Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Teen hanging sheds light on increasing number of Taliban attacks on children

As reported in Wednesday’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline:

TEENAGER'S HANGING HIGHLIGHTS RISING NUMBER OF CHILD KILLINGS IN AFGHANISTANThe United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on October 2 condemned the hanging of a 15-year-old boy by Taliban rebels in the volatile southern Helmand Province two days earlier, criticizing the growing frequency with which children and young people are being "targeted so cynically," the Integrated Regional Information Network reported.

Killing children "goes against all norms in Afghan society, is against international law, and we condemn such actions unreservedly," UNAMA spokesman Aleem Siddique said of the September 30 killing, in which the boy was hung from a tree and his mouth stuffed with dollar bills.

In a separate incident involving children on September 30, a bomb disguised as a toy exploded in Khost Province, killing two children and wounding five others, provincial police spokesman Wazir Pacha said.

Afghan and Western officials have repeatedly accused the Taliban of using children as human shields during clashes with coalition forces, often in an effort to increase civilian casualties and subsequently blame them on Western militaries as part of its propaganda campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2007).

Schools are also being targeted, making it difficult for girls in particular to have access to education (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2007). On June 15, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a school in Tarinkot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, as children were leaving, killing 11 and wounding several others. Over 400 schools are still closed in many southern provinces due to insecurity.

To access the article, click here.

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Rescuers struggle to help Vietnamese communities hit by typhoon

Rescuers are rushing to aid communities in central Viet Nam hit by Typhoon Lekima, Agence-France Presse reported today.

Floods created by the storm have killed at least 17 people, with another six people reported missing, local officials said.

In Nghe An Province, flash floods isolated parts of one neighborhood.

“Several residential areas have been submerged under water, and it’s difficult to approach them. We have mobilized military boats and vessels to help in relief activities,” Long said.

“The water level of rivers there has risen rapidly, reaching the record level of 80.19 meters (264 feet) Friday,” provincial disaster official Dao Van Long said.

Lekima has damaged 77,000 homes and structures and 87,000 acres of crops, while causing a total material loss of approximately $41 million, the Hanoi storm committee reported.

For the full story, click here.

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Council of Europe takes on human rights in Egypt

The Council of Europe has released a statement concerning the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The statement, which appears below, specifically addresses the case of Amr Tharwat, a researcher at Cairo’s Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (ICDS) who was arrested in May on dubious charges.

The Council is concerned by the deterioration of the human rights situation in Egypt.

The relevant Council bodies as well as the Heads of Mission in Cairo have discussed this worrying situation and are coordinating their further action, in the course of which the Tharwat case could also be addressed.

Egypt should be urged to comply with its international commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms, not least also in the light of its recent election to the UN Human Rights Council and its expressed willingness to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

A formal dialogue on human rights and democracy issues is envisaged under the Association Agreement and the ENP Action Plan through the relevant sub-committee whose first meeting is scheduled in November 2007. In its terms of reference, it is mentioned that the “sub-committee aims to facilitate dialogue, within a context of mutual understanding and respect for the positions of both parties, on all aspects of human rights and democracy, international and regional issues, in a comprehensive and non-exclusive way.”

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Afghan president offers government positions to Taliban in new peace proposal

When Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced on September 29 that he was willing to give militants government positions in exchange for peace, some Taliban leaders refused. However, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan reported that some leaders are not averse to the peace talks after all.

Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said: “The information we have received from tribal elders indicates that different groups operating inside Afghanistan under the Taliban name are discussing this issue seriously. In this case, we don't expect huge developments in the very near future, but we hope that those who want peace and stability in Afghanistan will come step by step to join the ongoing peaceful process."

Karzai pledged to hold talks under two conditions: he will only negotiate with Afghan, not foreign, Taliban fighters, and will not meet with militants associated with al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

“We are ready to negotiate to bring peace [to] this country,” Karzai said. “Continuation of the war, explosions, and suicide attacks should be stopped in any way possible. There were some contacts with [Taliban] in the past. But there is no specific, clear-cut line of communication – I mean, there is no official place for communication with the Taliban. I wish there were such a place.”

