Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, July 13, 2007

Delahunt calls for U.S. to use leverage in foreign policy to advance human rights

“How do we restore our image? By making our actions more in line with our rhetoric, or vice versa,” Chairman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Thursday. “Honesty, if you will.”

The hearing, entitled “Ideals vs. Reality in Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy: The cases of Azerbaijan, Cuba and Egypt,” considered the inconsistencies of U.S. foreign policy and how the U.S. can pursue short-term security interests and long-term human rights interests simultaneously.

“I am not naïve; I know the choice is not always black and white, is not always between good and evil,” said Delahunt, chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight. “The issue is: how does the rest of the world look at us. It’s not a popularity contest; it’s about our own security. We’re growing terrorists all around the world not because of our values, but because of our policies.”

The subcommittee addressed the human rights situations and U.S. foreign policies in Azerbaijan, Cuba and Egypt because all three countries have authoritarian governments and are severely lacking in human rights, but U.S. policies – including relations with leaders and aid distributed – in those three countries are radically different.

The U.S. has an economic embargo on Cuba, but gives Egypt $2 billion in aid. On July 11 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that America stands for Cuba’s right to free and fair elections, not the transfer of power from one dictator to another… but that’s exactly what the U.S. allowed in Azerbaijan, and what is being allowed with Gamal Mubarak – the son of current president Hosni Mubarak – in Egypt, Delahunt said.

“We have done so much good but we’re so ambivalent, we have such different policies for different countries… It makes no sense that Egypt sits by, twiddles its thumbs [and does not exert its influence in Sudan] and we do nothing when we have a resolution about stopping genocide,” Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) said. “People around the world must look at us and say what in the world is going on in this country – I’m a policymaker and I don’t understand our policy. It’s dangerous, I think, for us and our future.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that he thinks truth, rather than consistency, should be the number one goal, and that policies pursued in different countries with similar human rights atrocities are not inconsistent.

“Cuba has a 50-year record of hatred toward the U.S…. it should be treated differently. But Egypt is playing a positive role [in the Middle East] that we should never, ever ignore. We should be grateful for that and only nudge them [towards human rights goals] as friends,” Rohrabacher said.

“The U.S. has to make certain decisions that lead to a positive outcome” in pursuit of our most important foreign policy goals, and “today’s goal is to win the war against radical Islam,” Rohrabacher said.

“Egypt has been of assistance in promoting peace with Israel,” Delahunt said. “I understand we have to deal with unsavory politicians sometimes, but when we take it too far…” he said, displaying pictures of President Bush smiling with leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

“No lunch and no photo ops,” agreed Morton H. Halperin, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who testified at the hearing. Halperin and Delahunt agreed that such friendly interactions and little perceptible pressure on human rights or democracy issues sends the wrong message and appears inconsistent with America’s non-nuanced rhetoric.

“Ninety three percent of Egyptians disapprove of the U.S. – if we can’t see beyond our nose and see where that’s heading… if that society should erupt, who will we be identified with? The Mubarak government. If Mubarak is replaced or overthrown, it would be a threat to the U.S. – to our commercial and security interests,” Delahunt said.

“We should never allow human rights to fall off the table,” said Ms. Jennifer L. Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, who also testified at the hearing. “It might be difficult to apply consistently, but we should never abandon it.”

Between 2003 and 2005, this administration “challenged the Mubarak regime to move towards greater openness and democracy,” Windsor said. “The Administration’s position has since reversed course, leaving Egyptian reformers disappointed and disillusioned and leaving the only serious political opponent to Mubarak in prison and in rapidly declining health… U.S. policy did make a difference when we took advantage of the leverage we had in Egypt, and we need to seize that opportunity now.”

“Human rights ought to be the centerpiece of our policy,” said Delahunt. “If we want to improve human rights, we don’t have any leverage with Cuba, but we do with Hosni Mubarak.”

For the witnesses’ full testimonies, click here.

