Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jarai men granted bail in refugee assistance case

Three men accused of human trafficking for assisting Montagnard asylum seekers escape Viet Nam have been granted bail, The Cambodian Daily reported Thursday.

On Wednesday, a provincial judge granted the three Jarai villagers bail, which must now be approved by the prosecutor. The men have been detained since April 23 on allegations of aiding a group of Montagnards escape Viet Nam.

Ny Chandy, attorney for Legal Aid of Cambodia, fears that the accused will face an unjust extension of jail time if the bail ruling is appealed. The maximum sentence for human trafficking is six months in prison.

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Per capita, Iran executes highest number of children

Iran issues the highest number of death sentences to juveniles in the world, Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.

According to Clarisa Bencomo, HRW children’s rights researcher, “Iran holds the deplorable distinction of leading the world in juvenile executions, and the authorities should end this practice at once. The Iranian government needs to stop sending children to the gallows and start living up to its international obligations by issuing clear legislation to ban the juvenile death penalty.”

Since 2004, at least 17 juveniles have been executed in Iran. Most recently, 20-year-old Syed Mohammad Reza Mousavi Shirazi was executed in April for an alleged murder that occurred when he was 16. Such acts violate both Iranian obligations to international treaties and Iranian domestic law, which requires a special juvenile court to hear cases involving those under 18.

Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and China are the only countries known to have executed children since 2004. While China executes more children in total numbers, Iran has the highest per capita juvenile execution rate in the world.

The execution of juveniles violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which have been ratified by Iran.

For the full article, click here.

For links to binding international human rights law, click here.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Death by stoning sentence halted, Iranian couple spared

A man and woman charged with adultery in Iran have been spared from death by stoning after an outcry from the international community. According to reports by the Gulf-Times and Human Rights Watch, a judiciary official in the Qazvin province of Iran has announced that the planned stoning had been halted in an apparent step forward for anti-stoning campaigners in the country.

Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and an unnamed man were scheduled to be killed after having been imprisoned for the past 11 years after being charged with adultery and having a child out of wedlock. According to Amnesty International, the couple were to be placed in pits, with the man buried up to his waist and the woman up to her breasts, as stated under the Iranian Penal Code. The law goes on to say that stones used should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined stones.”

This form of the death penalty has long been condemned by the international community, thus making today’s ruling appear to be a step in the right direction. However, reports have been circulating that a group of children, both boys and girls, under the age of 18 are currently on death row for actions against the government. These children have been sentenced to death by hanging and are reportedly meant to serve as an example for those who would consider standing up against the Iranian regime.

For the full Gulf Times report, click here.

For the full Amnesty International report, click here.


Turkey, Iraq and the future of Kirkuk

Turkey’s role in the future of Kirkuk, and Iraqi Kurdistan in general, was the topic of a lively discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars today. While this is a topic that can only thoroughly be examined when the perspectives of all actors involved are assessed, both panelists, Dr. Henri Barkey and Cengiz Candar, addressed the matter from a Turkish perspective.

Before even jumping into the issue of Kirkuk – a province set, under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, to vote on a referendum by year’s end to decide upon accession into Iraqi Kurdistan – Candar explained that, in Turkey, the word “Kurdistan” is considered taboo. The area is not even referred to as “Northern Iraq” – though it was for the purposes of this discussion. Rather, “Northern Iraq” is synonymous with “Iraq”, so the latter term is typically the only one used to refer to the area of Iraq governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). However, Turkey does not want to legitimize the KRG through official recognition.

The territorial integrity of Turkey, as explained by Candar, is framed by the original boundaries of the Ottoman territory. “Any change in the status quo of the Middle East might put Turkey under suspicion of its survival,” he said. For this reason, everything that happens in Iraqi Kurdistan becomes a domestic political issue in Turkey. Kirkuk is one such issue, which “risks becoming another Northern Cyprus problem,” said Barkey.

