Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, October 12, 2007

U.N. report on Iraq released

The United Nations released a report Thursday outlining the “ever deepening humanitarian crisis” in Iraq. Each month thousands of Iraqis have been driven from their homes, indiscriminate killings continue, and torture is routine in prisons, the U.N. says, as reported by The Washington Post today.

According to The Post: “The assessment by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, which covered a three-month period ending June 30, found that civilians were suffering ‘devastating consequences’ from violence across the country. It documented more than 100 civilians allegedly killed by U.S-led forces during airstrikes or raids.”

The report described the situation in Iraq differently than top U.S military and embassy officials did in their congressional testimonies last month.

“The killings are still taking place, the torture is still being reported, the due process issues are still unresolved,” said Ivana Vuco, a U.N. human rights officer in Baghdad.

The treatment of detainees was among the issues addressed in the report. According to the U.N., as of this June, there were 44,325 detainees in Iraqi or U.S custody, a nearly 4,000 person increase since April. Many of the detainees “remained in detention for months without having their cases reviewed or with limited access to legal counsel,” The Post says.

According to the article, the U.N. also “expressed concerns about overcrowding and poor hygiene in detention centers, particularly pretrial holding cells run by the Interior Ministry in Baghdad.” The agency said “it remained gravely concerned at continuing reports of the widespread and routine torture or ill-treatment of detainees.”

According to The Post, “The U.N. report warned of an increased rate of violence against women, particularly ‘honor’ killings in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. In the first half of the year, regional government statistics counted 23 women killed by ‘blunt objects,’ 195 by burning and 37 by gunfire.”

The report also noted the high number of Iraqis that live as refugees outside the country.

For the full article, click here.


Afghan prisoners begin hunger strike to protest executions

Afghan authorities reported on Wednesday that dozens of inmates in Kabul’s Pol-e Charkhi prison went on a hunger strike to protest the 15 executions carried out earlier this week, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Abdul Salam Asmat, the head of Afghanistan’s prisons, said that the prisoners have met with representatives of the International Red Cross to discuss their demands, some of which include receiving a list of inmates who are set to be executed and securing a meeting with members of Parliament.

The prisoners, along with U.N. and Afghan human rights activists, have expressed concern about the judicial processes, and the alleged lack of transparency, that led to the fifteen executions.

For the full article, click here.

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India helping with Afghan teacher training

India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training has organized a 40-day training program for Afghan educators in an effort to improve the country’s elementary education system, The Hindu reported Thursday.

Seddiq Weera, a senior policy advisor in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, is heading the 40-member Afghan delegation, which is comprised of teachers and academics.

The program will employ a variety of methods, including lectures, group discussion and field visits.

For the full article, click here.

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Groups say U.S. Iran democracy funding does more harm than good

A coalition that includes the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and human rights groups urged Congress on Thursday to cut 75 million dollars in funding for democracy promotion in Iran, Agence-France Presse reported the same day.

The activists said the Iranian government sees the U.S. funding as a way to enforce regime change, and the conservative leadership has used it as a pretext for crackdown within the country.

“The money has made all Iranian NGOs targets and put them at great risk,” said Trita Parsi, president of NIAC. “While the Iranian government has not needed a pretext to harass its own population, it would behoove Congress not to provide it with one.”

According to the article, “The group said Iranian authorities arrested four Americans of Iranian descent this year, accusing them of accepting U.S. government grants to promote regime change in Iran.”

In defense of the pro-democracy funding, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said: “Congress authorized this funding for us to be able to do things like expand radio and television broadcasting into Iran ... to be able to allow (Iranians) to hear subversive things like the truth.”

“I don't think anyone would likely suggest that is a bad idea or something that we should stop,” he added.

The coalition agreed that the expansion of radio and television broadcasting was useful, but said that further budget increases should be put on hold until an evaluation of past programs is completed.

For the full article, click here.

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Rights groups in Paris denounce executions in Iran through mock hangings

Rights groups in Paris marked World Day against the Death Penalty on Wednesday by staging a mock hanging to denounce executions in Iran, Agence-France Presse reported Thursday.

According to the article, “The Paris-based League of Human Rights (LDH) and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) joined in a call Wednesday by 64 rights groups worldwide for a moratorium on the death penalty.”

The groups staged the mock hanging by hoisting an effigy masked in black on a crane above a crowd of a few dozen people, also wearing black. The hanging was set in front of a poster depicting the same technique used in real-life hangings in Iran.

“We decided to focus our protest on Iran, where the number of executions skyrocketed this year,” said organizer Emmanuel Maistre. He also argued that capital punishment had become “a weapon of political and social repression in Iran, where accusations such as adultery lead to hanging, or stoning for women.”

There have been 210 executions in Iran since the beginning of the year.