Tim Foxley, a researcher at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that, in theory, talking to “moderate” Taliban leaders would weaken the insurgency, but admits the difficulty in finding these kinds of figures.

For the full article, click here.

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Congressional Human Rights Caucus holds briefing on situation in Burma

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) on Wednesday held a special briefing on the situation in Burma. The witnesses present were: Bo Hla-Tint of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Than Lwin Htun, the Burmese Service Chief for Voice of America, T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Asia, and Jennifer Quigley of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

CHRC Director Hans Hogrefe provided introductory remarks, saying that Burma’s military crackdown on the “utterly and totally peaceful demonstrations” is “totally intolerable to the world community.” On the surface, the situation in Burma seems relatively calm, Hogrefe said, however, the military junta still roams the streets, and has imposed a “silence of the grave.”

The Burmese government reports that only 10 people have died because of the crackdown, however, Quigley said that she is able to confirm that more than 200 have been killed, with another 2,000 arrested. Moreover, she said that at least 50 monasteries have been left empty, and monks are being imprisoned inside other monasteries, where if left for too long, they will die from starvation. She also mentioned that there have been unconfirmed reports of corpses being dumped in the jungle, and that the military has begun using a crematorium outside of Rangoon to destroy bodies.

The current protests reflect those that occurred in 1988, however, Hla-Tint said that these are fundamentally different. He said the Burmese are willing to sacrifice their lives, not because this is something they want, but because there is no other choice. Similarly, Quigley added, “the people of Burma have proven with their blood that they are ready for democracy.”

A major focus of the discussion was on what the international community should do concerning Burma. Kumar gave a stark view of the reality of the situation, saying that if nothing is done, “this will repeat itself.” Neighboring countries, such as China and India, have caused problems in the past by refusing to speak out against Burma, allowing the military junta to feel comfortable killing and abusing the Burmese people. The panel agreed that it is important for the U.N. Security Council to be united on this issue and take strong action immediately. As Lwin Htun said: “The Burmese Foreign Minister’s speech to the United Nations confirmed that Burma will not heed the international community and will continue to seek its own path, no matter what.”

The United States has a major role to play in resolving the situation in Burma, the witnesses said. According to Kumar, the U.S. “is not doing what they are supposed to be [doing].” He also said that the U.S. needs to push China to do the right thing by not vetoing resolutions going to the U.N. Security Council. He believes Burma should be seen as a test case. “The danger we are facing,” Kumar said, is that “if we cannot make a change here, we will not make change anywhere.”

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Afghan refugees struggle to make new life in Iran

There are an estimated 1.5 million illegal Afghan migrants in Iran, many of whom are facing social and economic difficulties in the country, according to Epoch Times.

The refugees have come to occupy low-wage jobs in the agriculture and construction sectors; this undercutting of wages has fostered resentment from local Iranians.

Government restrictions now dictate where Afghans can live and access to education for children has also been impeded, as refugee families have little money to pay for tuition.

In April, the Iranian government began to forcibly deport refugees, often times with violence. “These refugees are there without any electricity, water, food, and jobs,” said Sohila Farhad, an activist with the Afghanistan-based RAWA humanitarian organization, of the Afghans forcibly deported.

However, Vivian Tan, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UHCHR), emphasized that protestations from the Afghan government, the international community, and the UNHCR has led the Iranian government to tone down its violent approach, and the number of forced deportations have even decreased in recent months.

For the full article, click here.

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Middle East reforms critical of U.S. support for democracy in region

Although the United States sees itself as a beacon for democratic values, its policies in the Middle East are hurting the cause of Middle East liberals, according to Iranian and Arab reformers, Reuters reported Thursday.

