Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, October 26, 2007

Iraq pushes for diplomacy as Turkey takes action

Turkey reportedly rejected the proposals of a high-level Iraqi delegation deployed to Ankara to prevent a major military operation against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, Reuters reported today.

According to the article: “Turkish helicopters and fighter jets pounded Kurdish rebel positions on Friday as diplomatic efforts got off to a rocky start in Ankara to avert a major offensive against the guerrillas based in northern Iraq.”

Ankara had given Iraq a list of members of the outlawed PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) in northern Iraq and demanded that Baghdad hand over all separatist rebels there,” the article says.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with President Bush in Washington on November 5. And Turkey’s top military commanders said today that Ankara will wait until the visit before deciding on a cross-border offensive, The New York Times reported.

For the full Reuters article, click here.

For the full New York Times article, click here.

Afghan M.P. Qanooni speaks at Wilson Center

Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center today hosted Younus Qanooni, the speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house of Parliament, for a democratization forum.

Qanooni began his overview of democratic development in Afghanistan by comparing democracy to a new-born baby, saying that assistance and patience is necessary. He urged the audience to keep in mind that Afghanistan’s form of democracy is unique and will continue to develop in a way consistent with the will of the people. Still, he desires the “child” to grow strong with the help of the U.S.

“Democracy is not a slogan, but a goal,” Qanooni said. While much work is required for it to be realized, the Afghan people are committed, he added. Qanooni also claimed that his country is witnessing a new political life, having grown tired of the “old ways.” Citizens have matured politically by forming new parties, he said.

Qanooni highlighted the challenges of Afghanistan’s new democratic system – obstacles such as political and religious extremism. To counter these challenges, he urged Afghan leaders and citizens to act and not simply talk, and to have the courage to accept ideas different from their own. In essence, he declared that democracy should be a strategy – one tackled from the bottom-up and the top-down. He also argued that Afghan citizens should have the “correct interpretation” of democracy.

During the question and answer session, Qanooni fielded inquiries regarding the role of police, relations with Iran and Pakistan, and the prevalence of poppy cultivation.

The most poignant discussion touched upon how Afghanistan will be affected if the U.S. were to invade Iran. Qanooni lamented that the Iraq war has overshadowed the desperate needs in Afghanistan and fears that the U.S. will forget his country again if it embarks on another invasion.

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Central Viet Nam focus of rural infrastructure project

A $168.2 million project is intended to improve rural infrastructure and raise the standard of living in one of Viet Nam’s poorest regions, All Headline News reported Thursday.

“Poverty in Vietnam is a rural phenomenon, focused to a large extent on the more isolated central and northern regions of the country. It especially affects ethnic minorities,” said Ahsan Tayyab, senior natural resources economist of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Southeast Asia Department.

ADB and Viet Nam have prioritized 13 provinces in Central Viet Nam, where deteriorating infrastructure has limited access to markets, irrigation water, and public services.

For the full article, click here.

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Seventy protestors freed in Burma

At least 70 people arrested by the military junta after protests in Burma have been released, a party spokesman said Friday, according to The Associated Press. Fifty of the 70 were members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

The detainees were released from the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon on Thursday, said Nyan Win, the spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. At least 250 members of the party are still being held, he added.

The move to release detainees came after Suu Kyi met with a top-government official on Thursday. The meeting is part of a U.N. attempt to promote reconciliation between the junta and the democracy party. U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari said the meeting was a good beginning, but more talks will be needed in order to produce results. Western diplomats and residents are skeptical, believing the government’s move was intended to ease international pressure on the junta rather than produce results.

“[Suu Kyi’s] very conscious of the difficulties her people are experiencing,” Gambari said. “Her concern is to put an end to the violence and that prisoners are released.”

For the full article, click here.

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Baluchi minority suffers in Iran and Pakistan

According to political observers and human rights groups, Baluchis in southeastern Iran and southwestern Pakistan continue to suffer from discrimination and lack of access to the benefits of citizenship, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

Baluchis comprise about two percent of Iran’s population with two million people concentrated in Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

Drewery Dyke, Middle East researcher for Amnesty International in London, said Sistan-Baluchistan is “certainly one of the poorest and most deprived provinces in the country. And it has suffered droughts and extreme weather conditions. And certainly – with respect to the situation of women and schooling for girls – there are shortcomings that the state really needs to address.”