For the full story, click here.

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European Parliament representative works on missing person issues in Cyprus

European parliamentarian Ewa Klamt plans to report to the European Parliament on her experience in Cyprus working with the families of Greek Cypriot missing persons, the Cyprus Embassy in Washington, D.C. reported on Thursday.

The missing persons in question became prisoners of the Turkish military during Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus; their bodies remain both lost and unidentified.

“Behind each number, there is a family, a name, a friend, it is still very hard for the families, as identification and return of remains opens up wounds again for them. I am very grateful to the families who have accepted to see me during my short visit to Cyprus,” Klamt said, noting that this was a “very emotional” encounter for her.

Klamt will now look to educate members of Parliament on the issue, while working to expedite funding requests in order to secure more scientists and equipment to identify remains.

“Identification and return of remains, which is what is happening now, is an important first step,” she said.

For the full article, click here.

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Libya and Viet Nam likely to join U.N. Security Council

Libya and Viet Nam are likely to be elected to nonpermanent seats on the United Nations Security Council as no leading Council members are expected to block their entry, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The only real obstacle would be if a two-thirds majority of the 192-state General Assembly voted against the bids.

Joining the Security Council would boost each country’s standing in the international community.

Viet Nam has never been on the Security Council before, while Libya served previously in 1976 and 1977.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung delivered a speech to the General Assembly on September 27, saying his country “will work closely with other countries to reduce tension, prevent and peacefully settle conflicts in different parts of the world.”

If approved, Viet Nam would join Indonesia and China on the Security Council, which could be significant if the situation in Burma continues to attract international attention.

Some human rights and democracy groups have expressed concern over the possibility of membership for Viet Nam and Libya. A statement from the nongovernmental International Steering Committee of the Community of Democracies expressed “deep concern that nondemocratic countries such as Libya and Vietnam are standing for election ... whilst continuing to commit serious human rights violations.”

For the full story, click here.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Human rights activist fears murder if would return to Egypt

A newspaper today quoted human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim as saying that he fears arrest and murder made to appear as suicide should he return to Egypt, Agence-France Presse reported.

According to the article: “The Egyptian-American sociologist, currently in Switzerland because of an ongoing clampdown by the Egyptian authorities, told Al-Masri al-Yom that the authorities would use their powers of detention without trial to jail him.”

“I expect that I will be detained for questioning and placed in provisional detention, on the pretext that I might flee abroad,” Ibrahim said, adding: “They will say Saad Eddin Ibrahim had a guilty conscience, that he could not live with himself because he sold out his country, and so he committed suicide.”

Ibrahim was sentenced in 2001 to seven years in prison for “tarnishing Egypt’s reputation.”

Ibrahim also commented on the government of President Hosni Mubarak. “The regime is going through a serious crisis, which is getting worse every day,” he said.

The article states that: “Several journalists have in recent weeks been given custodial sentences of up [to] two years on charges ranging from misquoting the justice minister to discussing Mubarak’s health.”

Forty media rights groups recently held an international meeting, calling on Egypt “to stop pursuing journalists and threatening them with imprisonment simply for expressing their critical opinions of the Egyptian government.”

For the full article, click here.


Iraqis debate constitution’s stance on women

A debate is underway in Iraq about Article 41 of the interim constitution, a single line in a 16-page document, but one that many say will have far-reaching implications for women, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Supporters of the clause say it will deter government interference in civil issues by allowing Iraqis to abide by the rule of their religious sect in personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

However, the Times says that: “Opponents, including women’s rights activists and legal scholars, say the one poorly worded sentence opens the door to rule by draconian interpretations of Islamic law that could sanction the stoning of adulterous women, allow underage girls to be forced into marriage and permit men to abandon their wives by declaring, ‘I divorce you,’ three times.”

There are already signs of religious extremism being used to rein in women. Basra police say that gangs enforcing their idea of Islamic law have killed 15 women in the last month. ”There are gangs roaming through the streets . . . pursuing women and carrying out threats and killing because of what the women wear or because they are using makeup,” the Basra police commander, Maj. Gen Abdul Jaleel Khalaf, said this month.

“Sometimes notes are left on the women’s bodies saying they were killed for violating religious law or social traditions,” the Times says.

In May, a video circulated of the fatal stoning of a 17-year-old Yazidi girl who had violated the rules of her sect by having a relationship with a Muslim man.

Luma Ali, a 23-year-old engineering student who opposes any role for religion in government, said of the incident: “I am sure we will be hearing stories like this over and over again. I cannot believe this is still happening to us women.”

Ali’s female friend added: “It is really an insecure world for women in Iraq. Everything is subject to development in Iraq – everything except the way women should live, marry and die.”