Washington’s reputation in the Middle East has suffered due to its perceived selectivity concerning promotion of democracy and human rights, its support for Israel, and the invasion of Iraq. According to Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch, “The United States has lost a lot of its credibility on human rights because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and renditions.” Houry goes on to say, however, that America’s shortcomings are no excuse for Arab governments to discredit democracy movements.

Repressive governments and Islamist movements exploit anti-American sentiment to accuse liberals of peddling a U.S.-Israeli agenda. Because of this, rights activists in the region try to distance themselves from U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In an open letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging the U.N. to condemn human rights violations in Iran, Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji wrote: “Far from helping the development of democracy, U.S. policy over the past 50 years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran.”

The same feelings are often shared by allies of the United States, who do not want to be too closely identified with their patron. Rami Khouri, a Beirut-based commentator, cites the boycott by the United States and Europe of Hamas after its election win in Palestine as being the “death knell” for western advocacy of democratic rule in the Arab and Muslim world.

“If you want to promote democracy, do it consistently, not promote elections in one country and not in another,” he said.

For the full story, click here.

Cholera crosses Iraq's border into Iran

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Thursday that cholera had spread from Iraq to Iran, highlighting the need for neighboring countries to boost their defenses against the deadly disease, Reuters reported.

Cholera, which continues to spread within Iraq, can be carried to other countries by refugees and through trade. “Borders are permeable, closing them won’t stop the germ,” Claire-Lise Chaignat, WHO global cholera coordinator, said.

At least 15 people have died from the disease in Iraq, and there have been at least 3,315 cases since mid-August. There have been up to 10 cases reported in Iran – near the Iraqi border. However, it is unclear if these were Iraqi refugees or Iranian citizens, Chaignat said. She said that the situation seems to be contained now, however, if it is not controlled, the disease could threaten refugee camps in the area.

“We are particularly concerned about countries with Iraqi refugees where they don’t always have access to good water and sanitation and hygienic conditions,” Chaignat said. “It is important to catch the first cases and treat them correctly.” She encourages neighboring countries to stock up on intravenous fluids and oral rehydration salts to combat dehydration in victims.

For the full story, click here.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Iraqi delegation to discuss border closures issue with Iran

Two weeks have passed since Iranian authorities first closed five border crossings to Iraqi Kurdistan. This morning an official delegation made up of leaders from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) traveled to Iran to discuss the resent closures, according to Kurdistanobserver.com.

The bipartisan delegation included senior leaders from both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

“We are looking forward to reaching an agreement between the Kurdish region and Iran because border closures have negatively affected the interests of the (two sides),” KRG spokesman Jamal Abdullah said.

Iran closed the border crossings to protest the arrest of an Iranian citizen who the U.S. suspects of weapons smuggling and involvement with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.

For full article, click here.


Counternarcotics strategy and police training in Afghanistan

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia met on Thursday to discuss counternarcotics strategy and police training in Afghanistan. The hearing was led by Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee chairman.

In Ackerman’s opening remarks he stated: “After six years of trying to put things right in Afghanistan, we should be well beyond the point of suggestions. It’s time for direction. It’s time for action. It’s time for attention from the President; attention, that as I noted earlier, has been focused elsewhere, with possibly even less progress to show.”

Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, was one of two witnesses present at the hearing. Schneider said that the United Nations’ 2007 World Drug report states that “today Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world’s opium; cultivates 193,000 hectares or 500,000 acres of land, a 17 percent increase after last year’s 59 percent increase.” He added: “The drug trade has undermined every aspect of the government of Afghanistan’s drive to build political stability, economic growth and rule of law.”

The other witness present, Thomas Schweich, the State Department coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, said that whereas in the past, poppy cultivation had been significantly higher in the country’s poor rural areas to the north, today the worst areas tend to be the wealthier provinces in the south.