Kirkuk is a “powder keg” for Turkey, in part based on economic grounds – namely oil reserves in the area. Oil would provide the infrastructure for a completely independent KRG, which Turkey then fears would spark unrest among its own Kurdish population. Barkey argued that there is no evidence to support the notion that Kurds living within Turkey would want their own independent state. Rather, “Northern Iraq, to Kurds outside of Northern Iraq, is like Israel is to Jews,” Barkey said.

Both panelists agreed that the Kirkuk referendum needs to be postponed. The normalization and census steps laid out in the Iraqi constitution for completion before the referendum can occur will not happen, Barkey said. Instead, he forecasted, the referendum will be postponed on technical grounds in September. Candar went so far as to propose a resolution calling for Kirkuk province to be established as a separate federal entity with a rotating presidency. Kurds have to stop being greedy about the future of Kirkuk, he continued.

The issue is “not a zero-sum game,” Candar twice emphasized. Though Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to invade Iraq depending on the outcome of Kirkuk and the continued terrorist activity of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), “an independent KRG can’t survive without being in close connection with Turkey,” Candar said. Both sides need to engage each other more – not by guns but by entrepreneurs, as Turkish businesses help stabilize Northern Iraq, he added.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Female circumcision continues in rural Iraq

During a recent fact-finding mission to northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region, LCHR staff met with many women, including villagers living in a remote valley near Rania, about issues affecting their lives such as child marriage, honor crimes and female circumcision, known within the human rights community as female genital mutilation (FGM). The practice is observed in many rural regions where traditional cultural mentalities still prevail, including in the areas visited by LCHR.

The practice can be dangerous and can result in serious physical injury, psychological damage or even death. Despite sometimes dire consequences, women interviewed said that they continue the practice in order to preserve tradition, and because of the negative associations that accompany being uncircumcised. “An uncircumcised woman cannot even accept a glass of water,” one woman reported, noting the crippling stigma associated with not undergoing FGM. Even young girls interviewed said that those who remained uncircumcised would be considered dirty.

In spite of its widespread practice, local women’s advocacy groups have questioned the tradition and pointed out the severe effects this custom has on women. A June article in the Kurdish English language newspaper Zhyanawa focused on one FGM related health problem. The article reported that a 5-year-old girl, Choman Azad Mohammed, was taken to the hospital from Takiya sub-district after heavy bleeding from circumcision persisted to the point of endangering her life. Mimka Marjan, the 81-year-old woman that preformed the circumcision, is said to have done the procedure on more than 10,000 girls for a fee of about 75 cents.

Dr. Shama Saed Maroof, the Childbirth Hospital manager of the facility where Choman was treated, released a statement in response to the incident. Dr. Maroof stated, “Physiologically she is alright, but psychologically, I think that she will face problems and never forget what she has undergone.”

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Needs of displaced Africans take center stage at World Refugee Day hearing

According to the latest U.N. reports on Africa’s refugee crisis, the continent currently has over 2.4 million refugees and 6.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). This accounts for nearly 25 percent of the world’s refugee population and nearly half of the world’s IDP population. In the past year alone there has been a 14 percent increase in the number of refugees worldwide. These staggering figures are just a few of the reasons why the situation in Africa was the focus of a House subcommittee hearing today.

Many issues were discussed in the hearing, but the most noteworthy were the circumstances in Darfur, the matter of African nations closing their borders to refugees, the enormous number of IDPs on the continent, and the rights and services available to refugees. The subcommittee heard first from Daoud Hari, a Darfurian man that escaped the genocide by fleeing to Chad and then to Ghana. Hari is one of three refugees that have been resettled in the U.S., and he reported to the committee that there is much work to be done in Darfur. Hari and Joel Charny, the vice president for policy at Refugees International, both gave testimony regarding the dire state of affairs in Chad, noting that refugees from Darfur are overwhelming the Chadian government and straining the country’s resource base. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working closely with the Chadian government to set up new camps to hold the refugees. However, such an operation would be beset by numerous complications, including limited water and access to transportation, and there is currently no plan for relocation.