13 Vietnamese missing in South Korea

After visiting the South Korean island of Jeju, 13 Vietnamese ‘tourists’ are now missing, Agence France Press reported Tuesday.

Immigration officials are currently investigating the possibility that the Vietnamese visitors are actually illegal immigrants. According to the immigration office, a total of 18 Vietnamese have disappeared in Jeju this year.

Last year, South Korea deemed Jeju a special autonomous province and allowed tourists to stay without a visa for up to one month. “There have reports that an increasing number of Southeast Asian tourists end up being illegal entrants after entering the island on tourist visas,” a police official remarked.

South Korea is a very attractive alternative for workers in poorer countries such as Viet Nam. In June, 20 Vietnamese and Indonesian crewman disembarked from their ship and attempted to swim to the Korean border.

For the full article, click here.


Vietnamese labor activist forced to flee to Cambodia

Dao Van Thuy, a member of the Vietnamese Independent Union, has been forced to take refuge in Cambodia, according to the Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers.

Following a statement which criticized the government’s labor policies, Thuy received threats of incarceration and was fired from his position. Thuy sharply criticized the Vietnamese Communist Party for neglecting its responsibility to help the country’s workers. He noted that “state-owned enterprises’ exploitation of workers is much worse that at foreign-owned ones.”

In light of the ongoing crackdown against human rights and democracy activists, Thuy is currently in Cambodia seeking asylum status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

For the full article, click here.

For more information on UNHCR, click here.

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Religious minorities struggle to obtain rights and identity in Turkey

In February 2006, Father Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest, was murdered in Trabzon, Turkey. In April 2007, three Protestant men were murdered in the Eastern town of Malatya. In light of these incidents, and in response to personal threats on their own lives, the most senior patriarch of the Orthodox Christian community and the Armenian Patriarch Mesrop – who both reside in Istanbul – have been assigned police officers for their protection. However, these police officers are unarmed, and the religious figures have both been advised to hire private security protection, according to an article in Norway’s Forum 18 News.

As threats and violence towards religious minorities, especially non-Muslims, increase in Turkey, the international community and the European Union have taken a hard look at what measures, if any, the country has taken to combat intolerance.

Additionally, the recent rise in Muslim conservatism has been reflected in the Turkish media, and by politicians. In May 2006, a television station aired an interview with Professor Ali Bardakoglu, the head of the government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, in which he stated, “We are not only telling our people in Turkey that Islam is the right (only) religion, but we also inform them about missionaries’ activities threatening our people.”

The article accuses Turkish media of hostility and bias when reporting attacks against religious minorities.

Many are calling for fundamental constitutional changes to better protect minorities. Those feeling vulnerable to attacks by hostile Turkish nationals are now turning to the European Court of Human Rights to help ensure their safety. Appeals to the Turkish court have only provided them with official recognition, not any official guarantee of legal protection.

For the full article, click here.


Egyptian officials react to U.S. Congressional delegation

One week after two U.S. lawmakers met with Egyptian officials, media representatives and parliamentarians and inspected Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, Egypt’s chairman of the People’s Assembly Foreign Affairs committee “hailed the visit as a unique occurrence,” according to Al Ahram Weekly.

“It was the fist time U.S. Congress members met with so many different people… I think they were eager to listen to a range of views, and this is especially important at a time when the U.S. press is painting a very negative picture of Egypt,” said the chairman, Mustafa El-Feki.

Two House members, Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Lincoln David (D-Tenn.), discussed initiating a parliament exchange program, the possible conditions on Egypt’s aid package and Egypt’s border control.

After visiting the border on July 3, McCollum told Al Ahram journalists that “the delegation’s visit to Rafah and Gaza left a very positive impact because it refuted charges that Egypt is not tough enough about smuggling weapons across borders.”

Egyptian officials emphasized their belief that annual U.S. aid to Egypt should not become a political tool.

