Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, August 17, 2007

Vietnamese government officials attack news website

The Viet Nam-based news site, Intellasia, has reported that it is under official attack from Vietnamese authorities, who claim that the site is “illegal” and posts “reactionary content,” according to The Guardian. Staff members have been under interrogation for six weeks, the article says.

In contrast to the government’s characterization of the site, the article claims that Intellasia is well-known for its promotion of tourism and investment in Viet Nam.

The owner and partial operator of the site, Peter Leech, responded to the attacks: “This is a very dark day for what should be a civilized country to operate in... it should be noted that any foreigner or foreign organization here in Vietnam that also operates a website abroad could at any time suddenly find themselves in a similar position of persecution - no matter how seemingly innocent the content placed on a foreign-owned website - particularly if relating in any way to a state enterprise or state entity... So, this begs the question: how safe is anyone really, now or in the future?”

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese fear food shortages in aftermath of flooding

Flooding in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces has left around one million people facing food shortages, according to Vietnamese government officials. Radio Australia reports that more than 70 people have died; the death toll is expected to climb as the missing are recovered.

Although 3,000 tons of rice have already been sent to the provinces, more food is needed and officials have appealed for international help for additional supplies such as disinfectants, mosquito nets, and clothing.

For the full article, click here.

Sri Lankan president takes a step backwards on human rights while foreign governments exert little pressure

In Sri Lanka, where the human rights situation has “deteriorated dramatically in the past couple of years,” a reporter from the International Herald Tribune calls for foreign governments to “set up a UN human rights monitoring mission… committed to protecting the rights of all Sri Lankans—Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim—from extrajudicial killings, abductions, intimidation and indiscriminate military attacks.”

In addition, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who worked with the United Nations and organized mothers of the “disappeared” in 1988 to 1990, “should remember his days as a human rights activist and confront the rampant abuses taking place on his watch.”

A relative calm ensued in Sri Lanka after a cease-fire agreement between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in February 2002, though the Tamil Tigers continued to recruit child soldiers and assassinate moderate Tamils. But since fighting resumed mid-2006, civilians have become the primary target—not just in direct clashes but in the insidious “dirty war” fought by both sides.

Human Rights Watch spent months investigating how security forces have subjected civilians to “disappearances,” indiscriminate attacks, forced displacement and restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The government has arrested journalists under recently introduced Emergency Regulations, which allow the authorities to hold a person for up to 12 months without charge. The government has done nothing to shut down child recruitment, and humanitarian groups face severe restrictions on access to the embattled northeast and even face threats.

In response to this downward spiral, foreign governments haven’t done much, as Sri Lanka has little strategic or economic importance to most countries.

To read the full article, click here.

Increasing number of journalists targeted in Middle East 'abominable and frightning'

The arrest of Adnan Hassanpur and Abdolwahed (Hiwa) Butimar is “neither exceptional nor reprehensible in a regime like the Iranian one, or in the Arab regimes in the region, all of which have a long history of targeting journalists and intellectuals,” according to Asharq Alawsat, an Arabic international daily publication.

What makes this sentence issued by Iran’s Revolutionary Court an “alarming one” is that it invokes the death penalty, rather than just imprisonment.

In a closed session, both Hassanpour and Butimar, two Kurdish journalists, were convicted and issued death sentences on charges of endangering national security and conspiring to spread separatist propaganda against the state.

But, according to Asharq Alawsat, the increasing number of journalists abducted or killed is “more abominable and frightening” than the death sentences.

“In the face of this information revolution, these regimes have remained ensnared by their inherent tyrannies, while the societies are victimized by their beliefs and dogmas… But this targeting is not simply planned by regimes alone, but also by rival groups, or sometimes even by the very group the journalist is affiliated with.”

This persistence in targeting and killing journalists “is the social cost of terror and a coercive inducement towards silence.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fate of Iranian-American scholars still unclear

The fate of two detained Iranian-Americans remains unknown, even after Iranian judicial authorities announced the completion of their investigation, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The detainees, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, are facing security charges, but many fear that the two will be coerced into making false confessions in order to secure their release.

