Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, July 06, 2007

Anti-polygamy bill under consideration in Iraqi Kurdistan

A bill that would prohibit polygamy in Iraqi Kurdistan is sparking a heated debate in the region, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

The legislation, which is currently under consideration in Kurdistan’s parliament, would allow for the possibility of fines and prison time for male violators of the ban and less-harsh fines for female violators.

The bill also includes provisions that would grant women equal inheritance rights and make their legal testimony equal in value to that of a man. (Female testimony is only worth half as much under Iraqi law.)

Still the polygamy provision has been the most contentious aspect of the legislation. “I believe polygamy should be totally banned,” said Arez Abdullah, a member of parliament. Abdullah added that the current laws “are not in line with human rights principles or the protection of women.”

Runak Faraj, a leading Iraqi women’s right advocate who heads the Women’s Media And Cultural Centre in Sulaimaniyah, also supports the legislation, but warns that polygamy “has become part of the culture.”

Opponents of the bill argue that multiple marriages give women a degree of independence and financial freedom.

The bill stands in contrast to national Iraqi law – largely based on Islamic law – potentially complicating its enforcement.

For the full article, click here.

Syria and Jordan need more help to cope with refugee crisis, U.N. says

United Nations officials lashed out at the international community today for not doing more to help Syria and Jordan shoulder the burden of the Iraqi refugee crisis, Reuters reported.

“It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis,” Ron Redmond, spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, said at a media briefing. “The two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees – Syria and Jordan – have still received next to nothing in bilateral help from the world community.”

Donor nations have contributed $70 million so far to assist the host countries, but hundreds of millions of dollars more are needed, UNHCR says. Syria alone has asked for $256 million in assistance. The country is hosting some 1.4 million refugees, and tens of thousands more are coming every month, according to the U.N.

For the full article, click here.

Rights group denounces detainee abuses in Iraqi Kurdistan

Torture and detainee abuse occur with alarming frequency in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday.

The report, gleaned from research and interviews with over 150 detainees conducted last year, suggests that regional authorities often abuse and deny due-process to detainees.

“Although Kurdish authorities have taken serious steps to improve conditions at detention facilities, they must do more to end the practice of torture,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for HRW. “The government must punish prison officials and interrogators found responsible for abuse.”

Some informants in Asayish detention facilities accused authorities of using metal rods, blindfolds and handcuffs to torture them.

A significant portion of the abuses are apparently being carried out against suspected terrorists. In July 2006, the regional government was afforded expanded authority to combat terrorism through the passage of an anti-terrorism law.

HRW asserted that while Kurdistan officials have been cooperative and responsive, nothing substantive has been done to rectify the situation.

For the full report, click here.

Scholar says U.S. should support civil liberties through aid bill

In an op-ed in Monday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Eric Trager, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania who lived in Cairo last year as part of his Islamic Civilizations Fulbright Scholarship, says that a U.S. appropriations bill that would make military aid to Egypt contingent on specific reforms doesn’t do enough to remedy the lack of civil liberties in the nation or repression of the country’s liberal voices.

“Washington’s new strategy should therefore leverage its annual military aid to Egypt, opening Egypt’s political field to meaningful participation of Egyptian liberals,” Trager writes. “By pushing for the institution of civil liberties, it would empower liberals to compete with Egypt’s present political heavyweights and gradually build a third political stream that could ultimately affect internal reform.”

Trager cites the case of an activist friend who demonstrated against a March referendum on a set of controversial constitutional amendments. According to Trager, his friend and seven others were apprehended by police and held in the desert for a day until voting ended. The individual has apparently disavowed politics as a result of the incident.

Trager goes on to write: “When the Senate Appropriations Committee convenes, it must condition future military aid to Egypt on the institution of civil liberties.”

For the full article, click here.

Ruling on jailed opposition leader delayed until July 31

A final court ruling on the status of imprisoned Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour will not be handed down until July 31, according to the latest edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nour, the leading challenger in Egypt’s 2005 presidential elections, has been in jail since December of that year on charges that are widely regarded as politically motivated.

Nour’s lawyers are attempting to secure his release on medical grounds. He suffers from a variety of ailments, including diabetes, heart problems and hypertension, which they allege have grown worse during his detention.