According to the Times: “Supporters of Article 41 say criminal law and international human rights agreements would prevent the Yazidi girl’s killers from using the provision to justify their actions. But opponents are not willing to take that chance.”

Conversely, the Times notes that “10 female legislators suggested in August that Article 41 should be replaced with the old family law under Hussein, which drew on Islamic teachings and tribal traditions but was considered radically liberal for the Middle East.”

The controversy over Article 41 highlights the broader debate over how large a role religion play in the Iraqis’ lives, the Times says, adding: “It also underscores shortfalls of the original constitution, which was drafted in 2005 by newly elected Iraqi legislators facing a U.S.-imposed deadline. Redrafting the document is one of the benchmarks sought by the Bush administration to set the stage for an eventual U.S. troop withdrawal. But it has been delayed three times as lawmakers haggle over issues such as provincial powers, religious and cultural freedoms, and distribution of oil revenue.”

For the full article, click here.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Egyptian police investigate possible sectarian killing of two Coptic Christians

Two Coptic Christians were recently found dead in the southern village of el-Kosheh, the scene of one Egypt’s bloodiest sectarian massacres. Police last week began investigating the slaying, The Associated Press reported on October 5.

The two men Sadeq Ishaq, 45, and Karam Andraus, 40 “were found shot to death at their farm…240 miles (390 kilometers) south of the capital Cairo,” the article says, citing a police official. The official added that the authorities were trying to determine if the murders had a sectarian motivation.

In New Year’s Day 2000 incident in el-Kosheh, 21 Christians and one Muslim were killed when a sectarian dispute escalated into a full-scale armed battle.

Coptic Christians in Egypt generally live in peace with the Muslim majority, though the article states that “occasional clashes occur.”

“The Egyptian government is extremely sensitive to public discussions of treatment of its Coptic minority, insisting Christians enjoy the same rights as the Muslim majority,” the article says.

For the full story, click here.


Turkey planning operation in Iraq’s Kurdish region

The gray smoke was visible from Iraqi Kurdish hillsides Tuesday, the result, local farmers said, of artillery shells that hit close to the border with Turkey, the Associated Press reported.

“Although Ankara has not confirmed any shelling of Iraqi territory, the Turkish military has said it was carrying out an operation to track down Kurdish rebels after a deadly attack that killed 13 Turkish soldiers Sunday in a clash in the country’s southeast Turkish province of Sirnak,” the article says.

Ali al-Dabagh, the Iraqi government spokesman said that the violence in Sirnak and the killings of the Turkish soldiers was of “great concern” to Iraq. According to the article: “He extended condolences to the victims’ families and solidarity with the Turkish people, but stressed that regional cooperation is key to confronting all terrorist groups.”

A September counterterrorism agreement signed by Iraq and Turkey prohibits Turkey from sending troops to Iraq’s north. Preserving that agreement, al-Dabagh said, is the way to maintain the security and sovereignty of both countries.

According to article, Ankara announced late Tuesday after a meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top Turkish officials that instructions have been given to prepare for a possible cross-border military operation into Iraq to chase separatist Kurdish rebels – who are part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

According to the article: “The U.S. is opposed to a military move by Turkey. The U.S., along with the European Union, has branded the PKK a terrorist organization. Its members have fought Turkish government forces since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey’s ethnic Kurds. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives.”

For the full article, click here.

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Afghanistan ends moratorium on death penalty, executes 15

Afghanistan executed 15 prisoners by firing squad Monday, the first use of the death penalty in three years, Reuters reported the same day.

According to state television, the executed men had been involved in various crimes, including the murder of foreign reporters and U.N. staff, theft and highway robbery.

A U.N. representative said that it would have been better if Afghanistan had maintained its moratorium on using the death penalty.

For the full article, click here.

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Red Cross appeals for $2.7 million to aid Viet Nam flood victims

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) made a worldwide appeal today for $2.7 million to aid 193,000 victims of the aftermath of the typhoon in Viet Nam, Reuters reported.

The appeal came as provincial reports showed that 88 people have died, and 11 are still missing.

Measurements show that some rivers are at their highest levels since the mid-1980s, causing dykes to burst, and submerging villages in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An. One official reports that the flooding in Thanh Noa was the worst there since 1945.

Officials say that food shortages and waterborne diseases are major concerns for victims. Nearly 1,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of rice in northern and central provinces have been submerged in water due to flooding. “We are calling on rice suppliers to sign another contract for delivering rice to the flood areas in one to two weeks,” IFRC coordinator Thao Van Danh said in Hanoi.

According to the article: “Red Cross officials said the money would help buy mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen sets, water and water containers, rice and building materials for victims of the disaster.”

For the full story, click here.

Iranian human rights lawyer believes military intervention would lead to domestic crackdown

Iran’s top human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, said that although the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated over the course of the past year, with executions of minors and media censorship, military action is not the solution to Iran’s domestic problems, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today.