Human rights groups, prominent politicians, and relatives of the detainees have established websites and voiced concern over their fate, especially after new reports stated that the scholars are facing difficult physical and psychological conditions in prison.

There has been much debate surrounding the arrests and a recent incident involving Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, who has been barred from leaving Iran, has only added to the tensions between Tehran and Washington.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam looks to present ‘tourist-friendly image’ in spite of domestic tensions

According to an article by Professor Long S. Le in Tuesday’s Asia Times Online, a new statue in Ho Chi Minh City is symbolic of Viet Nam’s new attitude towards the West and the legacy of the ‘American War,’ – sentiment that seems to be in line with the growth of the country’s tourism industry.

The statue will be raised in the image and honor of Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who immolated himself in the streets to protest against the U.S. and South Viet Nam during the war.

Le takes a closer look at the implications of this new momument and how it reflects the changing, and perhaps contradictory attitudes, of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The statue, considered by many to be a marketing ploy, is meant to call attention to a ‘new, tourist-friendly’ Viet Nam. This image has already proven to be enticing to Vietnamese living in the West.

And while the Communist government appears to be trumpeting a new progressive, market-oriented demeanor, the government has only transformed selectively – handpicking certain ideals while still retaining many aspects of conservatism and maintaining its tight grip on religious freedoms and other basic rights.

Although the tourists who visit the new Viet Nam will not automatically see these contradictions, the author asserts that Vietnamese citizens will not be able to deny the hypocrisy of this shift.

Corruption on the rise in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s government recently launched a campaign in an attempt to address the country’s latest political plague, according to BBC News.

Although the government has jailed and suspended numerous officials for extortion, bribery has also trickled down to the street. Police officials, passport workers, and even traffic officers demand daily bribes for their services.

According to the article, a senior official at the Afghanistan interior ministry admits that widespread corruption is a problem, but blames other factors such as the war and a lack of support from the international community.

He claims, “Corruption will only vanish once we deny people the reasons to be corrupt. We also need to fire corrupt officials at the highest level. If we don’t, then people will lose more trust in the Afghan government.”

Yet, many Afghans believe that better wages would improve their standard of living and therefore combat the impetus for corruption.

For the full article, click here.

Monuments of Afghan empire in danger

One of the most prominent symbols of Afghanistan’s greatest empire is slowly eroding and could possibly be destroyed, Reuters reported.

The monuments, know as the “Towers of Victory,” have fallen under extreme disrepair – due more to the effects of weather than conflict. In addition to erosion, illegal excavations for antiquities around the monument have further weakened the Towers.

The two minarets were constructed in the early 12th century to commemorate the victories of the Afghan armies and the prowess of the empire.

Ghazni, the city where the monuments are located, is considered the cradle of Afghan culture and arts.

Resources to preserve the Towers are scare. According to Sayed Wali, the head of the culture department in Ghazni, Afghanistan’s impoverished central government has been distracted by the Taliban insurgency and has allotted only $100 dollars in six years to fill some of the holes around the towers.

For the full article, click here.

Iran confirms arrest of three journalists

An Iranian judiciary spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Iranian authorities have detained journalists Masoud Bastani, Farshad Ghorbanpour and Soheil Asefi, accusing the three of “publishing false statements and lies” about the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to Jurist.

According to Reporters Without Border (RSF), Asefi was arrested August 4 and Ghorbanpour was detained July 31. Asefi’s and Ghorbanpour’s “most basic rights were violated as they were barred from court when the sentence was handed down,” RSF said.

The spokesman said that Asefi has been granted a $162,000 bail. A judiciary ministry official told Reuters that Bastani had been released but can still be questioned pursuant to ongoing investigations.

For the full articles, click here and here.

Jordan to open public schools to Iraqi children

Human Rights Watch has estimated that there were some 200,000 school-aged Iraqi children in Jordan last year, but only 10 percent, or 20,000, were able to attend.

When Jordanian public schools open Sunday, some 50,000 Iraqi students are expected to attend, as a result of Jordan’s pledge to grant some 750,000 displaced Iraqis educational and health rights, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, Jordan’s Ministry of Education announced that for the first time it would open up public schools to Iraqi children, regardless of whether they possess a residency permit or not. In the past, Iraqi children could only attend government schools if their parents had a residency permit or paid private school fees.