Egypt’s Administrative Court has linked the Nour case with the case of another prisoner seeking release on account of his medical condition – a development which has delayed a ruling. The official report on the other prisoner has been delayed and it is unclear when it will become available. Still, the court asserts that both cases should be heard in tandem.

For the full article, click here.

Human trafficker set for trial

A 46-year-old Taiwanese man will appear in a Vietnamese court later this month on charges of trafficking more than 100 Vietnamese women into Malaysia, Radio Australia reported today.

Tsai Hsien will be tried alongside five Vietnamese nationals who arranged fake marriages for the women, only to force them to remarry or take part in prostitution once they arrived in Malaysia. The women are thought to have been sold for $2,000 each.

Hsien has been detained since March 2006 and could serve up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan town sees increase in widows

A small village in Afghanistan, Bunyat, has been dubbed the “widows village,” The Associated Press reported Monday. Bunyat, which lies on the border with Iran, is home to 1,000 families and 350 widows.

The high number of male causalities in the village is the legacy of both the years of war in Afghanistan and the lucrative business of drug smuggling. As violence and instability persists, many Afghans are turning to the trafficking of opium and heroin to provide for their families.

“Most of the young people in this village smuggle drugs,” Mohammad, a smuggler, said. “These people are poor. There is no water here. They can't grow anything, so they have to smuggle drugs.” The business of smuggling brings in about $200 a pound for the trafficker; a sum of money that far exceeds the $70 a month earned by teachers and police officers. Mohammad claims that smugglers commonly carry 20 to 40 pounds of concentrated heroin for a profit of $8,000.

The smuggling of Afghan heroin has led to a dramatic rise in addictions among Iranians, leading the Iranian police to actively pursue traffickers. While the stated Iranian policy is to simply detain smugglers, many confrontations lead to violence.

For the full article, click here.

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Sudanese refugees at risk under new Israeli plan

The Israeli government has instituted a new plan for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers who are in search of a safe haven from the continued violence and instability in Sudan, IRIN reported Wednesday. Experts say that the new plan puts refugees and asylum seekers from Africa at risk.

With the implementation of the new plan, Israel will force “infiltrators” to return to Egypt and would deny any asylum claims made by those crossing the border into Israel. Security forces have been ordered to arrest and deport all persons crossing the border from Egypt.

International rights groups such as Amnesty International have expressed concern over the plan. AI emphasized that the policy allows the government “to expel everyone in one sweeping move” rather than examining “each refugee claim carefully.”

Many refugees and asylum seekers have fled Egypt to escape ongoing discrimination. Egypt is also known for sending back refugees to their home countries prematurely. “Life is impossible for Sudanese like me in Cairo,” said Nadin, who had been discriminated against due to her dark skin.

“We are not asking for anything, just our basic refugee rights, and maybe a little help from the state,” said Nader, a refugee who had entered into Israel and will be affected by the new policy.

For the full article, click here.

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Iranian Supreme Leader open to reinterpretation of women’s rights

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has suggested a possible reinterpretation of Islamic law to allow for more women’s rights, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

While the Ayatollah was stern in his stance such a move would not be based on Western conviction, he emphasized the importance of the changing context of Islamic law in modern society.

“Some issues about women, which exist in religious jurisprudence, are not the final say. It is possible to interpret new points through research by a skillful jurist,” Khamenei said.

In Iran, women must have the permission of a male guardian before working or traveling. Women are also banned from becoming judges and have half the importance in court testimonies compared to men.

The apparent change in the Ayatollah’s message follows heavy criticisms on the detainment of several women activists who protested against the country’s oppressive laws, such as the equal distribution of inheritances, the equal weight of testimonies in court and the elimination of polygamy in Iran.

Women in Iran have more rights than many of their counterparts in other countries in the region. However, while women can drive and vote, as well as run for public office, gender discrimination is firmly entrenched.

For the full article, click here.

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Fighting corruption in Viet Nam

Le Hien Duc is a 75-year-old grandmother who has decided to take a firm stance against corruption in Viet Nam, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. Using a variety of methods, from emails to home visits, Duc is determined that Viet Nam reach its fullest potential in the 21st century.