“I think that some in Washington do not like Egypt’s position on Darfur or on Hamas in Palestine, and might be tempted into thinking U.S. aid can be a tool to change Egypt’s policies,” El-Feki said.

American aid to Egypt was initiated in an attempt to strike a balance between Egypt and Israel after the 1978 Camp David accords, according to Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People’s Assembly.

“Now, when [the] U.S. Congress conditions $200 million of that aid on what they call respect of human rights and the judiciary and on Egypt breaking up weapons-smuggling networks across the Egyptian-Gaza border, this clearly disrupts the balance,” Sorour said.

For the full article, click here.

Provincial governor fears power vacuum in Afghanistan

An Afghan governor has lashed out at the shortcomings of his government, Reuters reported today.

“In terms of internal factors, the government cannot deliver, and this is a problem,” said Abdual Sattar Murad.

As the governor of Kapisa province, Murad warns of a “vacuum of authority” that could provide advantages for the Taliban in remote Afghan regions. Kapisa has seen a surge in Taliban attacks in recent months, leading many Afghans to doubt the government’s ability to bolster security and implement economic development policies.

“What's missing is leadership. Afghanistan [is] at this critical moment of its history, we don’t have a leadership that can unite the national leaders, which can see the needs of people and respond to them,” Murad said. He added: “In remote parts of the country there is particularly a vacuum of authority, a vacuum of power. Somebody will have to fill that vacuum. Either the criminals fill that vacuum or the Taliban and al Qaeda do.”

As instability increases in remote regions of Afghanistan, many fear the reestablishment of Taliban power, a shift that would surely undue any progress made towards a sustainable Afghanistan that values equality and human rights.

For the full article, click here.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

U.N. Millennium Development Goals: Many successes, but still much progress to be made

This month officially marks the half way point on the timeline for the United Nations Millennium Development goals. In light of this benchmark, the United Nations Development Program and the Society for International Development held a round table discussion, “Inclusive Globalization and the Millennium Development Goals,” Wednesday to assess the progress that has been made so far. The keynote speaker, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Hafiz Pasha, discussed the millennium development goals (MDGs), along with commentators Johannes Linn of the Brookings Institution and Geeta Rao Gupta, the president of the International Center for Research on Women.

The session began with optimistic, yet realistic words from Pasha. He discussed the status of the MDGs in Asia, noting first that while East Asia has been a success story, southern Asia has fallen short. East Asia’s success is due large in part to China, Pasha said. However, he pointed out that China’s gains should not be viewed without a critical eye. Remarkably, China was responsible for bringing three-fourths of impoverished East Asians above the poverty line, but that came at the expense of environmental setbacks. Additionally, Pasha commented on the disappointment of that such a drop in poverty wasn’t accompanied by better health care and education. All three must come together if there is to be a sustainable reduction in poverty, Pasha said. Also, he emphasized that in all areas, the disparity between the rich and the poor is worsening. While China has progressed overall, other smaller, oft-overlooked East Asian nations like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Cambodia have not. Finally, Pasha said that in order to ensure progress during the second half of the MDG timeline, several steps must be taken including enhanced development in rural areas, better absorption of unskilled workers, increased public investment, and improved overall social development, particularly in the areas of healthcare, education, and the advancement of women’s and minorities rights.

After Pasha, Geeta Rao Gupta focused on the MDGs, specifically in the context of women’s progress. Gupta asserted that if the millennium goals were to be reached at all, they must be done in conjunction with achieving key gender-equity goals that include access to primary education for all women, the protection of reproductive rights, women’s property rights and expanded female roles in government. Gupta concluded by declaring that if gains in women’s education were to be successful, they must be accompanied by an increase in female economic empowerment.