But Jordan is still blocking the entry of most Iraqis attempting to flee the violence and is unwilling to grant Iraqis who do manage to cross the border refugee status.

Jordan is “virtually closing its borders and, with few exceptions, not allowing Iraqis to enter the country,” Human Rights Watch said.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blasts kill at least 250 in Kurdish area of Iraq

Four truck bombs killed at least 250 people in two Iraqi villages mostly populated by Yazidis, a minority group whose members have been frequent targets since April, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press.

The blasts, capping one of the worst days of violence in months, exploded in Qahtaniya and Jazeera in northwest Iraq on Tuesday. The location of the villages, near the Syrian border, raised questions about whether the American military effort has pushed insurgents into less populated areas.

Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking sect that mixes elements of Islam with the teaching of an ancient Persian religion, worship an angel figure who is considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians.

Since April, when some Yazidis stoned a Yazidi woman to death for dating a Sunni Arab man, members of the sect have become frequent targets of Sunni attacks, including an incident on April 23 when gunmen stopped minibuses full of Yazidi laborers and killed 23 of them.

Many Yazidis have recently moved to villages farther west, where they make up a majority. The deadly assault on Tuesday crushed the hope that there would be safety in numbers, especially near the border with Syria, which officials have described as an entry point for foreign fighters.

For the full articles, click here and here.

U.N. to provide new homes for returning Afghan refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pledged on Monday to assist in the construction of new homes for almost 10,000 returning Afghan families, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today, citing Pajhwak Afghan News.

Aid will come from the U.N.’s Shelter for Refugees Program, which provides refugees with tools and construction equipment.

However, refugees returning to the southern provinces of Farah and Nimroz are at particular risk, according to Fernando Arocena, head of the International Organization for Migration. He said that they must deal with violence, unemployment, and food shortages.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Flawed economic policy causes damage in Iraq

The U.S. Defense Department reported Sunday that a large number of unemployed Iraqis are now at risk of recruitment by al-Qaeda and other militant groups because of economic policy mistakes implemented after the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to Reuters.

Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation in Iraq, stressed that economic, social, and political stability could be achieved if Iraqi factories were able to secure a small portion of international trade. Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds were forced to trade amongst themselves due to United Nations trade sanctions.

According to the article: “Increased industrial output creating more jobs would help Iraq achieve the reconciliation between the warring Shiite majority and the Sunni Arab minority dominant under Saddam that politicians have so far been unable to bring about.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S. Congress bills propose that Iraqis targeted for helping U.S. should be helped in return with eased resettlement

As many as 110,000 Iraqis may be targeted as collaborators for helping U.S., coalition or foreign reconstruction efforts, according to an editorial in The Washington Post. Yet those same Iraqis may not be able to resettle in the U.S. as refugees.

The Iraqis who collaborate are frequently at risk of kidnapping, murder and persecution. At least 257 translators have already been killed, according to Human Rights First.

Because of this violence, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has referred more than 8000 Iraqis to the U.S. for resettlement during this year alone. Yet fewer than 200 have been admitted.

Iraqis who do apply for resettlement through the UNHCR must first brave crossing a border, as they cannot apply for refugee status while in Iraq.

Bills introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) would create a special immigrant visa category for Iraqis who have worked for the U.S., allowing them to apply for resettlement within Iraq and without having to go through the UNHCR.

For the full article, click here.

2 South Korean hostages released by Taliban

Two South Korean women who had been held by Taliban for over three weeks in Afghanistan were released on Monday, Reuters reported the same day.

The women, Kim Kyung-ja and Kim Ji-na, were handed over in relatively good health, according to South Korean diplomats.

The two were part of a group of 23 Korean church volunteers who were captured in Kabul last month.
The women are the first hostages from the group to be freed.

The Taliban are still holding 19 Koreans hostage; 16 of them are women.

For the full article, click here.

Maliki summons political leaders for compromise

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki has pledged to host talks with the country’s major political parties in an effort to unite the warring groups, The New York Times reported Monday.