“A military attack will under any circumstances worsen our situation,” Ebadi said on the sidelines of an international conference in Prague this week. “It'll give the government the opportunity to use defense of national security as a pretext to increase its suppression of defenders of freedom.”

She added that Iranians speaking out for democracy and human rights are accused of receiving financial aid from the U.S. government in order to begin a “velvet revolution.” Ebadi believes, however, that this is the time human rights defenders need to be the most active.

Speculation has increased over the past months about the U.S. using military force against Iran. Washington has said it would rather settle the dispute over Iran’s nuclear policy diplomatically, but U.S. officials have also said that all options are open.

For the full story, click here.

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Attack on Afghanistan mosque highlights increased targeting of religious figures

Two people were killed and 10 injured after a group of gunmen opened fire in a mosque in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province, which borders Kabul, BBC News reported today.

Local police have not determined a motive, but suspect Taliban involvement.

The article indicated that the insurgency is moving closer and closer to Kabul, as demonstrated by this latest incident.

Attacks on religious figures, while unusual, have been increasing over the past year. Many of the targeted leaders are thought to be pro-government.

For the full article, click here.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Quranists released after 130 days of detention

Five members of a group of peaceful and progressive Muslims, the Quranists, have been released by Egyptian authorities after 130 days of arbitrary detention, the International Quranic Center reported Monday.

The men are back safely in their homes, but will be seeking medical attention for physical ailments brought on by “the torture that they received,” the Center says.

The Center reports that they were released because of lack of evidences, saying that no decision has been made on the contempt of religious case that they were involved in.

For the full story, click here.

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Iran reopens border crossings with Iraqi Kurdistan

The five border crossings with northern Iraq that were closed by Iran last month to protest the detention of an Iranian official by U.S. forces were reopened Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

Iraq’s northern Kurdish region relies on two-way trade with Iran which supplies key goods and export routes.

The article reports that Iran “agreed to reopen the five border crossings after the Kurdish regional authorities sent a delegation to Tehran to argue that they should not be punished for a dispute with the United States.”

“Iranian foodstuffs, medicines, construction materials and other goods account for about 60% of what is used in the region…The closure of the nearby Bashmakh crossing alone affected the livelihoods of about 3,000 Iraqi drivers, laborers and merchants,” the article says, citing statements from Hassan Baqi, who heads the Chamber of Commerce in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya.

Iraq struggles with keeping a good balance between its most important allies, the United States and Iran. The country hosted two meetings this year between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi. But, as the article notes, “Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, accused Kazemi-Qomi over the weekend of being a member of the Quds Force, a charge denied by Tehran.”

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said Monday that it would be “premature to talk about any more talks” until Iran ceases to provide weapons, funding and other backing to militants accused of attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran denies doing so, and the U.S. military has released no conclusive evidence that the Iranian weapons it has found in Iraq were supplied by authorities in Tehran.

For full article click here


University students in Tehran protest against Ahmadinejad

Approximately 100 students protested at Iran’s top university on Monday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech there to open the new academic year, Agence-France Presse reported the same day.

The protest occurred two weeks after Ahmadinejad spoke at New York’s Columbia University, where he was called a “petty and cruel dictator” by the university president. At the protest, students held banners reading: “Why only Columbia? We have questions too.”

The protestors also likened Ahmadinejad to the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, shouting: “Ahmadinejad is Pinochet! Iran will not become Chile.”

Supporters of the president clashed with the protestors, calling them hypocrites, and telling them to leave the university. The conflict between the two groups disrupted the planned live broadcast of Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Demonstrators were calling for the release of three students imprisoned since May for publishing writings considered to be insulting to Islam.

For the full article, click here.

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Emergency aid yet to reach hungry villagers in flooded Viet Nam

Viet Nam has been hit by the worst floods in decades after Typhoon Lekima came ashore last week, leaving houses submerged in water, Independent Online reported today.

Viet Nam has deployed 34,000 soldiers to distribute emergency supplies, such as instant noodles and drinking water, by helicopter and boat. According to locals, however, none of it has arrived.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Tran Van Minh, the head of the district rescue force, each person is meant to receive 10 packs of noodles and biscuits, while each family can collect 31,000 dong, a liter of fuel oil, and a container of water. The challenge, he said, is delivering the supplies to those in need.

“We cannot move anywhere,” Van Minh said. “It will take at least one month for the situation to get back to normal.”

Meanwhile, victims are left without food or means of traveling to reach aid.

“The water has been here for days now, but we don’t have enough boats to deliver the noodles, the food and the water to the victims,” said Ha Tien Minh, chairman of the Gia Minh commune’s people’s committee. “I think the starvation threat has become more urgent.”

For the full article, click here.

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