Schweich also discussed the U.S.’s new strategy, which includes thee principle elements:

First, dramatically increasing the scope of incentives, such as development assistance and expansion of the Good Performers Initiative, and disincentives, such as interdiction, eradication, and law enforcement. Second, working with NATO allies to improve coordination of counternarcotics and counterinsurgency information-sharing and operations. Third, developing consistent, sustained political will for the counternarcotics effort among the Afghan government, U.S. allies, and international civilian and military organizations. This last element will entail working with the international community on a coordinated strategy to ensure that government officials in Kabul and the provinces appoint strong, law abiding officials and remove weak or corrupt ones.

During both his testimony and the question and answer period, Schweich maintained that while progress is being made, Afghanistan is not a success story and the reality on the ground should not be sugar-coated.

During the question and answer period, some lawmakers pointed out the difficulty of tackling such an enormous problem, citing the fact that opium revenue accounts for about a third of Afghanistan’s GDP.

“The situation in Afghanistan is a massive problem that we created ourselves and we need a concrete solution,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) said.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Iraqi refugee crisis could be worse than reported

Experts argue that the refugee situation in Iraq is worse than reported, according to Reuters.

Before the U.S lead invasion in 2003 there were an estimated 2 million displaced Iraqis; today, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number has reached around 4.2 million. However, some would put the current figure considerably higher, to account for what they say are tens of thousands of unregistered persons.

“There’s really no count because refugees outside Iraq are treated as illegal immigrants and many people think their best course of action is to stay in hiding,” said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch.

Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University in Washington, also believes that the current estimates are too low.

“There are people who came illegally, or came legally but don’t want to declare themselves as refugees…They feel that if you declare yourself you are labeled: the state can control you; you can be deported; things could be done to you.”

Dana Graber Ladek, Iraqi specialist for the International Organization for Migration, argued that thousands more inside Iraq, including many Sunnis, have chosen not to register with the Shiite-dominated government often because of security concerns, according to the article.

“It's very difficult to know how many those might be. It could be thousands; it could be hundreds of thousands. Who knows? If we talk about those within the country it could be even a million,” Ladek said.

For the full article, click here.


Development experts tout innovative social policies at UNDP roundtable

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held a roundtable discussion today entitled “Reducing Poverty and Deepening Citizenship: Innovative Social Policy for Strengthening Democracies.” The panelists were political economist and author Francis Fukuyama and U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan, who also directs UNDP’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. The discussion was moderated by David Yang, the senior advisor of the UNDP Washington office.

Fukuyama began by discussing how world leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are elected because they offer social programs that appeal to the poor. He said that there is currently a backlash against the third wave of globalization due to the fact that it does not offer the social programs needed by the people. In contrast to this, however, he used the example of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who was elected over the populist candidate because Calderon sponsored social programs.

Grynspan used her expertise in Latin America to address how social policy can be used to bridge poverty. She said that economic growth needs to be stable in order to bridge inequality and poverty. In the past, Latin American countries would focus on either social development or economic development, which is part of the reason it has taken so long for the region to recover from the economic crisis twenty-five years ago, she argued. Grynspan said the focus of social policy should not be “poverty today, but poverty tomorrow.” She also recommended that in creating social and economic policies, it is necessary to be inclusive, rather than creating segregated programs only for the poor.

The panelists both discussed how inequalities affect the standard of education people receive. Fukuyama used the example of how the lack of a good education system in countries such as Egypt causes parents to send their children to madrasas, or Islamic religious schools. Grynspan said that gaps in the education system, such as funding primary but not secondary schools, highlight why new policies need to include social components.

In discussing establishing democracies, Fukuyama said that there needs to be new, innovative social programs, rather than a return to the bad social policies of the past. He added that democracies have to be representative, and input from the public is absolutely critical for their success. Grynspan reiterated this point by addressing the importance of including the middle class in social programs, because they can serve as a voice for the poor. In talking about the role of democracy promoters, Fukuyama said it is necessary to understand that there is no “one size fits all approach.”

