights in the region was proceeding very slowly, but that it had been incorporated into the policy agenda. Welch said that through judicial reform, educational programs, and the empowerment of regional female leaders, the status of women’s rights in the region, as well as the Arab world, would improve.

While Kurdistan prospers, Turkish military threat looms

While Kurds in northern Iraq have welcomed the relative autonomy that they have been afforded since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, they are also preparing for what could be a whole new battle as Turkey builds its military presence on the Turkey-Iraq border, according to Asia Times Online.

Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population, is no stranger to conflict with the Kurds. They have a history of conflict with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and fear the bolstered regional power the group may attain should Iraqi Kurdistan achieve full autonomy.

Much is at stake in this complex situation. Kurdistan has its eye on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, which if obtained would supply Kurdistan with considerable political and economic leverage. Also, there is the delicate issue of Turkey-U.S. relations. If Turkey invades Kurdistan, the U.S. will be forced to adjust its relationship with its NATO ally. Finally, Turkey would be risking huge political and military loss by invading Kurdistan.

With diplomatic relations between Turkey and Kurdistan almost non-existent, prospects for a peaceful solution are uncertain.

For the full article, click here


Egypt closes trial doors to human rights groups

“We spent four hours negotiating with the security ... but we were turned away in the end,” explained Elijah Zarwan of Human Rights Watch. Zarwan represents one of four human rights groups that were banned from observing a closed trial of members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on Sunday, according to Reuters.

The Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s largest opposition groups, currently has 40 members on trial for various charges, including money laundering and terrorism. While the group has been officially banned since 1954, it continues to operate openly and holds one-fifth of the parliament’s lower house. Some are suggesting the trial is a sign of the government’s attempt to crack down on non-violent Islamic groups in order prevent them from obtaining more political power.

All four human rights groups – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the Arab Commission for Human Rights – were denied permits to observe the trial, which has been adjourned until July 15.

For the full article, click here.


Attacks on food aid trucks continue in Afghanistan

Over the past few months, attacks on trucks carrying World Food Programme (WFP) food aid have continued amidst increasing fighting and instability in Afghanistan, IRIN reported last week. As of May 30, twenty attacks have occurred, resulting in the loss of 500 tons of food, which is valued at $350,000. WFP’s Afghanistan representative, Rick Corsino, remarked that “the increasing frequency of these attacks has become a huge concern for us.”

As Taliban insurgents continue to fight coalition forces, attacks on food trucks are increasing tension on existing food ration projects, such as the “Come to School and Take Home Rations” incentive program. In addition to food loss, the cost of food delivery has skyrocketed as a result of the armed attacks. Since last year, delivery costs have increased 25 percent and drivers are increasingly deterred from involvement in the food shipments.

“Insecurity restricts our access to first hand and reliable information needed to be sure of the motives for, and perpetrators of, these attacks,” Corsino said. In a statement concerning the food aid attacks, WFP added that “whatever their motives, they are contributing to the already considerable hardship of the poorest Afghans who need assistance more than ever.” WFP has continued to call on the Afghan government and local communities to discourage such attacks and to hold those responsible accountable.

For the full article, click here.

For information on World Food Programme operations in Afghanistan, click here.

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Violence continues against Afghan journalists

Zakia Zaki, the owner of Peace Radio, was killed in her home on Tuesday, marking the second such killing in a week, AFP reported today.

Although no one has taken responsibility for the attack, violence against journalists has raised concerns among media rights groups. Zaki, an attendee at the 2003 Afghan post-Taliban constitutional convention, was critical of powerful warlords.

On May 31, Shakiba Sanga Amaj, a television presenter, was killed due to what investigators have labeled a domestic dispute over a marriage refusal. “Even if a family feud appears to be behind this cowardly killing, the authorities should not overlook the profession and renown of the young presenter,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Tuesday.

Since 2001, violence against journalists has persisted, leaving many groups such as Reporters Without Borders (RSB), fearful of the negative influence the attacks have on advancing the media in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Afghanistan ranks 130 out of 168 on a Reporters Without Borders media press freedom index.

For the full article, click here.

To access Reporters Without Border’s 2006 report on Afghanistan, click here.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Vietnamese President to visit U.S. as criticism of democracy crackdown continues

President Nguyen Minh Triet is set to meet with President Bush in Washington on June 22 as the White House continues to condemn Viet Nam’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Formal invitations have been sent to Triet, essentially confirming the first official visit by a Vietnamese head of state since 1975, Reuters reported Monday.

While the recent admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has put Viet Nam on the map as an economic power, the ongoing crackdown leaves Washington in somewhat of a predicament between strengthening relations and criticizing violations of fundamental rights.

Triet’s visit is said to be out of reciprocity for a November visit by President Bush to the country. Issues to be discussed could include trade, education and disease eradication.

“I believe there is a recognition on both sides that individual events should not be an obstacle to continued dialogue aimed at strengthening ties,” said Tom Vallely, head of the Vietnam program at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As the democracy crackdown continues, the U.S. and European Union have condemned the recent sentencing of at least seven activists and are calling for the release of such pro-democracy dissidents.

For the full article, click here.

For information on the WTO accession of Viet Nam, click here.

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UNHCR briefs German official on Afghans in Pakistan

Amidst the buzz of the upcoming G-8 summit, officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have briefed German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the status of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the UN News Service reported last week.

Last Wednesday, Steinmeier traveled to the UNHCR voluntary repatriation office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and received briefings concerning the worsening refugee crisis. Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR’s assistant representative, advised Steinmeier.

Pakistan is home to the world’s largest refugee situation, the largest assisted repatriation in modern history and the largest registration of refugees ever conducted,” Kleinschmidt said. “More than 1 million Afghans have been processed by UNHCR through this voluntary repatriation centre in the last six years, which makes it the largest repatriation centre in the world.”

Within the context of the upcoming G-8 Summit, Steinmeier emphasized the role that the international community could play in managing the massive migration between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For the full article, click here.

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