Finally, Johannes Linn opened by stating that the fact that “MDGs keep us accountable collectively” is crucial for the international community. However, he then followed by warning that not all the MDGs would be met by 2015, and that there needed to be sound development plans in order to ensure some tangible progress. Otherwise, the MDGs would lose their audience once 2015 has come and gone. Linn stressed that the MDG implementation process needed to be improved, saying that there is too much fragmentation in implementation plans, which is exacerbated by general agency ineffectiveness. Currently, only 20 percent of aid actually reaches the beneficiaries, and if nations are to continue contributing, that number must increase, he argued. If the MDGs are to maintain international importance, they need to have practical implementation plans, Linn said.

To access the United Nations Millennium Development Goals 2006 Report, click here.

Security threats force vicar out of Baghdad

Canon Andrew White, the head of Iraq’s only Anglican Church, has been forced to flee Baghdad in light of recent threats. The warning comes from the abductors of five Britons that are being held as hostages in Iraq, BBC News reported today.

White’s efforts were focused on finding the captors of the five Britons, who were abducted on May 29. The captives, four security guards and one consultant, are said to have been kidnapped by insurgents disguised as Iraqi police.

White decided to return to Britain after pamphlets were left in the predominantly Shia portions of Baghdad labeling him a spy.

For the full article, click here.


Lack of clean water spells disaster for many Afghans

As a result of heavy flooding, much of the water in Afghanistan has been contaminated, IRIN reported Wednesday. An estimated 10,000 Afghans, mostly children, have been diagnosed with acute diarrhea in recent weeks.

“For the last six weeks 200-300 diarrhea patients a day, almost all of them children, have been visiting our hospital,” Abdula Rawof Ferogh, the head of a hospital in Balk Province, said. Twenty deaths have occurred in Daykundi (central Afghanistan) and Balkh (northern Afghanistan) in the past five weeks alone.

Contaminated water is being used to wash produce and fruits and vegetables have been tainted as a result. According to the World Health Organization, more than two million people die each year as a result of diarrhea, either through consuming contaminated water or by contracting the disease from individuals with poor personal hygiene.

For the full article, click here.


Future generations of Afghan children at risk as instability continues

With continued violence and instability, Afghanistan is struggling to provide primary education for its children, the International Herald Tribune reported Monday. However, despite the conflict, school enrollment has increased to 6.2 million, with an astounding 33 percent of those being female.

Still, while many schools are open, the quality of teachers and textbooks leaves something to be desired. Students risk their lives traveling to school in certain areas, only to find that an estimated 20 percent of teachers are actually qualified. Some children remain out of school due to the danger brought on by the Taliban and U.S.-NATO operations. “It is better for my children to be alive even if it means they must be illiterate,” said Sayed Rasul, a father of two who has chosen to remove his daughters from school.

With intensified Taliban operations, the development of an effective education system has been severely undermined. Although the most recent minister of education, Haneef Atmar, has put together a five-year plan, he is the fifth education minister in as many years, resulting in much skepticism as to the government’s ability to properly develop a national education system.

For the full article, click here.


Societal evaluations needed in light of increased self-immolation cases

The following piece was written by LCHR Fellow LaChelle Amos, who is currently supporting the Leadership Council’s initiatives on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Beyond a guarded gate, in a building separated from the others in the compound by a small grassy garden lay 7 women in bright, white linens, writhing in pain. This was my second day in Suleimaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq, and I found myself slipping on special shoes, a hair net, and hospital gown in the specialized Burn Unit of the Emergency Hospital.

Never before had I seen such a sight. Not one of the women was less than 30 percent covered in burns, first, second and third degree. As we walked into the first room, female visitors were crying, male family members stood at the window, trying to see how their daughter/sister/wife was doing, before being rushed off to surgery. Her burns had become infected.

In the second room, a female family member standing next to the bed of a women 52 percent covered in burns explained that the woman burned herself making tea.

By the time we stepped into the last room – the room where the most critical patients are cared for – I noticed I was ever-so-slightly shaking. A 20-year-old woman lay in the bed 61 percent covered in second and third degree burns. She was 8 months pregnant when she burned herself – the baby had to be aborted upon arrival to the hospital. The young woman let out a barely audible, horrific scream as the nurse injected some antibiotics into her ankle.