People around the world protest human rights violations in Iran

Protestors recently gathered in various cities around the world to rally against the recent wave of executions in Iran, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Banners held by the protestors featured such phrases such as “Youths face execution in Iran,” and “Support democratic change in Iran.”

One of the protests was led by the supporters of the Iranian Resistance in Montreal, Canada on September 29. This was the third protest by the group in recent weeks, and the demonstrators campaigned for democratic change in Iran.

On September 30, protestors in Vancouver, Canada signed a petition declaring their solidarity with the Iranian Resistance.

In Germany, protestors gathered on September 28 and 29 to bring public attention to the repression of youth in Iran, and the execution of minors occurring under the pretext of public morals.

Demonstrations also took place in Denmark and Italy.

For the full story, click here.

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Ibrahim calls for aid to be tied to democratic reform in Egypt

The following Reuters story features the views of Egyptian sociologist and pro-democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

INTERVIEW – Egypt dissident wants aid conditional on reform

By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - One of Egypt's most prominent political dissidents said on Tuesday that foreign donor aid to Cairo should depend on U.S. ally Egypt granting greater political freedoms.

Sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim said he was lobbying Washington and the European Union to demand progress toward more judicial independence, greater media and civil society freedoms, and internationally supervised elections in exchange for aid.

He also wants to see an end to emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

"All of the aid should be conditioned on benchmarks and a roadmap for democratic reform in Egypt," he told Reuters by telephone from Doha, the Qatari capital. Ibrahim has been abroad for the past four months and said he feared arrest at home.

"My agenda is reform and democratisation of my country. I want everything done to bring about that objective."

Ibrahim's remarks came as Egypt faced sudden U.S. fire over setbacks to press freedom and civil society.

A White House spokeswoman said on Monday that recent steps by the authorities "appear to contradict the Egyptian government's stated commitment to expand democratic rights".

Over the past month, Egypt has forcibly closed a human rights group that aided torture victims and sentenced seven journalists to jail over their work, including four convicted of defaming President Hosni Mubarak.

Ibrahim, a U.S.-Egyptian dual citizen who met U.S. President George W. Bush in Prague in June as part of a group of dissidents from around the world, said he believed Washington had been trying to press Egypt on reforms "informally behind closed doors", but that Egypt misread the signals.


Still, he said, the rare U.S. public criticism of its Arab ally was coming "pretty late". An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 2002 on charges including damaging Egypt's reputation abroad, said he again faced possible arrest should he return to Cairo as old accusations against him were revived, this time in the form of private legal complaints.

"My lawyers have advised me not to come back because there are nine filed requests with the attorney general in Egypt to investigate me," he said, adding he had no immediate plans to return to Egypt.

He said he believed the complaints, which he said were brought by members of the ruling party, were filed partly in response to his campaign to press the United States over aid to Egypt. Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving nearly $2 billion a year.

But the U.S. Congress has considered a bill that would hold back $200 million in military funds for Egypt unless it takes steps on reforms. Cairo views the proposal as interference in its domestic affairs.

Analysts say waning U.S. public pressure on Egypt has given the state a freer hand over the past year to act against critics in the run-up to an eventual transition of power from Mubarak, who, at 79, has been in power for a quarter of a century.

The most obvious successor is Mubarak's 43-year-old son Gamal, although he denies having presidential ambitions.

Panjshir Valley: A model for reconstruction in Afghanistan

Despite the difficulties and violence many development teams face in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, located 60 miles outside of Kabul, has been cited as a success story.

The Washington Post followed the U.S.-sponsored construction of a single road in the region, which then spawned even further development: the installment of a radio tower, a cellphone tower, plans for a wind farm, and a series of switchbacks.

Foreign reconstruction teams even travel throughout the region without security convoys, as the Taliban has not infiltrated this area.

“Panjshir is very much a model for the rest of the nation,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher J. Luedtke, commander of the region’s Provincial Reconstruction Team. “Security and good governance have provided development, because you can build something and know it will still be here” in the future.

