Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bangladeshi women’s rights activist languishing in jail on dubious charges

Sigma Huda, a Bangladeshi lawyer and women’s activist, was recently arrested and sentenced to prison by the country’s military-backed caretaker government in a vast anti-corruption sweep meant to stifle all political activity, according to the latest edition of World Magazine.

For many years Huda has worked with and for Bangladeshi women, particularly trafficked prostitutes. For her efforts, she was appointed to the role of special reporter on human trafficking by the U.N. in 2004.

After two months of trials, Huda was convicted of bribery and sentenced to three years in prison – her husband, Nazmul, will serve seven years. The article mentions that a U.N. observer reported that the verdict was the result of heavy intimidation.

According to the article, Janice Raymond, a board member of the International Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, says Huda’s prominent U.N. role probably scared the government. “The government has been agitated about her ability to criticize them in international forums,” Raymond said.

Family, friends, and Western colleagues are outraged that Huda is being accused of the same type of corruption she has fought so hard to prevent.

They are also extremely concerned for her health in prison. Huda suffers from diabetes, heart trouble, and kidney failure but has not received adequate medical care and her hospital jail cell is often without running water.

Rights groups are urging the international community to come to the aid of this human rights defender.

For the full article, click here.

A triumph for indigenous peoples throughout the world

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People by a vote of 143 to 4 with 11 abstentions, according to a press release from Cultural Survival.

The 25 years of debate over the measure – a period in which indigenous peoples suffered tremendous hardship – was the longest in U.N. history.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the adoption of the declaration “a triumph for indigenous peoples around the world.”

General Assembly President Haya Al Khalifa said that “by adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples we are making further progress to improve the situation of indigenous peoples around the world.” He added: “We are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

In recent decades, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have been routed from their homes, massacred in their villages and had their lands and resources appropriated.

Unfortunately, the United States together with three other countries (Canada, New Zealand, and Australia) voted against the declaration. Cultural Survival argues that this sends a message to Native Americans and to the international community that once again that the U.S. is not ready to take action to support human rights, even if it is for the benefit of American citizens.

“The Declaration gives [Indigenous Peoples] the platform for addressing the continuing abuses of human rights against Indigenous Peoples and for shaping a future where it can be realized that all peoples are truly equal” said Indigenous Peoples Caucus president and Cultural Survival Program Council member Les Malezer.

For full article, click here.

Newsletter closed down after harassment from Vietnamese officials

Peter Leech, the Australian publisher of Intellasia.com, has announced that his email newsletter has been closed down “under political duress,” Agence-France Presse reported today.

The newsletter carries mostly business news, but came under attack last month after reporting stories with political content, including articles about the court trials of Vietnamese political dissidents.

Vietnamese officials have harassed Leech, and have ordered the website “to close or face much more severe persecution.”

Leech states that “the political police (PA25) [are] illegally blocking Intellasia.com – which is located on a dedicated U.S.-based server and managed by a U.S. company.” The state media, on the other hand, reports that Intellasia.com “illegally operates a website without a license.”

For the full story, click here.

Human rights violations in Iran, Congo and Burma concern UN

Louise Arbour, the United Nations Chief Human Rights Official, made a recent speech in which she expressed concern over abuses in Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burma, Voice of America reported Thursday.

Arbour visited Iran earlier this month as reports mounted of heightened restrictions on dissent. She told the Iranian officials whom she met with that it is necessary to protect the right to peaceful protest. She also expressed distress over the number of executions taking place in the country, especially in regards to juveniles.

Arbour also discussed violations occurring in the DRC, where perpetrators of human rights violations are still not being brought to justice. “None of the perpetrators of the serious crimes committed during the first six months of 2007 have been arrested and brought to justice,” Arbour said. “Interference by military and political authorities in the administration of justice is prevalent, particularly in high-profile cases. Recent trials raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary.”

Burma was another focus of concern due to the government’s suppression of peaceful protests, among other issues.

For the full story, click here.

Iran continues shelling of Iraqi Kurdish villages

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, has been engaged in a war against Kurdish rebels in the provinces bordering Iraq for at least a year, the Gulf News reported Wednesday.

The Iranian provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshahan, where ethnic Kurds are a majority, support the Kurdistan Democratic Party, PDK, which has been campaigning for greater autonomy from Iran since the 1940s. Since the assassination of two of the groups leaders in 1989 and 2002, the Party has joined others in calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. However, they have not endorsed armed uprising as a means to reach this goal.