Lying in the bed next to her another 20-year-old female, Nawal Latif, suffers from the second and third degree burns that cover 96 percent of her almost lifeless body. Othman Ahmed, from the X-Ray Department, translates Nawal's mother-in-law’s explanation of the cause: suicide attempt by petrol. As we leave the room, Othman explains to me that the young woman was married less than a week before – the marriage was forced.

Very few of the women who are admitted into the burn unit provide the real causes of the burns. The women and their families fear that an investigation would be launched if the true causes were revealed. Regardless of the specific causes, these Kurdish women feel they have no other out from their societal pressures. With the number of cases on the rise, according to the research of the Suleimaniyah’s Rewan Center, the time has come for officials in the area to seriously evaluate the societal pressures on women in their country.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thousands of Palestinians stuck for more than a month at Rafah Crossing

Since early June, an estimated 4000 to 6000 Palestinians have been held at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, unable to return to their homes. Many came to Egypt for medical treatment or to study. Between eleven and 28 Palestinians have reportedly died as a result of the deteriorating conditions at the border crossing.

The Rafah Crossing in the northern Sinai has been closed since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and its cargo crossings. Hamas leader Ismail Haniye and three Palestinian resistance groups have released statements urging the Egyptian government to address the humanitarian crisis and reopen the border, according to Arab Monitor. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has called for an international force in the Gaza Strip to “guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid and to allow citizens to enter and leave freely,” according to MidEast Daily News.

On July 7, about 100 Palestinians, who are being held in El Arish airport without Egyptian visas, went on a hunger strike to protest their conditions, according Arab Monitor. Those at the airport are currently living off aid organizations in El Arish, but “their numbers are growing, and they include women, children and elderly people. The conditions are very difficult. It is very hot, they have to sleep on the floor and they share one bathroom,” an airport official said.

Director of the ambulance and emergency department in the Palestinian ministry of health, Dr. Mu’awiya Hassanein, announced on July 7 that 28 Palestinians who had traveled to Egypt for medical treatment and were waiting at the border crossing had died, according to Uruknet.info. In the MidEast Daily News, Abbas said that 11 have died as a result of the conditions.

Sources in the Israeli defense establishment said Tuesday that Egypt had given Israel a list of hundreds of Palestinians they intended to allow back into Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing, Israel Radio reported.

For the full articles, click here and here and here and here .

Without enough water, farmers protest against government

More than 4000 people from Egypt’s Beshbeesh village in Mahalla demonstrated in front of the municipality Tuesday in protest of having their water cut off for two years, according to All Headline News. Across Egypt in the last six months, poorer communities, who feel the government is not doing enough to aid in their well-being, have staged strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations.

In the Al Qannan village in Belgas, 250 farmers continued their sit-in for the third consecutive day. They are protesting against the government for not supplying them with proper irrigation methods and allowing a neighboring village to encroach on their canal and annex their properties illegally.

The increase in costs of running farms and purchasing land and equipment is a leading cause of the civil strife, which the government says it is dealing with.

For the full article, click here .

Baghdad job fair aims to help security, discourage insurgency

Twenty-five companies and some international business recently attended a job fair in Iraq in an effort to reduce unemployment and provide alternatives to joining the insurgency, IRIN reported Tuesday. The Baghdad-based Karkh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a non-governmental organization, hosted the fair.

“We intended to put companies in direct touch with the unemployed. The unemployed should invest their energy in working in their neighborhoods instead of joining the insurgents,” said Ali Jamil Latif, the leader of the Karkh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Unemployment rates are now range between 60-70 percent and those without jobs have few options to provide for themselves and their families. Consequently, many have turned to the insurgency.

The Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund has been given $21 billion dollars for rebuilding Iraq, making it the largest U.S. foreign aid project since the Marshall plan. However, the article notes that according to an audit conducted earlier this year by the office of the Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction, “insecurity, corruption among Iraqi officials, and weak U.S. contract management,” are responsible for the loss of tens of millions missing of dollars from the Iraq reconstruction fund.

For the full article, click here.


Afghan women traded as currency despite advancements in rights

Although women’s rights have advanced somewhat since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghan girls continue to be traded and forced into marriage, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Girls are often used to pay off debts and settle disputes that may arise in the community. The tribal law, known as bad in the Dari language, allows families to bypass the $1,000 bride price to resolve various issues between feuding families.

One man, for example, sold his 16-year-old daughter because he was unable to repay a $165 loan to buy sheep. In exchange for marrying the sheep owner’s son, the girl’s father received nine sheep. “He gave me nine sheep,” Ahmad said as his daughter wiped tears from her eyes. “Because of nine sheep, I gave away my daughter.”

“It’s really sad to do this in this day and age, exchange women,” said Manizha Naderi, the director of the aid group Women for Afghan Women. “They're treated as commodities.”

For the full article, click here.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Youthful Copts embrace martyrdom in face of church restrictions, violence

Though speculation regarding constraints and discrimination Coptic Christians in Egypt have faced in the past 35 years broadly differs, currently, “matters are getting worse,” according to Bishop Morcos Aziz Zakariya of the Hanging Church in Masr el-Qadima, Cairo, as reported on EARTHtimes.org.

Archaic laws that restrict the building and restoring of churches have led to numerous disputes. A church has to be away from the Nile, creeks, water facilities, another church, mosques, railway stations, important monuments and government property. To commence restoration work, a church, matter how old, must find property rights.

“I can give you hundreds of examples of churches not granted permits when they were in dire need of restoration,” Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, leader member of the Wafd Party, said.

Both Copts and Muslims have been calling for a modern unified law for all places of worship for 35 years, and a draft of this law is expected to be viewed by parliament at the end of its summer recess.

Besides disputes over churches, many Copts, especially the youth, have begun to perceive any violent incident as a threat and as systematic oppression. In turn, Copts have started embracing “a culture of martyrdom,” Rafiq Habib, a Christian but not a Copt, said. On a forum on the website Free Copts, Christian victims of internal clashes in Egypt are called martyrs.

Other Christians refuse to consider “discrimination” as the sole reason behind the Coptic agitation; Father Safwat al-Bayadi, head of the Egyptian Anglican Church, attributes the troubles to the fact that “people are suffering in general.”

“Young people are fed up and are unable to speak out. They are poor and unemployed, this is why fight one another,” Bayadi said.

For the full article, click here.

Adulterer stoned to death in Iran

According to the Iranian judiciary, a man has been executed for committing adultery, BBC Newsreported today. Jafar Kiani was stoned to death last week – despite a previous suspension of the practice – following his adultery conviction over ten years ago.

According to Iran’s Islamic law, a male adulterer must be buried to his waist with his hands tied behind his back, while a female offender is buried up to her neck. The stoning brings the number of state-sanctioned executions to 110 this year alone. Most executions are carried out via public hanging. The stoning of Kiani was the first use of the practice in five years.

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, called for an end to the practice. To execute anyone by stoning is barbaric and disgraceful. To execute a woman for adultery in this cruel way simply beggars belief,” Allen said.

For the full article, click here.


Protests in Viet Nam over land and corruption

Hundreds of protestors in Ho Chi Minh City have gathered to speak out against corruption and unfair compensation for land seized for government infrastructure projects, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Since June 22, the protestors have camped outside of the National Assembly. “They have set up tents on the pavements, hung up banners and placards demanding fair compensation for their land and denouncing local corruption,” a local police officer said.

Government officials have been dispatched to meet with local provincial leaders in hopes of resolving the disputes, which are becoming more and more common with the rise in industrial park construction.

For the full article, click here.


