Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Demonstrations in Paris shed light on human rights violations in southern Viet Nam

Human rights demonstrators gathered to Paris earlier this week to raise awareness about human rights violations in the Mekong Delta as well as the recent arrest of the Buddhist monk the Ven. Tim Sakhorn, according to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

The indigenous people of the Mekong Delta are known as the Khmer Krom and monks from this area in particular have increasingly become targets of government persecution and have been denied the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

The disappearance of the Ven. Tim Sakhorn, who was living in Cambodia assisting other Khmer Krom refugees fleeing from Viet Nam, has also drawn attention to rights violations in southern Viet Nam. The most recent report claims that the monk has been returned to the country with the charge of “undermining national unity.”

The demonstrations were well-attended- numerous petitions were signed and international representatives from the Khmer Krom spoke on behalf of Ven. Tim Sakhorn and other victims.

According to the article: “UNPO delivered also an appeal, urging the Cambodian government to pressure its Vietnamese neighbors to respect international human rights standards, and to remember their own obligations to protect human rights defenders and those who seeking refuge within their borders.”

Relationship between U.S. and Egypt deserves a second look

Youssef Ibrahim reflects upon the rule of President Mubarak and hopes to shed a brighter light on one of America’s closest allies in his latest editorial for the New York Sun.

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of American aid, much of which is used to support the country’s powerful police force and military.

Ibrahim reveals how President Mubarak’s rule has affected his own life- when his friend and former Libyian ambassador Mansour Kikhi suddenly disappeared in Cairo and was later tortured and killed.

He implores readers to think twice about one of America’s closest allies, particularly in the wake of Egyptian scholar and activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s recent threats from the Egyptian government.

For the full article, click here.

Aid to Iraqi refugees will demonstrate U.S. commitment in Middle East

In Wednesday’s Washington Post, editorialist Michael Gerson emphasizes that the outcome of the Iraq War cannot overshadow the country’s rapidly growing refugee problem.

According to the United Nations, there has been a steady flow of about 50,000 Iraqi refugees each month, the majority of which are displaced within Iraq but also throughout poor urban areas in Jordan and Lebanon. This lack of centralization makes is difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach those in need.

The United States has continued to fund U.N. refugee efforts, but the author asserts that the contribution is inadequate compared to the growing crisis. So far, only 200 Iraqis have been admitted to the U.S. despite the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recommendations of 8,00 Iraqi visas. Gerson also emphasizes that helping Iraqis would not only address a pressing humanitarian concern but demonstrate a longer-term commitment to the Middle East.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mock tourism video advertisement highlights discrimination based on religion in Egypt

All Egyptian citizens are required to register their religious affiliation on a computerized national ID card, without which basic services are impossible to access. However, applicants can only choose from three religions: Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. Baha’is and other minority groups are excluded from obtaining the required cards. The ID cards have since sparked much controversy and several unsuccessful lawsuits to change the discriminatory ID card restrictions.

A recent You Tube video highlights the problem for Egypt’s religious minorities in a mock tourism ad. To view the video, click here.

Click here for more background information about ID cards in Egypt.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Afghan women's rights impeded by tradition

In Afghanistan, tradition still supersedes rule of law. IRIN reports that "men have the weight of prevailing traditions on their side and, especially in rural areas, exploit these to get what they want: An Islamic tradition, according to which a man can renounce his marriage simply by uttering the word 'talaq,' is still common."

The Leadership Council for Human Rights is currently conducting women's capacity-building trainings in four Afghan provinces, including Faryab (featured in the IRIN article), raising awareness at the community level of women's rights and empowering women through hands-on skill-building sessions.

For the full story about Afghan women's continuing struggles, click here.

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Saad Eddin Ibrahim denounces unchecked repression in Egypt

The following piece appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post:

Egypt's Unchecked Repression
By Saad Eddin IbrahimTuesday, August 21, 2007; A15

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal. Rumors about the involvement of a secret government death squad tasked with silencing detractors of the ruling Mubarak family in this and other disappearances -- such as that of Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia in Cairo in 1993 -- have spiked in recent weeks.
On Aug. 8, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that it had confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths -- three of which took place this year -- that the group "strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment." The organization previously found that while Egypt's population nearly doubled during the first 25 years of Hosni Mubarak's regime, the number of prisons grew more than fourfold and that the number of detainees held for more than one year without charge or indictment grew to more than 20,000.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have corroborated chilling accounts of torture in Egyptian prisons. The independent daily Eldestour recently published two important facts: that the annual budget for internal security was $1.5 billion in 2006, more than the entire national budget for health care, and that the security police forces comprise 1.4 million officers, nearly four times the size of the Egyptian army. "Egypt has become a police state par excellence," the paper's editor noted.
Yet Mubarak's regime has gone unchecked for years, since long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the "war on terror" and despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid the United States continues to give Egypt each year. The question is: Why?
Part of the answer lies in Mubarak's skillful use of Egypt's role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Despite Egypt's proximity to Gaza and its potential to contribute, the regime has not advanced the status quo far beyond what the late president Anwar Sadat accomplished. Mubarak boasts about his refusal to visit Israel, while his predecessor broke ground as the first Arab leader to visit Israel.
Another reason for U.S. silence is Mubarak's exploitation of Islamophobia, rampant in many Western circles. On Mubarak's own turf, the banned opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily increased its support among voters, with its candidates, running as independents, garnering 20 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, despite the regime's continuous harassment and arrest of Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members. Hamas, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Increasingly, in majority-Muslim countries where autocracies have bred inefficiency and corruption, populist groups such as the Brotherhood can attract a strong protest vote.
Yet in Egypt, the regime remains strong and is quick to silence critics. Recently it focused its attacks on the work of democracy activists and researchers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which I founded nearly two decades ago. Nine members of the ruling party have filed legal requests to close the center. They want to see me and other staff members prosecuted, alleging that we have tarnished the country's image abroad, shown contempt for religion, undermined the national interest and committed high treason.
Between 2000 and 2003, the center's offices were ransacked by the State Security Agency, and 27 employees were jailed. It took three years, multiple trials and three tours in prison -- where my health deteriorated -- before Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's sole remaining independent court, acquitted us of all charges. The egregious nature of the case led the court to rebuke those responsible, citing abuses emanating from the presidency.
More recently, similar attacks have been orchestrated against Ayman Nour, head of the Tomorrow Party, and two nephews of Anwar Sadat. The men, all members of the Egyptian parliament, were arrested on flimsy charges, tried and imprisoned. Nour is now in precarious health, and recently published photos show bruises he sustained from mistreatment while jailed.
Like other autocrats with declining legitimacy, Mubarak is trying to tighten his grip on power. His family is grooming 44-year-old Gamal to succeed his father. Any real or potential competitors, especially ones with charisma and name recognition, are to be defamed, jailed, driven from the country or otherwise eliminated. Hence the hounding of Nour, Sadat's nephews and Islamic youth leader Amr Khaled, all of whom are ambitious, popular and about Gamal Mubarak's age.
I am a 68-year-old pacifist academic in poor health. I do not fit the profile of these other men. Yet, according to regime-controlled media accounts, I am very influential with oil-rich Gulf Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the European Union, and, above all, the White House and the U.S. Congress. None of these media outlets admits that in my scholarly capacity as a student of social movements I see all kinds of activists and political actors.
My real crime is speaking out in defense of the democratic governance Egyptians deserve. In May, I helped organize a meeting of Arab democrats in Doha, Qatar. Soon after, I attended a conference of veteran European and Third World dissidents in Prague at which President Bush gave a speech. Afterward, Bush chatted with me and a few others for a couple of minutes. To some, this is "proof" of my "influence" in Washington. When the House Appropriations Committee voted a few days later to attach conditions -- mainly regarding political reform and tighter security of the borders with Gaza -- to the $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt, I was solely to blame, according to the regime. (Would that I had a fraction of the influence attributed to me by the state-controlled media!)
Sadly, this regime has strayed so far from the rule of law that, for my own safety, I have been warned not to return to Egypt. Regime insiders and those in Cairo's diplomatic circles have said that I will be arrested or worse. My family is worried, knowing that Egypt's jails contain some 80,000 political prisoners and that disappearances are routinely ignored or chalked up to accidents. My fear is that these abuses will spread if Egypt's allies and friends continue to stand by silently while this regime suppresses the country's democratic reformers.

The writer, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, is chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center. He is a visiting fellow at the Ratiu Center for Democracy in Romania.

IRPP Fellow's Family in Egypt Threatened

LCHR has received the following news update from the Institute of Religion and Public Policy:

PHONE: 202-835-8760
EMAIL: Fahey@religionandpolicy.org

Institute Fellow Threatened for Defending Democracy, Religious Freedom

Washington, D.C. – Institute on Religion and Public Policy Islamic Thought Fellow Sheikh Ahmed Subhy Mansour has reported receiving numerous threats against his family and colleagues in Egypt as a result of his work to advance religious freedom and promote democracy in Egypt.

One message states, "Basically, you escaped to America, but your family and your people are still here in Egypt. We know them one by one. We know their whereabouts and everything about them. What happened lately is just a beginning. We will do them good." The threat was signed by "Abu Hurayrah Al Asiuty."