The valley has also seen the construction of six 16-room schools, as well as changes regarding social taboos: men and women are now working alongside one another. Still, the long-term results may not ultimately manifest themselves for some time. “Women are really clamoring for education,” said Lt. Col. Michelle B. Atkins, 55, an Army reservist from Columbus, Ohio, who is the team’s deputy commander. “These women know there’s more out there, and they want it, and I see myself as offering it to them. But we’re at least a generation away from seeing the real impact.”

The Panjshir Valley’s success has been linked to the uniqueness of the region. A U.N. official attributes the success to its ethnic homogeneity and conservative values, as well as its remote location.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Muslim Brotherhood, civil society increasingly targeted as Egypt cracks down on opposition

The crackdown on opposition figures continues in Egypt, as President Hosni Mubarak nears the final stages of his quarter-century rule. One of the most targeted groups has been the banned Muslim Brotherhood, The Washington Post reported on Monday, saying that “the government is using detentions and legal changes to neutralize the country’s last surviving major political movement,” referring to the Brotherhood.

After the Brotherhood’s strong showing in Egypt’s 2005 elections, the government made changes to the constitution. “The government is also writing its crackdown into law. Constitution changes pushed through by the government after the Brotherhood’s strong showing in 2005 shut out its members in upper house elections this June. Next year, the government promises to present a new anti-terrorism code that the Brotherhood expects to be used for further crackdowns against it.”

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, said that the administration’s moves are “designed to basically institutionalize the campaign against the Brotherhood and make sure it will not be allowed to either compete with the ruling party or threaten Mubarak’s new successor.”

“Tyranny has reached unprecedented limits from any previous regime,” said Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide, or highest leader, of the Brotherhood, which the government has outlawed for decades but allowed to operate within narrow limits. “This is insane tyranny.”

In addition the Brotherhood, Egyptian civil society remains a major government target.

According to the article: “Last month a judge ordered a year’s hard labor for the editors of four leading opposition newspapers, saying they had made the ruling party, Mubarak and his son Gamal appear dictatorial. Then, last Monday, a judge handed down two-year prison sentences to three opposition journalists because their coverage had impugned Egypt’s justice system.

Last month, according to the article, the government “also closed an Egyptian human rights organization that had been active in exposing allegations of police torture.”

Egypt’s leaders “feel that democratization means that they will leave their chairs and leave their positions, and they are not able to pay this cost,” said Hafez Abu Seada Abu Seada, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

For the full article, click here.


Human Rights Watch calls killing of peacekeepers a war crime

Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the United Nations and African Union should promptly investigate the September 30 killings of 10 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, allAfrica.com reported.

Unidentified rebel forces attacked an AU base in Haskanita, Darfur, killing 10 peacekeepers and civilian police, and injuring at least 8 personnel from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). About 40 people are missing in what was the worst attack yet on the AU force.

Direct attacks against personnel and objects involved in international peacekeeping missions are prohibited by the statute of the International Criminal Court, so long as the peacekeepers are not directly involved in the hostilities.

“Deliberately attacking peacekeepers is a war crime,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sudanese government and the rebel groups should cooperate fully with an independent investigation into the dreadful attack in Haskanita.”

For the full article, click here.

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U.N. rights council holds emergency session to examine Burma

Louise Arbour, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking at an emergency U.N. session today, said that Burma (officially Myanmar) must be held responsible for its “shocking response” to peaceful protests, The Associated Press reported.

“The peaceful protests that we have witnessed in recent weeks and the shocking response by the authorities are only the most recent manifestations of the repression of fundamental rights and freedoms that have taken place for almost 20 years in Myanmar,” Arbour told the U.N. Human Rights council.

According to the Burmese government, only 10 people were killed during the demonstrations, however, dissident groups say that as many as 200 people have died, and 6,000 more have been detained.