The IRGC states that the rebels they are fighting are based in Iraqi Kurdistan, despite the fact that most of the fighting has taken place well inside Iran.

In June, the IRGC began shelling Iraqi Kurdish villages, killing an unknown number of civilians and forcing thousands of Kurds – both Iraqis and Iranians – to join other “displaced persons” in finding refuge deeper inside Iraq. The attacks have taken place within the strongholds of Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Tehran believes the leaders are attempting to create a Kurdish insurgency in Iran as a part of the “American plot” to destabilize the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei in Tehran earlier this summer to protest these attacks. In spite of the meeting, the IRGC has continued to shell the villages.

For the full story, click here.

Suicide attack in Helmand kills 26

Twenty-six Afghans, half of them civilians, were killed by a suicide bombing in a crowded market in Helmand Province on Monday night, The New York Times reported.

In the town of Gereshk, where the bombing took place, investigators are attempting to comb through the rubble to determine if more than one bomb was set off.

Suicide bombings have become a growing problem in the country. According to the article: “Afghanistan experienced the second highest number of suicide bombings in the world in 2006 and so far in 2007, according to Mohammed Hafiz, a political science professor at the University of Missouri who tracks suicide bombings. He said Afghanistan trailed only Iraq, which had 322 suicide bombings this year through the end of August, and 179 in all of 2006.”

A United Nations report said that the suicide bombers seem to be young, poorly educated Afghans who had been taught at religious schools in Pakistan and received support from networks inside of Afghanistan.

This year, civilians have comprised the majority of victims, although suicide bombers in the country generally attack Afghan and foreign security forces.

For the full article, click here.

International Red Cross fears spreading danger puts aid workers and civilians throughout Afghanistan at risk

In a statement released on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed great concern about the spreading violence across Afghanistan and how an increasing amount of civilians and aid workers are being subjected to the military conflict, the Associated Press reported the same day.

While most of the violence between U.S.-led coalition forces and the Taliban has remained in the southern provinces, some has now spread northward, pushing aid workers out of areas in great need of assistance. The situation leaves organizations like the ICRC unable to assess the humanitarian situation

“A relatively large part of the conflict-affected areas is not very far from (becoming) no-go areas,” said Reto Stocker, the Kabul delegation head of the ICRC. He added that it has become more and more dangerous for aid workers to move around the country.

Stocker also admitted that Afghans, suffering greatly from the dire economic situation, are worse off today than they were a few years ago.

For the full article, click here.

Reports of missing Coptic girls met with apathy

According to a report from the Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, during a 9-month period from March to December 2006, 32 young Coptic women were reported missing. It is of note that many more cases probably went unreported, according to the Egyptian weekly Watani.

According to the article, underage Coptic women sometimes go missing after leaving the house for a simple errand and when the family attempts to report the incident to the police, the authorities are often uncooperative.

“The officers jeer at the parents, taunting and insulting them with direct allegations that the daughter had possibly eloped – a dead shame in Egypt – and probably converted to Islam. Very frequently the police procrastinate, letting the parents wait in humiliation as the officers or staff attend to some other matter or simply have tea,” the article says.

Then when the daughter is reported missing, the police often cut short their search by simply claiming that they cannot find the girl.

According to the article: “All the parents, the Coptic community, and rights activists ask for is that the girls be found and returned home. Once they are of age they can – and are entitled to – take such major decisions as converting to a different religion or marrying whoever they choose.”

For the full article, click here.

Cairo cracks down on press after rumors surface about Mubarak’s health

Last week, Ebrahim Eisa, a journalist from the independent newspaper Adstur was charged with “spreading rumors that are harmful to national interests.” for allegedly publishing rumors about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s deteriorating health. Now other members of the Egyptian media fear that they will be the next victims of the crackdown, Gulf News reported Wednesday.

Mubarak, 79, has been in charge for 26 years and has never selected a vice president.

“I think the future augurs ill for freedom of speech in the country,” said Abdullah Al Senawi, editor of Al Araby, the mouthpiece of the opposition Nasserist Party.

“What is taking place is a new form of terrorism against journalists at this particular time, as September is a notorious month for freedom in Egypt,” said veteran journalist Fahmi Heweidi.

In an effort to play down reports about his health, Mubarak recently took a trip to an industrial area near his summer beach resort in Alexandria. A few days later he accused the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood of starting the rumors about his health.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan gunmen release last members of de-mining team

The last three members of a 13-person Afghan de-mining team that were kidnapped by an unknown group were released Thursday morning upon negotiations with local elders, BBC News reported the same day.