Amnesty International reports that suspected Baluchi militants may have been subjected to torture in order to produce forced confessions. Furthermore, Iranian authorities have put special judicial procedures into affect, and there has been an increase in the number of Baluchis targeted. Amnesty International is concerned, however, that enhanced attention to Iran’s nuclear program will push human rights issues off the agenda.

For the full article, click here.

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Hundreds of Afghans protest poppy cultivation

Farmers and tribal elders congregated on Wednesday to rally against poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today, citing Pajhwak Afghan News.

The protest transformed into a public meeting, where residents and tribal leaders spoke out. One resident emphasized citizen demands for alternative livelihoods, while the residents of Chaparhar district unanimously pledged to stop cultivating poppies.

For the full article, click here.

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New poll reveals top concerns among Afghans

A poll sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development and conducted by a team of Afghans concluded that security issues, including terrorism and violence, were the single biggest problem in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

According to the article: “The main goal was to gauge public sentiments on social and political issues, ‘in a country that is undergoing rapid changes,’ the authors said.”

“Insecurity is the main reason for the people to believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction,” the authors of the poll wrote. “In the eyes of men and women of Afghanistan, the security situation in the country has deteriorated.”

The poll found that this view remained unchanged from the previous year.

In terms of political sentiment, the poll revealed that the ideas of political tolerance and freedom of expression were not fully realized in society; many still felt reluctant to speak freely and critically about their government.

Some confidence was expressed with regard to national institutions such as the media, aid groups, security forces, and tribal and provincial councils. However, confidence in the justice and political system is weak.

In terms of empowerment of women, the results remained mixed, with 53 percent of respondents strongly agreeing that women should have equal rights while 32 percent “somewhat agreed.”

Religion remains an important issue in Afghan society. Sixty-six percent of respondents said democracy could be Islamic, while 29 percent said that democracy challenged Islamic values.

For the full article, click here.

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Muslims and Copts clash in central Egypt

Fifteen people were injured and 35 were taken into custody after clashes today in central Egypt between Muslims and Coptic Christians, Reuters reported, citing police sources.

The incident apparently escalated from a dispute over a piece of land between the villages of Maabda and Gabal el-Teir after a rumor that a monastery was planning to annex the land.

According to the article: “The two sides, divided on sectarian lines, threw stones and scuffled until riot police intervened to stop them.”

Relations between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority are usually good. However, disputes over such issues as land, religious buildings and women, have led to violence.

For the full article, click here.

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Witnesses stand by Egyptian editor

In Tuesday’s court hearing of Al Dustour editor Ibrahim Issa of Egypt, two prosecution witnesses were heard. Both Egyptian central bank governor Atef Ali Ibrahim and stock exchange authority president Ahmad Saad Abdellatif denied any relationship between Issa’s articles about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s health and a fall in the Egyptian stock exchange, according to Reporters Without Borders, as reported by allAfrica.com.

Issa’s trail was adjourned until 14 November. According to the article: “He faces a possible three-year prison sentence on a charge of ‘harming the general interest and the country’s stability.’”

For the full article, click here.

Defense Secretary Gates criticizes NATO on Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates faulted European members of NATO on Monday for failing to offer the extra troops for security in Afghanistan that their governments had promised last year, The Associated Press reported the same day.

Of particular concern is the shortage of troops needed to train the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Police.

“I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan,” Gates told a news conference after a meeting of a separate organization of southeast European countries.

During the Southeast European Defense Ministers meeting, Gates implored members to increase their contributions to security efforts in Afghanistan, warning that their countries “risk eventual irrelevance” if no action is taken.

For the full article, click here.

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Brookings Institution hosts discussion with Iraqi Deputy P.M.

The Brooking Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Post Policy hosted a conversation with Barham Salih, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, for a full audience Monday.