In addition to the dilemma of refugee overflow in existing camps, many African nations are now closing their doors to refugees in order to better attend to the violent struggles raging on within their own borders. Perhaps the biggest obstacle many nations face is trying to meet the needs of their own IDP population. IDPs face the same struggles of finding food, water, shelter and basic services that refugees face. However, because they have not crossed an international border, they are not legally refugees, and are therefore ineligible to receive the same services as refugees.

The entire committee expressed deep concern for the well-being and of Africa’s existing refugee population. Many refugees do not receive sufficient services, and few are receiving education while they are in the camps. Additionally, there was much discussion about trying to extend these services to IDPs. All witnesses confirmed reports that IDPs are now gathering at the edges of refugee camps in order to try to collect any services possible from the camps, or from the refugees themselves.

Despite all the disheartening accounts delivered, the committee was also able to report on great progress. The U.S. currently is home to half of all resettled African refugees. In particular, the progress of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” was noted. This group of refugees arrived in 2003 and has served as a model for resettlement and adjustment to American culture ever since. This year the group proudly saw the first wave of boys graduate from various colleges and universities around the nation.


Vietnamese president awaiting official visit to Washington

Ahead of his historic meeting in Washington, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet has come to New York this week, New York Business reported Monday. The purpose of the trip is to bolster U.S.-Vietnamese economic relations in the wake of Viet Nam’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this year. Triet is the first head of state to visit Washington

since the end of the Viet Nam War

Triet was slated to oversee the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange. He had also planned to meet with several U.S. corporations in order to boost investment and trade options in Viet Nam.

Triet’s visit has been marked by both optimism and protest amid sharp criticism of Viet Nam’s crackdown on pro-democracy activism. The recent convictions of political dissidents and is expected to be on the list of talking points for U.S. and Vietnamese officials. Triet is scheduled to meet Bush on Friday.

For the full article, click here.


Ibn Khaldun communications blocked, as founder comes under attack for stance on aid

As noted in a press release issued by the Leadership Council on Tuesday, staff members from Cairo’s Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS) have reported that their outgoing communications have been blocked for more than one week, with emails and faxes to ICDS staff outside of Egypt and members of the human rights community being filtered or tampered with.

The embargo on outgoing messages comes as complaints were submitted by Dr. Nabil Lo’a Bibawi to Egypt’s Public Prosecutor, accusing ICDS Founder Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim of, according to an article from this week’s Al-Ahram Weekly, “committing a crime (under the Egyptian penal code), for damaging the state’s economic interests.” The accusation reportedly stems from Ibrahim’s recent meeting in Prague with President Bush. The press has reported that Ibrahim asked Bush to cut down aid to Egypt as a way of pressuring the government to respect human rights. Bibawi argues that this is a crime because Ibrahim was working for a foreign country in a way that could cause harm to Egypt’s political or economic well being. As such he has also charged Ibrahim with espiongage.

The uproar over Ibrahim’s meeting with Bush was also reported in a recent New York Times article.

For the full Times article, click here.


Rise in journalist deaths threatens Iraqi civil society

“The constant threats and abductions she endured, and her eventual murder, are stark reminders of the sacrifice she made to tell the Iraqi story to the world,” stated Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Simon’s words were in response to the June 7 murder of Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, an Iraqi journalist working for the program Aswat Al-Iraq (Voice of Iraq). Al-Haydari is just one of 18 journalists that have been killed since January, according to RFE/RFL.

Many Iraqi reporters and their families are relocating in an attempt to protect themselves from the attacks being committed against reporters. Members of the Iraqi media are at high risk because their organizations can seldom afford the cost of protection for their journalists – in contrast to Western media correspondents, who typically work with a security team. Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders says that since 2003, 182 journalists and assistants have been kidnapped for their reporting. Attacks are being carried out by insurgents in an in attempt to intimidate media professionals, and therefore sway public perception on the security situation in Iraq.