A diplomat from Burma, Nyunt Swe, believes that Western countries are behind the protests. “The government has firm evidence that these protests were being helped both financially and materially by internal and external anti-government elements,” Swe said. “The protests are the long-awaited chance for some Western countries to initiate an action to intervene in the country.”

The emergency session was convened at the request of 18 European and other member states, with 37 observers, including the United States. The EU has crafted a resolution, which, if passed, would urge the government of Burma “to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” as well as “bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations, including for the recent violations of the rights of peaceful protestors.”

For the full story, click here.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Iranian democracy activist speaks about the “real” Iran

Ali Afshari, an Iranian political activist advocating democracy, freedom and human rights, spoke at a Defense Forum Foundation luncheon on September 28 entitled “What America Perceives about Iran vs. the Reality of Iran.”

Afshari discussed the issues surrounding nuclear proliferation in Iran, stating that the current sanctions are pieces of “insignificant paper” and that Iran is willing to risk anything, even if it leads to war. He described the state as a political military government that operates in a tyrannical manner. He also said that there is no democracy in Iran, and that the regime is not favored by a majority of the people.

In contrast to the government’s ambitions, the Iranian public is not interested in pursuing nuclear technology, Afshari said. According to Afshari, Iranians are not nearly as anti-Western as many outside the country suppose, and Iranian society is multicultural and diverse.

Human rights violations extend to all members of society in Iran, Afshari said, and many Iranians fear that the government’s current policies will lead to war. In the “real” Iran that Afshari described, minorities suffer from many problems, largely due to institutionalized discrimination. Minorities suffer economically because the current situation is much worse in the areas they live in than in the central regions of the country. Women also suffer from political and social inequality. In Iran, institutionalized discrimination includes denying women the right to divorce.

According to Afshari, Iranian politics is divided into three different factions: fundamentalists, traditionalists, and reformists. The fundamentalists are the most extreme group and make up the dominant sector of the government. They support both Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah, and have been linked to support for violence and terrorism. The traditionalists make up the right wing of the Islamic Republic and live according to a traditional lifestyle without being as extreme as the fundamentalists. The reformists make up the left wing of the Republic, and are more moderate and exclusive.

Afshari said that there is “no easy or quick way to fix the problem between the U.S. and Iran.” He believes it is necessary, however, to pass tougher sanctions focused on the government. The Iranian government is used to the language of force, Afshari said, and does not believe the U.S. is in a position to take any action against Iran. Without increased pressure, there will be no change in Iran’s behavior, he said.

On the issue of creating a democracy, Afshari said that the Iranian constitution does not have enough flexibility to support genuine democracy. Moreover, the government of Iran does not accept changes, and therefore lacks the flexibility necessary to have a democracy, he argued. In order for democracy to be established in Iran, there needs to be a strong social movement from the public, Afshari said.

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Afghan boy hanged for having U.S. dollars

A 15-year-old boy was hanged from a tree on Sunday in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province for carrying U.S. money in his pocket, The Associated Press reported today.

District Police Chief Wali Mohammad said the brutal act was used as a warning to villagers not to use U.S. currency. Taliban militants placed five $1 bills in the boy’s mouth to serve as a reminder.

According to the article: “Dollars are commonly used in Afghanistan alongside the afghani, the local currency, although the U.S. currency is more commonly seen in larger cities where international organizations are found.”

In a related development, Chief Mohammad also reported that Taliban militants in Helmand shot and killed a man seeking farm assistance and seeds from an international aid program.

Due to the surge in violence, President Hamid Karzai has expressed willingness to meet personally with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

However, representatives from the groups declared that no talks will take place until international troops leave Afghanistan.

“Karzai has, in fact, no authority in the presence of American troops. Talks would be a waste of time in such a situation,” Haroon Zarghun, a purported spokesman for Hezb-i-Islami, told The Associated Press by telephone. “If the United States announces to leave Afghanistan, then we will be ready to hold talks.”