The Taliban has denied involvement in the incident.

While kidnappings in the country have generated much attention, it is important to note that the hostages are not always foreigners. According to the article: “The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Kabul says Afghans are kidnapped far more often than foreigners, sometimes by criminal gangs and sometimes by insurgents.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iraqi Chaldean bishop calls for solidarity during Ramadan

Kirkuk’s Christians have sent greetings to their “Muslim brothers” ahead of Ramadan, according to AsiaNews.

According to the article, The Chaldean bishop Msgr. Sako “invites the Christian faithful to unite themselves in prayer with Muslims.”

This year, the holy month begins on September 13 and ends on October 12. Sako has called on all Iraqis “to respect the feelings of Muslim citizens not to eat and drink publicly during this month and not to wear indecent dress, and to join them in praying for unity, stability, and to safeguard the lives and dignity of Iraqis.”

“Ramadan – continues his message – is a special time of prayer and progress in virtue, reconciliation and forgiveness, compassion and peace, for the benefit of all Iraqis. It is a month in which we take patience and strength to realize a society of love, harmony, truth and justice, and the actual cloud of violence can end, heal our wounds, realize our hopes of living in security, freedom and joy…”

For the full article, click here.

Young Kurds meet with ‘hope for the Church of Iraq

Around 300 young Kurds came together recently to reflect upon the Church’s mission in today’s Iraq at a meeting hosted by the diocese of Ahmadiya, AsiaNews reported Wednesday.

The young people came from ten different villages in Iraqi Kurdistan. They talked about the challenges that terrorism and sectarian violence pose for the local Church.

“At the end they went home full of joy and hope,” said Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Chaldean bishop of Ahmadiya, who spoke to AsiaNews.

According to the article, “the meeting took place in the ancient church of Sultana Mahadokht, built in 7th century AD. The gathering was organized for the purpose of ‘deepening the mystery of the Catholic Church and its mission to the world in order to help young people with the challenges Christians face in Iraq.’”

The article notes that “those present decided to meet again on a regular basis, four times a year.”

For the full article, click here.

Turkish dam concerns archaeologists, environmentalists

A controversial dam project in the ancient Turkish city of Hasankeyf that was abandoned six years ago has now received new funding from an international consortium that includes Austria, Germany and Switzerland, BBC News reported Tuesday.

The construction of the dam will result in the flooding of the valley around Hasankeyf, drawing the ire of archaeologists and environmental activists. In this southeastern city there exist caves that are 3,000 years old. In addition, the naturally-constructed rock “castle of Hasankeyf” is millions of years old and archaeologists also believe there are layers rich with history beneath the ground that they will not have time to reach before the flood.

“For an archaeologist who has been working here for years nothing can be so painful as seeing all these artifacts flooded,” says archaeologist Abdusselam Ulucam, who is leading an excavation in the area.

The flood would create the second largest reservoir in Turkey, submerging more than 300 sq km (116 sq miles) of land.

The dam is intended to create some 4,000 jobs. The article also notes that: “Dam supporters also argue it will help develop the neglected south east of Turkey, racked by years of conflict with Kurdish separatists.”

The construction of the dam will also displace 54,000 people. According to the article: “Those who live in Hasankeyf will be offered new apartments nearby. Others will get compensation. But it is another major upheaval in the mainly Kurdish-populated region, where tens of thousands have already been forcibly displaced during the worst years of fighting here.”

For the full article, click here

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eight criminals given public executions in Iran

Eight people were hanged recently in a growing number of executions officials state are aimed at improving public security in Iran, Agence-France Presse reports today.

Capital offences in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, serious drug trafficking, pederasty, adultery, prostitution, treason and espionage.

Seven of the criminals were convicted of drug trafficking and hanged in public in the southeastern town of Mahan. The town lies on the road towards the Sistan-Baluchestan Province bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, an area known to be a major transit point for drug trafficking. Furthermore, the executions come one week after the Mahan police chief was shot, although it is not certain the executions are linked to his killing.

The eighth man was executed in the Hormazgan Province for stabbing his mother, sister, and nephew to death, and then decapitating them.

The recent hangings bring the total executions for the year to 201. The number of executions in Iran last year, according to Amnesty International, was 177. Iran is the most prolific applier of the death penalty after China.

For the full story, click here.