Iran close to determining fate of American prisoners

Iranian officials have announced the discovery of new evidence concerning two Iranian-Americans currently being held on charges of seeking to destabilize the state, The Washington Post reported today.

In a judicial statement last month, officials hinted at an end to the “crimes against national security” investigations of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh. “We have received fresh evidence. Fresh investigations have started based on this evidence,” judiciary spokesperson, Alireza Jamshidi, said.

“After hundreds of hours of interrogation and so-called investigation, what is left to investigate. The aim of the security authorities is clearly to coerce a false confession; or, out of sheer meanness, they intend to keep Haleh in Evin Prison as long as they can. It is astonishing that Iran's political leaders allow this charade to continue,” Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University said.

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have been in Iranian custody since early May and have been denied legal representation. Two other Iranian-Americans, Ali Shakeri and Parnaz Azima, are also being detained on suspicion of espionage.

The U.S. State Department continues to call for the release of the captives. “There is absolutely no basis for any prosecution of these people. They pose no threat to the Iranian regime,” said spokesman Tom Casey. “These people should not be subject to any arrest, prosecution, or detention and should be released immediately.”

For the full article, click here.


Study finds countries with greater religious tolerance are better off

A distinguished panel met today at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom to report the findings of their most recent survey, “World Trends in Religious Freedom.” The six-person panel represented a group of at least 79 researchers, authors and experts that helped compile the data, which is set to be included in a book that will be published early next year.

The survey presents information on 100 countries, with a particularly focus on those known for restricting religious freedom, and offers comparisons using charts, scores and trends. It addresses each country within the context of civil liberties, political rights, economic freedom and social wellbeing.

While the study presents many current trends, several in particular were singled out at the discussion. First, the panelists made it clear that while certain trends have emerged with respect to religious freedoms, violations of those freedoms are occurring worldwide and are in many cases intensifying. With that in mind, the panelists argued that the greatest threat to religious freedom today is radical Islam, calling it detrimental to both non-Muslims and moderate Muslims. A large portion of the presentation was also focused on the correlation between countries with a strong economy and countries with high tolerance for religious freedom. Civil liberties and political liberties also had a high association with countries with high religious tolerance, as did countries with a long history of democracy, low military spending, and low levels of violent social conflict. Finally, the point was made that those countries that have a Muslim majority and ingrained Muslim traditions tend to restrict religious freedom more so than non-Muslim nations. This matched low levels of women’s rights, democracy and economic freedoms in Muslim nations, according to the panelists.

Other noteworthy findings included the fact that there is little correlation between church-state relations and national religious freedom. Additionally the study suggested that there is no correlation between religious freedoms and the existence of a secular or non-secular government. Lastly, despite the finding that Muslim nations tend to be associated with religious oppression, there were cases such as Mali and Senegal that are Muslim by tradition and majority, yet boast very high scores on religious freedom.

In addition to general trends, the panel took time to highlight the best and worst countries with respect to religious freedoms. Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan were listed among the worst, while Ireland, Hungary, Estonia and the United States were among the best. Latin America and Eastern Europe also received praise for being the most improved areas of the world.

For country score tables, click here

Monday, July 09, 2007

Over 1 million internally displaced persons now in Iraq

1,037,615 is the latest estimate of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq, according to a report released by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society on July 5. This number could continue to rise by 80,000-100,000 per month if the average rates in place from February 2006 to June 2007 persist, IRIN reported today.

The recent increase in IDPs is said to be related to the intensification of sectarian violence since the bombing of the Samara mosque in February 2006. The IDP population consists of 37.5 percent children under 12; 32.8 percent women; and 29.7 percent men. The displaced are facing many hardships, including access to education, health care, medication, and other basic services. Overqualified individuals are forced to take low-level or illegal jobs and IDPs are vulnerable to drug addiction and entanglement with armed gangs who rape and steal.

The report concludes with a brief call to action to help support Iraqi IDPs and refugees, whose large presence in neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan is placing a large strain on regional economies.

For the full article, click here.