Maliki has also threatened to replace cabinet ministers if they do not participate in the meeting.
This request comes at a time of political unrest in Baghdad; the Shiite-led Maliki government has been plagued by boycotts from cabinet members.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni political leader, claimed that Shiite death squads and Iranian agents were conducting “genocide” against Sunnis with the tacit approval of government institutions, according to the article.

“We believe that we have reached a point of desperation with this government, and there are no ways to continue with it,” Dulaimi said in an interview on Sunday night.

The Iraqi government’s lack of progress has created much frustration among American officials in Iraq, who have shifted their focus and expectations to progress in individual provinces.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Middle class Iraqis struggle to make ends meet in Jordan

To escape the war, upper and middle class Iraqis have streamed into Jordan, but they have been met with economic hardship there, according to The New York Times.

“The binding section of the population does not exist anymore,” said Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, who now spends most of his time in Jordan. “The middle class has left Iraq.”

This socioeconomic group, consisting of former business owners and bankers, among others, has been pouring into Jordan and Syria since 2005 and 2006. Most of the refugees have had to rely on their own wealth to survive, as many lack residency status and are barred from employment.

Middle class Iraqis are now floundering under the high rent and cost of education for their children; most admit they can no longer afford life’s basic necessities.

The economic suffering of Iraqis living in Jordan will ultimately affect Iraq itself – “the poorer they grow and the longer they stay away, the more crippled Iraq becomes,” the article notes.

Despite the rapid influx, Jordanian authorities have been accommodating – welcoming doctors into hospitals and allowing most Iraqis to live without residency permits.

Still, the large numbers have taken a toll on the small country, recently leading authorities to reduce the number of Iraqis allowed entry.

The U.S. has pledged to increase the number of Iraqi refugees it accepts; 9,100 have already been referred by the United Nations this year. So far only 200 have arrived, with several hundred more expected in the coming weeks.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian family suing police for allegedly torturing their son to death

Thirteen-year-old Mohammad Mahmoud Abdelaziz, who died after being released from custody, was detained in Mansoura on suspicion of theft ten days ago, and spent six days violently beaten, according to the BBC.

Mohammad’s mother visited him at the police station and found him bandaged. After four days at home, the family took Mohammad to the hospital, where he died.

This comes after a string of incidents involving police abuse in Egypt, though the government denies reports of police abuse.

For the full article, click here.

Two Egyptian Christians detained for web 'insults to Islam'

Egyptian police arrested Peter Ezzat and Adel Fawzi for their work on the website of the Middle East Christian Association, a Christian Arab group based in Canada, according to Reuters.

Unnamed lawyers have said that the website “insulted Islam and the prophet Mohammad on behalf of diaspora Copts,” a police source said.

Headlines on the website include “Is Mohammad a messenger from God” and “This Web site reveals the true face of Islam”.

Last autumn, Reporters Without Borders added Egypt to its annual list of “Enemies of the Internet”—regimes the group claims restrict freedom of expression online.

For the full article, click here.

Two months after ban, Egyptian girl dies during circumcision

A 13-year-old Egyptian girl died during a circumcision operation, two months after the death of another girl prompted health officials to ban the traditional procedure, according to the Associated Press.

In June, the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker during a circumcision operation sparked a public outcry, prompting the government to officially ban hospitals from performing female circumcisions.

Karima Rahim Massoud’s death from the procedure was uncovered when her father applied for a death certificate Friday, claiming his daughter died from natural causes. Along with Karima’s father, the doctor involved also has been referred to the state prosecutor, and the doctor’s clinic in rural Gharbiyah province has been shut down.

While the Egyptian Health Ministry has said violators will be punished, it has not specified the penalty. The ban is not enforceable by law, which requires passage in the national legislature.

For the full article, click here.

Forty more Muslim Brothers detained

Egyptian police arrested 40 university students and their professors at a beach resort on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, a security official said Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Numerous such arrests have been made in recent months, including 21 Brothers detained at another coastal resort earlier this summer. Fourteen members of the group were arrested August 4 in a raid on a summer camp in Cairo.

Saturday’s arrests bring the number of Brotherhood members currently detained to at least 600, said Abdel Galil el-Sharnoubi, who edits the group’s Web site.

For the full article, click here.