Ethnic minorities celebrate gong culture in Viet Nam

The 2007 Central Highlands Gong Festival will be held in the Dak Lak Province next month, reported Thanh Nien news reported last Saturday.

The United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, recognized gong culture to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. In order to preserve this culture, UNESCO has pledged US$91,000, and according to To Dinh Tuan, director of the province’s Department of Culture and Information, the Vietnamese government pledged an additional $43,000.

The festival will include gong performances, ethnic musical instrument-making contests, elephant races, and photo exhibitions, as well as seminars on the preservation of gong culture and art of making ethnic musical instruments.
For the full story, click here.

Ancient forests in danger in Iran due to highway construction

Construction that began eleven years ago on a highway between Tehran and resorts on Iran’s northern Caspian coast is threatening one of the last remaining woodland areas in the country, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday. The highway, which cuts the traveling time from four or five hours to one and a half hours, is likely to be used by 4 million drivers each year.

According to a deputy head of Iran’s Environment Organization, only one of four sections complies with environmental-protection norms. Additionally, some areas of the highway already are subject to land price inflation and real estate speculation.

The forests in danger contain deciduous trees so ancient that they are deemed ancestors of forests in Europe. Iran has already seen the area of forests south of the Caspian sea decrease by half, and according to environmentalist Ismail Kahroum, “probably there will [be] nothing left…in the next 30-35 years. These forests produce water and air for us.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Numerous religious minorities suffer in Iraq

Mokhtar Lamani, a former Arab League special representative in Iraq, and He Hany Besada, a senior researcher at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, discuss the plight of Iraqi minorities in an op-ed in the September 8 edition of The Boston Globe.

This issue is often sidelined in the ongoing debate on Iraq. However, many ethnic minority leaders in Iraq describe the violence as genocide against minority populations.

“Minorities are especially vulnerable given the lack of militias to protect their communities, a practice often used by the Shi’ite and Sunni populations. Notwithstanding press coverage of the daily atrocities, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis and Shi’ites and, to a lesser extent, Kurds, the plight of the country’s disappearing minorities, who are caught in the cross fire of the ongoing conflict, does not feature high in the international debate on Iraq,” Besada and Lamani write.

They add: “With this tragic state of affairs and an absence of any semblance of normality, peace, and security, allowing both Shi’ites and Sunni extremists to use their discretionary power to bomb churches, massacre and rape women and girls, and engage in the forced conversion of numerous innocent Iraqi minorities every month, hundreds of thousands have fled the country since the overthrow of Saddam's secular Baathist-led government, and many more are attempting to run for their lives.”

Today, many Iraqi minorities have to pay a “protection tax” to avoid banishment from their ancestral lands or conversion to Islam. A failure to do so is in many cases punishable by death, according to the piece..

For the full article, click here.

Congress hears testimonies from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker

A joint committee hearing was held Monday on Capitol Hill to hear testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker about progress in Iraq. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, led the hearing along with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) were the ranking House members.

Skelton opened the hearing by stating, “Today is a critical moment. This Congress and this nation are divided on the pace with which the United States should turn over responsibility to the Iraqis. But every member here desires that we complete our military involvement in Iraq in a way that best preserves the national security of the United States.” He continued to raise his concerns about the U.S. presence in Iraq, saying, “We must be sure, before we talk about continuing this effort, that Iraq is the war worth the risk of breaking our army and being unable to deal with other risks to our nation.”

Lantos concluded his opening statement by stating, “The situation in Iraq cries out for a dramatic change of course. We need to get out of Iraq, for the country’s sake and for our own. It is time to go – and to go now.”

Petraeus and Crocker both testified that progress is being made, but more time is needed to address a number of concerns. These include the threat of a more powerful al-Qaeda, the spread of extremism over cyberspace, and the assistance Iraqi militants are receiving from neighboring countries such as Iran. As Petraeus observed, “You cannot win in Iraq solely in Iraq.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) questioned the role Iraq played in the global war on terror, and asked how much more blood the U.S. should spill in the country, and if it would be worth it. The response from Petraeus and Crocker centered on the argument that al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of the larger al-Qaeda organization, which they deemed the central threat to the U.S. While al-Qaeda in Iraq has been destabilized, there is a good chance they will try to reconvene, according to Petraeus and Crocker.

While the training of Iraqi troops has continued to improve, without American support it is likely the country will be overrun by extremism, the witnesses said. Moreover, the timeline needed to gradually remove the troops while ensuring stability in Iraq will be much longer than the American people would like, they asserted.