For the full article, click here.


Refugee restrictions increase burden on displaced Iraqis

It is estimated that at least 2.2 million Iraqi refugees are now in Syria and Jordan, having fled the ongoing civil strife in their homeland. Now, as Damascus and Amman look to manage the strain of the influx, the two governments are imposing new restrictions on refugees, IRIN reported Sunday.

In order to enter Jordan, refugees must be younger than 20 or older than 40, show proof of financial stability, and carry a new G-series passport. In Syria, it is slightly easier to enter, but refugees may only stay for a period of three months, after which they must renew residency by leaving and then reentering the country.

Because of the new restrictions, many families are being split up at the borders, with only those qualified being allowed to enter and the rest being forced to remain in Iraq.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on the international community to help with the Iraqi refugee surge, but unfortunately, assistance has been minimal. Bordering countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and Iran have also done little to ease the burden on Syria and Jordan. UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said that the agency has registered over 130,000 Iraqi refugees since the beginning of the year, but the daunting task of resettlement still looms.

For the full article, click here

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Coptic Christian granted stay of deportation

With the help of the timely support from rights groups such as the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national currently residing in Pennsylvania, was on June 15 granted an indefinite stay of deportation. Reports by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and the ACLU state that Khouzam, a Coptic Christian, has been granted a reprieve from the government’s attempt to deport him back to Egypt, where he was would be in danger of police torture.

Khouzam left Egypt for the U.S in 1998 after he was detained by the Egyptian government and reportedly pressured into converting to Islam. After fleeing to the U.S, the Egyptian government accused him of killing a woman, claims which have proven to be unsubstantiated, resulting in the U.S. revoking his visitor’s visa with the intention of deporting him back to Egypt. Khouzam filed for religious asylum for fear that if he returned home he would be subjected to torture, abuse and persecution.

Now, nearly a decade later, a federal judge has ruled that the harm Khouzam would face if deported “outweighs any damage to our government by a delay effecting his removal while the important issues he has presented are adjudicated,” the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported Saturday. This ruling allows Khouzam to stay in the country indefinitely while the decision in his case is being reviewed by the U.S government. The judge went on to say, “While Khouzam may have no right to be in the United States, he most assuredly has the right not to be tortured. The protection against torture is an essential component of the rule of law and a democratic society.”

For the full article, click here.


Examining the U.S. response to refugees worldwide

In honor of World Refugee Day (June 20) Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), provided an overview of the U.S.’s response to refugees worldwide. Speaking at an event today hosted by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, Sauerbrey began by quoting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “As a wealthy nation, we have an obligation to help those in need.”

To address the needs of the some 10 million refugees worldwide, PRM has a $1 billion budget, approximately $600 million of which goes towards refugee assistance programs, with the remainder for the U.S. resettlement program, according to Sauerbrey. The majority of the assistance portion is allocated to fund 20 to 25 percent of the budgets of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Committee for the Red Cross, International Organization for Migration and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. The remainder is granted to nongovernmental organizations. Sauerbrey assured the audience that “the U.S. is not just a silent partner” in these initiatives.

Education of refugee children was the greatest point of emphasis during Sauerbrey’s address. Within the next 10 weeks, PRM programs will provide school preparation assistance to 100,000 Iraqi refugee children in Syria and 150,000 in Jordan. This school-readiness program also includes psycho-social assistance.

In regards to refugee resettlement, Sauerbrey said that the U.S. accepts more than half of all refugees resettled each year. Sauerbrey also urged other countries to establish refugee resettlement programs. She highlighted Japan, which currently does not accept any refugees for resettlement. The U.S. resettlement program, which will see its first set of Iraqi refugees in the coming weeks, along with, among others, 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, is “based completely and solely on humanitarian” and not political grounds, Sauerbrey said.