In May, the Egyptian Security Service unlawfully arrested, detained, and have to date not charged Abdellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash, Abdelhamed Abdelrahman and Amr Tharwat. The security services also confiscated Quaranist books, research papers, and computers. The Quranists have been targeted for their dedication to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Egypt and for their belief that Islam should be modernized in a peaceful way based on ideologies of democracy and human rights.

Another threat to Dr. Mansour says, "We will make you, the enemy of God, taste the horrible torment….You, the infidel and heretic, you should know that we are watching and awaiting you. Your alliance with the countries of infidelity will not save you, your followers, or all of those who followed you from us. The war has begun, we will exterminate your family and all your people; the people of infidelity. We know about them more than they know about themselves. We know where they live and where they work. We will make them taste the retribution of the agony as they are the enemies of Sunna who despise the companions of the Messenger of God, Peace of God be upon him and his family. What is happening now to your family is just a beginning. Await what is coming." This message was signed "Yousef son of Katada."

In June the Egyptian government continued its series of arrests of members of the Quranist movement in Egypt as Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, leader of Ahl Al-Quran group, was added to the list of Quranists charged with contempt for religion.

An Egyptian national now living in the U.S., Dr. Mansour is a distinguished scholar of Islam with expertise in Islamic history, culture, theology and politics. He was an advocate for democracy and human rights in Egypt for many years, during which time he was isolated and persecuted by religious extremists and by the regime, including having served time in prison for his liberal political, religious and social views.

Having graduated with honors from Al Azhar University of Cairo, one of the oldest and most well respected centers of Islamic thought in the world, he later received his PhD with highest honors from Al Azhar as well. In May 1985, Dr. Mansour was discharged from his teaching and research position there due to his liberal views that were not acceptable to the ultra-conservative religious authorities who controlled much of university policies and programs.

In 1987 and 1988 he was imprisoned by the Egyptian government for his "progressive" views, including the advocacy of religious harmony and tolerance between Egyptian Muslims, Christian Copts, and Jews, his own freedom was greatly restricted. In 1996 Dr. Mansour established a weekly conference at the Ibn Khaldoun Center – headed by Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim – in order to discuss Islamist dogma, religion-based terror and other issues. It functioned until 2000, when the Center was closed down by the Egyptian regime.

Sheikh Mansour sought and was granted political asylum in the United States in 2002. Recently he has served as a visiting fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and at the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

Dr. Mansour has authored 24 books and some 500 articles in Arabic, dealing with many aspects of Islamic history, culture, and religion. They include a history of Wahabism in Saudi Arabia; a critique of the concept of Jihad, bigotry and dictatorship in Muslim thought; women’s rights in the Muslim world; the reform of Egyptian education; and various pieces of prose fiction and screen plays.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Israel to send Sudanese refugees back across the border to Egypt

In the future, Israel will turn away all illegal entrants from Sudan, including those from the war-torn region of Darfur, Israeli spokesman David Baker said on Sunday, according to the BBC.

Last month, Israel’s interior ministry said a limited number of Darfuris would be allowed to stay in Israel as it was “clear that they have suffered the most.” Some 500 people from Darfur who have already made it to Israel will be permitted to stay for “humanitarian reasons”.

As many as 50 asylum seekers arrive in Israel each day, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates. With the enactment of its new policy, overnight, Israel handed 48 Sudanese back to Egypt, Egyptian security officials said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Admed Aboul Gheit said Egypt accepted the refugees for “very pressing humanitarian reasons,” but such a move “would not be repeated again.”

For the full article, click here.

Egypt's policy toward Muslim Brothers undermining own goals

As the government conducts a behind-closed-doors military trial and persists in arresting more members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian regime is creating conditions of mass domestic enmity and international disdain, according to the Daily Star Lebanon.

Forty Muslim Brothers are currently being tried on charges of money-laundering and financing a banned organization. Arab and international human rights groups, the media, and many defense lawyers have been banned from attending the military trial.

On Sunday, police arrested 18 more senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood for allegedly holding anti-government meetings, belonging to a banned organization, and possessing illegal documents, according to press reports.

The Egyptian state’s policies are having the opposite effect they intend—they are at once increasing the determination of the Brotherhood to achieve political party status while lowering any respect that Egypt has internationally.

The policies are also degrading the judicial system, which should form the critical core of any sound governance system. The Daily Star writer suggests that presumed would-be successor Gamal Mubarak, son of Hosni Mubarak, should review and invest more into the judiciary system—introducing reforms similar to those he implemented in the investment and trade fields—to inherit a respectable system.

For the full article, click here.