“While noting that the situation in Iraq remains complex, difficult, and sometimes downright frustrating, I also believe it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time, though doing so will be neither quick nor easy,” Petraeus said.

In order to create a lasting government in the country, the witnesses said that Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and other ethnic groups need to work together and compromise for the good of the nation.

“Iraq is experiencing a revolution – not just regime change,” Crocker said. “It is only by understanding this that we can appreciate what is happening in Iraq and what Iraqis have achieved, as well as maintain a sense of realism about the challenges that remain.”

U.S. prisoner in Iran to be released soon

Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with the Open Society Institute (OSI) in New York, expects to be released soon, Guardian Unlimited reports today. He is one of four American-Iranians suspected of security offenses, and has been in prison since May under charges of endangering national security.

The Iranian government broadcast a video in July where Tajbakhsh and fellow prisoner Haleh Esfandiari, who was released last month, supposedly confessed. Tajbakhsh said in the video that his organization was attempting to create a “gap between the government and the nation.” The OSI has responded by criticizing the Iranian government for coercing the confessions.

Although the case is still under investigation, Ali Reza Jamshidi, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary has stated that Tajbakhsh will be “released soon, probably within the next few days.”

For the full story, click here.

Mass grave of communist soldiers found in Viet Nam

Government officials in Viet Nam announced today that they have found a mass grave of communist soldiers, according to The Associated Press.

The soldiers were killed during the Viet Nam war while attacking a military station of the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government. The grave was found after military officials were tipped off by U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers who fought there.

According to the article, “Authorities are searching the site, which they believe may contain the remains of several hundred Vietnamese soldiers.” Six sets of remains have been found so far, but none of the bodies were identified.

The remains will be buried in a military cemetery later this week.

For the full story, click here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ancient ruins in Hanoi preserved despite new construction

With help from Japan and UNESCO, Viet Nam will begin to restore the ruins of an ancient imperial city in Hanoi to celebrate the capital’s 1,000th birthday in 2010, Agence-France Presse reported Sunday.

Artifacts that have been discovered so far include terracotta figures of dragons and phoenix heads, as well as ceramics, canons, swords, and coins. Ancient palace foundations that date back 1,300 years have also been unearthed. The discovery helps strengthen Viet Nam’s bid to have parts of the ancient city recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The restoration of the ancient city has caused a dispute, however, between heritage and development forces. The ruins were discovered in 2002 while excavation work was being done to build a new national assembly building. However, according to some officials, the development of the new building will allow for the adjacent ruins to be saved.

“The government has decided to preserve the area, not to build a national assembly building here,” said Bui Minh Tri, secretary of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel site project and deputy director of Vietnam’s Institute of Archeology. “We will build a museum or a historical park.”

For the full article, click here.

Witness in Nour trial found dead in prison cell

A prosecution witness in the trial of Ayman Nour, Egypt’s leading opposition politician, was found dead on September 6, The Associated Press reported the same day. According to police, the witness, Ayman Hassan, was found hanged by a bed sheet in his prison cell.

Hassan’s lawyer, Amir Salem, commented on the incident. “A few weeks ago Ayman Nour was asking for a hearing into the situation of one of the defendants and suddenly we hear today he killed himself,” Salem said. “So I’m going to ask the prosecutor general to open a real big criminal investigation about Ayman Hassan’s death.”

In a June 2005 session of the trial, Hassan said that he wanted to change his testimony, and later he told reporters that the police had threatened his nieces to force him to implicate Nour.

In the next court session he testified that Nour was innocent of all charges of forgery and his lawyer asked for his client’s protection from those who forced him to confess.

As the article notes: “Nour ran against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the country’s first openly contested presidential elections in September 2005 and came in a distant second. A few months later he was convicted and jailed for forgery.”

Nour’s imprisonment has been widely criticized by Western leaders and international rights groups.

For the full article, click here.

Suicide bombings increasing in Afghanistan, U.N. says

A United Nations report released Sunday claimed that suicide bombings are escalating in Afghanistan and are often carried out by men trained in Pakistani religious schools, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, citing Agence France Presse.

Since 2006, suicide attacks have become more popular political statements for the Taliban and other Islamist anti-government groups. According to the article: “Twice as many suicide attacks occurred in the first six months of 2007 as in 2006, and 26 times as many incidents as in 2005.”

A U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan study states that the motivations behind these attacks are varied. Some are fueled by anger against the presence of international forces in the country, some by religious zeal, and others by the social and material perks of martyrdom.

For the full article, click here.