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ILO report documents discrimination against Egyptian Copts

According to a recent report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) entitled “Discrimination at Work in the Middle East and North Africa,” Egyptian Copts are among the most targeted groups in the region, the Egyptian weekly Watani reported.

The ILO report says that: “One of the most resilient forms of discrimination is the targeting of Copts in Egypt, who are denied equal access to education and equal opportunities in recruitment and promotion. Very few are appointed to key positions in the Government or are candidates for parliament.”

Instead of taking action to correct the situation, the Egyptian government responded defensively and has denied the ILO’s claims.

According to Watani’s Adel Guindy: “It is not unusual for Egyptian officials to excel in denying the obvious and indulge in bullying international organizations that dare to point to Egypt where its policies and practices are clearly substandard in comparison with the accepted, and universal, Human Rights conventions.”

Guindy points out ten examples of recent government reports that substantiate the ILO claims, writing that: “We simply need to examine a number of reports published between June and August 2007 regarding promotion and transfer of personnel in various public positions.” Among the examples: “A list (according to Watani, July 26) showed 425 graduate students nominated to be sent abroad at the government’s expense for higher studies. It included only one Copt.”

Guindy argues that: “It is, hence, not at all an exaggeration to conclude that discrimination against Copts in Egypt is not only systematically applied; it may have become a pillar of the prevailing political system. But unlike South Africa’s defunct Apartheid regime (1948 - 1996) which never hid its ugly face, Egypt’s is a case of ultimate ingenuity in hypocrisy: Routinely practiced, while being adamantly denied!”

For the full article, click here.

For the ILO report, click here.

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Iranians express opinions online on Ahmadinejad visit

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times Sunday, Tom Parker, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, writes that despite harassment and intimidation, young Iranians are using blogs as a source of debate, and that these blogs provide valuable insight into popular opinion inside the country.

Bloggers expressed their feelings about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York last week.

One blogger notes that: “In response to the question ‘Are you willing to have a dialogue with America and what do you expect?’ after some explanations, he [Ahmadinejad] said, ‘We think that America can be a good friend for Iran.” He repeated the sentence and the phrase “good friend” one more time to show that it did not slip out accidentally.”

Another blog discusses how none of the channels in Iran broadcast Ahmadinejad’s speech live, while several American channels did. The blogger writes: “What is interesting is that we claim the Americans want to prevent our voice from being heard, so why do we censor ourselves?”

For the full article, click here.

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Iraq dismisses Senate proposal for regional division

United States Senate last week presented a proposal to divide Iraq into three federal regions. However, the country’s main Shia and Sunni Arab political parties have dismissed the proposal, ABC News reported today, citing the BBC.

According to the article: “The resolution, passed by a big majority, called for Iraq to be divided into three federal regions, with the central government in Baghdad having only limited powers.

The article goes on to say: “But at a news conference, Shiite and Sunni politicians for once put their differences to one side to unite in their condemnation of what they see as unacceptable interference from abroad in their affairs.”.

For the full article, click here.


Vietnamese women participating more in national development, state-run news agency says

Vietnamese women participating more in national development, state-run news agency says
Vietnamese women are becoming more active in national development by participating more in almost all social aspects and the state apparatus, Mathaba.net reported today, citing the state-run Vietnam News Agency. Women make up 50 percent of the population and labor force in the country.

The United Nations Development Programme recently placed Viet Nam at 80 out of 136 on a list for gender development. Women account for nearly 26 percent of the National Assembly in Viet Nam.

Viet Nam has created a National Committee for the Advancement of Women, and set up a national strategy for the development of women’s role in society between the years 2001 and 2010. So far, 10 out of 22 benchmarks have been met, according to VNA. These include goals such as providing jobs, abolishing illiteracy, reducing the mortality rate of childbirth, and increasing the number of female representatives in the people’s councils at all levels.

For the full story, click here.

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