Sauerbrey also took the opportunity to officially announce the International Fund for Refugee Women and Children, which is designed to provide the recipients with education, skills training and programs against gender-based violence. As less than 5 percent of PRM’s budget is spent on education, the fund allows Americans to financially assist PRM’s efforts.

Sauerbrey said that today is an occasion to reflect on the suffering and successes of refugees and those who help them.

Threats against women continue after Taliban

Shukria Barakzai, a female member of Afghanistan’s parliament, continues to receive death threats amid the power struggle between the Taliban and the Afghan government, BBC News reported today.

The threats seem to stem from Barakzai’s support for women’s rights and her continued criticisms of Afghan warlords and Pakistan. The letters are sent by the Afghan government notifying Barakzai and 6 other MPs of threats made against them. While the MPs are notified of their targeted status, the government offers no additional security measures to allow the members to continue their legislative responsibilities without constant fear of being murdered.

“That is all that the government does – send a letter by mail once every month saying my life is under threat. There isn't talk of even providing security,” Barakzai said. “I am going crazy. My friends are telling me to leave the country. My husband is worried. After all, I am also a mother and a wife.”

Although six years have passed since the overthrow of the Taliban, women continue to live in an environment of fear and coercion despite constitutionally recognized rights. With 91 female MPs in Afghanistan, the ability of women to participate in the political realm is a huge step for the Afghan people. Society at large, however, has not so quickly broken with traditions of gender inequality.

Forced marriages, honor killings and rape continue to plague Afghan women. Last year, over 1,500 cases of atrocities against women were documented by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. Tribal councils continue to decide the fate of women in rural areas and almost always rule against them.

For the full article, click here.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Afghan refugees urged to leave Tajikistan

Afghan refugees are calling for the Tajik government and international organizations to attend to growing discrimination in Dushanbe, IRIN reported Saturday.

According to the refugees, Tajik policemen are forcing them to leave Tajikistan’s capital city and return to their proper districts. While refugees arriving to Tajikistan during Afghanistan’s civil war were registered in Dushanbe, recent refugees had been registered in areas outside the capital city.

“My son was detained last night at 11pm by a policeman and then put under arrest,” said Guloba, one of the some 50 Afghan refugees stationed in front of the local Human Rights and Protection office in Dushanbe on Friday. Such use of power is a sign for the need to discuss the outdated refugee law which exists in Tajikistan.

As the refugees struggle with discrimination and poverty, many have flocked to the major cities in search of jobs. “We cannot live in the districts; we simply cannot survive there. Even local Tajiks themselves are leaving rural areas and migrating to Russia and the capital to earn money,” Khayri, an Afghan refugee, pointed out. “We cannot afford to travel to the capital every day. My son makes eight somoni [US$2.32] per day. That is not enough to travel daily to Dushanbe and back and support the entire family with food.”

According to the Human Rights and Protection Office, there are currently 1,300 Afghan refugees residing in Tajikistan.

For the full article, click here.

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New rules established for U.N. Human Rights Council

With the establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a new set of rules has been adopted as a means of strengthening the U.N. body and further distancing it from its much-maligned predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, BBC News reported today.

The new rules will allow the council to regularly produce reports on the state of human rights in all U.N. member countries. The new mechanism, known as “universal periodic review”, was implemented based on “the broadest possible support”, rather than the two-thirds agreement advocated by China.

“We have all made compromises, it is not a perfect text. Negotiations never achieve a perfect text,” remarked Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico.

There are currently nine countries on the council’s list of states subject to special scrutiny, including North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan.

For the full article, click here.

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CHRC honors prisoner of conscience

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 62nd birthday, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) today celebrated the ongoing battle against the violation of human rights throughout the world. Kyi is a Nobel Peace Laureate that has been imprisoned in Burma for the past 11 years. Her sentence of house arrest has recently been extended for an additional year despite continuous outrage by human rights organizations and governments.

Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by a military junta; a tenure that is marked by the murders of opposition members and the continued incarceration of political dissidents. In the most recent version of the U.S. State Department’s annual country reports on human rights, the Burmese government, with its extensive corruption and abuses of power, has been characterized as a regular violator of human rights, as it continues “extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, rape and torture.”

Members of Congress and various rights groups joined in their praise for Kyi, wishing her the strength to continue fighting against injustice, not only in Burma but across the globe.

For the CHRC press release, click here.

For the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, click here.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Mubarak cites own age as reason for lack of reforms

On the day after the U.S House of Representatives advanced legislation that would cut military aid to Egypt as a way to force the nation into improving its human rights record, it was reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told President Bush that he considers himself too old to conduct political reforms, Reuters reported last week

Saad Ibrahim, an Egyptian dissident, said he met with Bush on June 5 in Prague as part of a group of dissidents from around the world. According to Reuters, Ibrahim stated in an interview, “President Bush told me that President Mubarak claims that his age has caught up with hum and he is incapable of change, so let’s leave this to the next generation.” Ibrahim responded by telling Bush that he believed Mubarak’s remark was meant to persuade the U.S. to support the succession of Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who is expected to seek the presidency after his father leaves office.

Mubarak is currently in his fifth and reportedly last, six-year term. Ibrahim went on to say that he told Bush he believes economic assistance to Egypt and other authoritarian states should be connected with progress on political reform and bolstered individual freedoms.

For the full article, click here.


The need for a holistic approach to modernization in Iraqi Kurdistan

While central and southern Iraq have certainly not fared well over the past few years, northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region has bolstered its economy and pursued democracy. However, if the region is truly to progress and become “modern”, social, political, and economic development must all be given equal priority, according to an article by Dr. Denise Natali that was printed recently in Soma, an Iraqi-Kurdish Digest.

Natali notes the economic gains that began in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003 when the region received a huge budget increase from Baghdad. Modeled after Dubai, Kurdistan has been able to build new infrastructure through attracting foreign investment and moving towards privatization. The society is driven by consumer tastes and demands, and is moving towards a western, modernized way of life. Additionally, Kurds from outside the region have contributed both financially and ideologically, pooling together their resources to influence the fast-growing region

However, economic gains have not been matched by social and political reform, according to Natali. Old social structures are hindering the progress of women, educational institutions and new thinkers, she says. Moreover, according to Natali, suspicion among the older, more traditional members of society does much to prevent the contributions of the younger, modernizing generations. Also, Natali writes that “there has been no positive correlation between economic development and changes in social attitudes. UN indicators reveal that the level of education remains one of the lowest in the region… nor have women found any respite in the honor killing law.”

Finally, Natali argues that if there is to be true reform, there must be a shift in power. Job opportunities, social welfare reform, political party reform and furthering women’s rights are all changes that must be made soon if modernization will last in the region.

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Egypt criticized for response to human trafficking

The State Department’s 2007 report on human trafficking has condemned the Egyptian government for its failure to reduce the number of people being transported through the country, All Headline News reported today.

The report estimates that, according to the article, “approximately one million homeless boys and girls are being exploited in prostitution,” and states that, as the article notes, “Egypt is a transit country for many women coming from Uzbekistan, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European nations and on to Israel.” These victims – many of whom are girls under the age 18 – are frequently sold by their families for commercial sexual exploitation, such as “temporary marriages” to wealthy men from the Gulf region.

The report states that “Egypt should make a serious effort to increase law enforcement activity against the trafficking of minors, institute formal victim identification procedures to ensure that trafficking victims are not punished or otherwise treated as criminals, and provide protection services for victims.” However, the report also acknowledged that when Egypt does discover victims, it returns them to their respective embassy for assistance. The report also says that, “The Government of Egypt does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”

For the full article, click here.