“Corruption is definitely an evil, and it is ruining my beloved country,” said Duc. While many in the Viet Nam give in to the corruption and bribes, Duc goes out of her way to let officials know that such behavior is damaging the country. Duc, a former school teacher, has become a voice for many Vietnamese people who come to her for help.

As respect for authority runs high in Viet Nam, many simply pay what is asked rather than challenging systemic corruption. One man, for example, was caught speeding and was forced to either pay a $3 bribe, which is a day’s wages, or have his motorcycle impounded. Duc subsequently tracked down the officer involved and filed a complaint with the Hanoi police chief. The officer was eventually demoted.

“We gave our blood, sweat and tears,” Duc said. “There is no excuse for anyone to abuse their authority. I cannot stand seeing corrupt officials bully people.”

Viet Nam is notorious for high levels of corruption at all levels of government.

For the full article, click here.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Copts win right to appeal religious identities case

An Egyptian court accepted an appeal Monday from 45 Copts trying to reclaim their religious identities after deciding to convert back to Christianity from Islam. A lower administrative court ruled against the Copts on April 29, prohibiting them from restoring their Christian identities on their national identification cards, according to the International Herald Tribune.

The Supreme Administrative Court accepted their appeal and referred the case to a related committee that will make the final ruling, said Mamdouh Nakhlah, a lawyer for 12 of the plaintiffs.

“We are hopeful and optimistic that the Supreme Administrative Court will eventually uphold the principles of religious freedom and non-discrimination, both of which are guaranteed under the Constitution and international law,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Government lawyers argue that the original verdict is in line with the principles of Islamic Shari’a law, which considers conversion to any religion apostasy.

In the initial ruling, the lower court accused the plaintiffs of “manipulation” for changing from one religion to another. Copts often convert to Islam to obtain a divorce, which is prohibited by their church, or maintain custody of their children.

For the full article, click here .

Afghan ambassador calls for strategy change

Said Tayeb Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the U.S., has called for a change in tactics by U.S. and NATO forces to limit the number of civilian causalities, Voice of America reported Monday. The call comes after an air strike Friday in the Helmand Province which killed a number of Afghan civilians.

“When NATO is short of helicopters and soldiers and other (things), they have to rely on high altitude bombing, which is inaccurate and causes actually a high degree of civilian deaths,” Jawad said. As the Taliban’s tactic of hiding among civilians will not change, the allied operations must be altered to remain effective to the overall mission, he added.

Among the reasons cited by the ambassador for the spike in civilian deaths is insufficient intelligence gathering by U.S. and NATO forces as a means of implementing a calculated attack against the Taliban.

Recent comments by President Hamid Karzai have characterized the U.S.-NATO operations as “careless” in regards to the safety of Afghans.

For the full article, click here.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Tep Vong orders monk defrocked

Tim Sakhorn, a Khmer Krom monk, went missing over the weekend following orders by Tep Vong, a top Cambodian Buddhist official, that he be defrocked, The Cambodia Daily reported today.

Adhoc, a local rights group, has adamantly denounced the alleged kidnapping of Sakhorn and continues to call for Cambodian authorities to disclose his whereabouts.

Tep Vong, the Great Supreme Patriarch, has continuously accused Sakhorn of seeking to establish a religious movement in his Phnom Den pagoda. “Tim Sakhorn has breached the Buddhist discipline and caused a split in national and international unity, especially between the two countries of Cambodia and Vietnam,” Tep Vong alleged.

Non Nget has accused monks under Sakhorn of starting infighting between monks and insulting the Vietnamese. This is contrary to what Adhoc’s claims. Prak Sarann, Adhoc coordinator for the Takeo province, stated that there was “no evidence that [Sakhorn] had been taking in monks claiming to be fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.”

Thach Setha, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community organization, believes that Sakhorn was defrocked for political, and not religious, reasons.


Egyptian government detains Muslim Brotherhood students

At least 45 students connected with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful opposition group, were arrested in Alexandria on Saturday, Reuters reported the next day.

A government source said that 45 students had been detained for holding meetings “aimed at propagating the Muslim Brother’s ideology” and possessing Brotherhood literature.