Vietnamese President calls for equal treatment by U.S.

As anticipation builds for the historic June 22 meeting between President Triet and President Bush, the Vietnamese head of state seeks “equal and fair treatment” in the U.S. market, Reuters

reported today. The main topics of discussion will be investment, education, human rights and dioxin cleanup, according to Triet.

Viet Nam seeks bolstered trade relations with the U.S., due to its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January of this year. “In terms of economic issues, Vietnam wants the U.S. to provide favourable conditions in line with agreements of the WTO so that Vietnam's goods can penetrate into the U.S. market with equal and fair treatment,” President Triet remarked before embarking on his trip to the U.S.

The two main tensions between the U.S. and Viet Nam are the existence of lethal levels of dioxin in some parts of the country, the toxic component of the “agent orange” used during the Viet Nam war, and the human rights violations associated with Hanoi’s ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activism. Viet Nam is seeking reparations and ‘clean-up’ aid as a means of resolving the ongoing effects of dioxin contamination. With regard to the crackdown, the White House seeks an understanding on the ability of dissidents to exercise their right to free expression amid calls for a multi-party system.

For the full article, click here.


Afghan children killed in coalition strike

Seven children are dead as a result of an air strike conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces in the Paktika province on the Afghan border with Pakistan, BBC News reported today. The targeted compound was said to be a point of refuge for al-Qaeda militants.

A statement by coalition forces cited “credible intelligence” that al-Qaeda members had taken shelter in a compound located in Zarghun Shah, however, no mention was made as to whether the intelligence pointed out the existence of a mosque and a school in which civilians were located.

This tragedy comes as U.S.-led forces face sharp criticisms due to the heightened number of civilian causalities. President Hamid Karzai has released various statements calling on the coalition forces to act more responsibly as a means of reducing such civilian deaths amid a growing Taliban influence in the country.

For the full article, click here.

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Decision on Nour case delyaed until June 26

Any decision on whether Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour will be released from prison must wait until June 26, when official medical reports into the state of health of the opposition leader are due to be issued, according to the latest edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

The ruling, set down by Egypt’s Administrative Court last Tuesday, also stated that Nour’s defense counsel, who has been complaining of procrastination in the official reports preparation, could present evidence from independent medical specialists regarding their client’s health. Under the ruling, if the official report, prepared by the Forensic Medicine Department, is not presented within two weeks, then the court will rely on the independent assessments of Nour’s health in delivering its ruling. Requests for the former presidential candidate’s release stem from his various medical ailments, such as diabetes, heart problems, and hypertension. Nour underwent heart surgery while in prison last year.

This ruling gives hope to many of Nour’s supporters that the political leader may soon end his 18-month stay behind bars. According to Al-Ahram Weekly, Nour’s lawyer, Amir Salem, said the court’s decision was a “historical ruling”, adding that it represented “a severe blow to administrative bodies used to ignoring court requests.” Gameela Ismail, Nour’s wife, said the she had never expected that the medical report would be made available to the court panel, which is why she is treating this court ruling as a victory.

Unfortunately, legal sources say there is a possibility that the Interior Ministry will ignore any ruling in Nour’s favor, using the struggle between several legal bodies, including the office of Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, which has the right to judge the case, as a way of discounting the decision. Others worry that there will be negative consequences from all of the U.S. pressure being put on the government for Nour’s release. The judge in the case has already stressed that the decision would be based entirely on the state of Nour’s health, and has said that he will not be swayed by national or international calls for his release.

President George Bush said during a recent conference on democracy in the Czech Republic that he looks “forward to the day when conferences like this one include… Ayman Nour of Egypt.” While some believe statements such as this will only make the Egyptian government more stubborn over Nour’s release, others point to the success such calls had for pro-democracy advocate Saad Ibrahim, who was released from his seven year prison sentence in 2003 following enormous U.S. pressure.

For the full article, click here.