According to a Muslim Brotherhood source, the students were vacationing together in Alexandria when the police raided their lodgings. Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers, Dr. Mohamed Habib, said there was no meeting and more than 50 students were detained for their affiliation with the group.

Habib said the crackdown on the group’s youth wing was part of the government’s continuing efforts to contain and marginalize the movement.

For the full articles, click here and here .

Egyptians react to proposed U.S. legislation to withhold a portion of military aid

According to Al-Ahram Weekly, Egyptian citizens and think-tankers alike have expressed the need for Egypt to find a way to do without U.S. aid, while government officials are upset by the “flagrant conditionality” of the aid package and hope the administration intervenes and prevents the bill from passing.

The annual U.S. aid package consists of $1.3 billion in military aid and $415 million in economic assistance. The legislation, which was approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee last week, would withhold $200 million of the military aid package pending an improvement in Egypt’s human rights performance and observance of democratic values.

“We want to get rid of this aid from the US. Why do we have to have aid… because [state officials] have to make commissions [off aid projects] and to use the aid money to have new expensive cars,” said Ayoub, an Egyptian taxi driver.

Several commentators also argued that Egypt should do without U.S. aid because the net interest that Egypt gains out of the two packages of aid is not worth the political demands that are being continuously put forth. The aid has served a good purpose, but the time has come for Cairo to break free from the conditions involved, they said.

Egyptian officials say they are aware that there is no such thing as free aid but think that the exchange of aid and policies should not be conducted in such an “offending manner.” Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit qualified the bill as “unacceptable interference in Egypt’s affairs,” according to a press release circulated by his office. The same message was conveyed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials, who informed Egyptian sources suggest responded with reassurance.

“We were told that the administration is not supporting this bill and that it will do what it can to support the solid friendship between Egypt and the US,” one source said.

“We are going to watch how things will unfold during the next few months. We will monitor what the US administration will do to defend Egypt's interests in Congress,” commented another Egyptian official who asked for his name to be withheld.

For the full article, click here.

Rome conference on Afghan rule of law begins

As instability threatens to compromise the justice system in Afghanistan, experts and officials gather in Rome this week to develop a plan for a sustainable legal system, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

After over 25 years of near-constant violence in Afghanistan, the conference will emphasize justice, human rights, legislative processes and law enforcement coordination. “The aim of the conference is to stress how the justice system represents a priority ... to consolidate democracy in Afghanistan,” said Pasquale Ferrara, spokesman for Italy’s Foreign Ministry.

Conference attendees include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema. Other guests include the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and the NATO Secretary General.

“We need to have a plan for the next five years, perhaps not necessarily a comprehensive, full-blown strategy, but we need to have some sort of a plan that talks about where we’re going to be in five years,” remarked Geralyn Busnardo of the International Development Law Organization. “That was something that was not well done for the past five years.”

For the full article, click here.


Afghanistan faces healthcare crisis

As the attacks continue to mount in Afghanistan, healthcare workers are being forced to cut programs, the Washington Post reported on June 29. At a time when civilian victims of military operations need the support of the system, health professionals are not able to provide support due to intimidation by militants.

Many clinics are closing as threats against them become more and more common. “Day by day it's becoming worse,” said Nadera Hayat Burhani, Afghanistan’s Deputy Health Minister. “In each country, it's a rule that you let the medical staff do their work. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, it is not that way. Here, they kill the medical staff.”

Although 80 percent of Afghans have access to basic healthcare, an estimated 22 million are unable to access hospitals to treat more serious ailments.

Attacks on medical personnel seem to be intended to punish the government and coerce people into supporting the Taliban’s cause. In the past two years, 39 medical workers have been killed.

Increased civilian injuries and deaths, caused by U.S. and NATO forces, are causing many Afghans to lose hope in living in a free and peaceful society. Caught in the middle, the Afghan people have very little chance to escape injury as the healthcare system crumbles amid escalating violence.

“The hospitals didn't help us. The government didn't help us. The foreign people didn't help us,” said Mohammed, a victim of continued violence. “Only my neighbor came to help me.”

For the full article, click here.