The Prime Minister began with a brief overview of the economic, political and social components of the Iraq conflict. He was quick to emphasize that the country is in a state of “deep transition,” with a struggle underway over power and resources. For this reason he cautioned against the tendency of Western nations to demand instant results and progress.

In terms of security, Salih believes the dynamics have changed for the better, citing the many communities in provinces like violence-plagued Anbar that are staunchly opposed to al-Qaeda, along with the enhanced capabilities of Iraqi security forces.

Shifting to economic gains, Salih said that the rate of budget execution has increased two-fold and that a once-exorbitant inflation rate has been reduced to a manageable level. Unemployment rates have also fallen by 19 percent, he said.

Salih also highlighted the increase in construction, thanks to budgets being allocated directly to the provinces based on population. In his view, provincial leaders are not as susceptible to corruption, security concerns and bureaucratic measures of the central government, and are therefore better able to expedite projects.

Salih regrets that such gains are not matched in the political arena. “We must do the politics right,” he proclaimed. He also warned that all other gains could be squandered and potentially reversed if the country’s political will is not sustained. And although Iraqis are growing weary of the violence, he remains convinced that an inclusive, non-centralized political framework will sustain security.

The question and answer session was dominated by discussion of diplomatic relations with Turkey, given the growing PKK issue.

While the Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the government, condemned the violent actions of separatist groups on both sides, he was quick to comment that Iraq cannot be expected to dedicate all of its energy to remedy this single conflict.

Salih concluded by emphasizing the slow, but steady, progress of the “bottom-up” approach to governance, with all communities as legitimate stakeholders in the new political process. The Prime Minister believes that success in Iraq, while difficult, is indeed possible.

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Ahmadinejad visits Armenia in effort to strengthen ties

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, on Monday, praising growing economic and political cooperation between the two countries, Agence-France Presse reported the same day.

“We consider our neighborly relations with Armenia to be very important and a means of strengthening security and stability” in the region, Ahmadinejad said.

Armenia, a landlocked country, has been subject to economic blockades from neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey, and has therefore sought closer ties to Iran. The blockades stem from a dispute over the Nagorny Karabakh region, as well as Armenia’s efforts to gain international recognition of Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians as genocide.

The presidents announced the opening of a new highway between the two countries, as well as plans to build a railroad that crosses the Iranian-Armenian border. Kocharian said that these new links provided an opportunity to “increase the flow of goods between our two countries.”

The United States has been growing concerned about the closer ties between Armenia and Iran, and the top U.S. diplomat in Armenia has urged the country to participate in economic sanctions against Iran in order to halt its nuclear program.

For the full article, click here.

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More than 8,000 prisoners granted amnesty in Viet Nam

The office of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet announced Tuesday that more than 8,000 prisoners would be released as part of an annual government amnesty, digitaljournal.com reported the same day.

Eleven of the prisoners to be released were jailed for violating national security laws, many of them in the Central Highlands, where large anti-government protests have occurred in the past few years. Human rights groups have long believed that the government arrested ethnic minorities in the region after the protests. In addition, a Western diplomat in Hanoi said that five of the prisoners receiving government amnesty are on the European Union’s list of “prisoner’s of concern” for human rights issues and political persecution.

In order to receive amnesty from the Vietnamese government, prisoners must demonstrate good behavior, serve at least one third of their sentences, and commit to not breaking the law in the future.

“The amnesty decision reaffirms the clemency policy of the party and the state and the humanitarian tradition of Vietnamese people,” said Giang Son, deputy chief of the Office of the State President.

Officials said that the majority of the released prisoners are petty criminals or involved in economic crimes. Murderers and sex offenders are ineligible to receive amnesty.

For the full article, click here.


U.N. human rights expert granted permission to visit Burma after 4 years of refusals

The military junta in Burma will allow United Nations human rights expert Paolo Sergio Pinheiro to visit the country after four years of persistent requests, BBC News reported Monday.

Pinhiero said the invitation is “an important sign that the government wants to engage again in constructive dialogue with the UN and the Human Rights Council.”

The U.N. received a written invitation from Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win indicating that Pinheiro could arrive before mid-November. This is significant due to the fact that a summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is set to begin on November 17. ASEAN has been highly critical of the situation in Burma, and the BBC’s U.N. correspondent reports that cooperation with the U.N. “could take the sting out of further criticism.”

Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, says it is necessary to unearth the scale of the junta’s crackdown.

“We have to find out what has happened to these people who demonstrated,” Arbour said. “Where are they? How many – credibly – have been killed? How many are still detained [and] under what conditions?”

The U.N.’s special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is also hoping to return to the country soon.

For the full article, click here.

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EU expresses concern over freedom of expression in Iran

The European Union issued a press release Wednesday expressing concern over the repression of freedom of expression in Iran, Scoop Independent News reported.

“The EU condemns the closure of newspapers, magazines and of the Iranian Labour News Agency, as well as the arrest and persecution of journalists, web bloggers, and Human Rights Defenders for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and recalls UNGA Resolution 59/I,” the release says.

The statement calls for Iran to release Emmadin Baghi, a journalist and human rights defender, who was arrested and given successive prison sentences. It also addresses the imprisonment of three university students charged with a crime that, according to Ayatollah Sharoudi, they did not commit. Concern is expressed for others who have been punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

The EU urges Iran to comply with international human rights conventions and covenants that it has ratified.

For the full press release, click here.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Trail dates set for lawsuits against Ibrahim after he calls for reduced U.S. aid

The court dates are now set for private lawsuits against Egyptian-American rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Politicians and lawyers with links to the Egyptian government are charging him with harming Egypt’s economy by calling for cuts in U.S assistance, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

According to the article: “The cases, three of which were brought by leaders of token political parties, will be heard in court on Nov. 8, 18, 20 and Dec. 1. Ibrahim is currently outside the country.”

“We are reluctant to treat this very seriously,” said his wife, U.S.-born Barbara Ibrahim. “There is no substance [to it] and there is no law in Egypt that prevents citizens from having an opinion on the aid.”

The 68-year-old sociologist described, in an August 21 Washington Post opinion piece, the Egyptian government’s crackdown on all forms of opposition in order to engineer an unpopular father-son succession – referring to speculation that President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal will succeed him in office.

“Sadly, this regime has strayed so far from the rule of law that, for my own safety, I have been warned not to return to Egypt,” he wrote. “Regime insiders and those in Cairo’s diplomatic circles have said that I will be arrested or worse.”

Last month several newspaper editors received jail sentences after being sued by private individuals for insulting the government.

For the full article, click here.

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Marsh Arabs look to revive way of life in post-Saddam Iraq

For an article in the October 2006 edition of Smithsonian magazine, Joshua Hammer, traveled with a unit of British soldiers to southern Iraq, to the area between the cities of An Nasiriyah and Basra, to document efforts to help the region’s “Marsh Arabs.”

With helicopter carrying Hammer now touched down in a muddy field, he writes: “A few moments later, two dozen Iraqi men and boys from a nearby village, all dressed in dishdashas – gray traditional robes – crowd around us. The first words out of their mouths are requests for mai, water. As Kelly Goodall, the British Army’s interpreter, hands out bottles of water, a young man shows me a rash on his neck and asks if I have anything for it. ‘It comes from drinking the water in the marshes,’ he tells me. ‘It isn't clean.’”

The villagers tell Hammer that 1991 was the last time there had been a helicopter in the area. As the article notes: “That was when Saddam sent his gunships into the wetlands to hunt down Shiite rebels and to strafe and bomb the Marsh Arabs who had supported them.” They continue to tell their story. “We came back from An Nasiriyah and Basra after the fall of Saddam, because people said it was better to go back to the marshes,” the village chief, Khathem Hashim Habib said.

Still, several years after village reconstruction, roads are unpaved, and there is no electricity, no schools and no medicine. Getting to the nearest market takes an hour by truck, and this is only possible in the absence of floodwaters.

There has been little help from the government, Habib says. “The officials in Basra and Nasiriyah know that we’re here, but help isn't coming,” he told a British officer.

For the full article, click here.

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More border families flee as tensions mount between Iraq, Turkey

Hundreds have already fled their homes along the Iraq-Turkey border as tensions mount between Turkish-Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army. The exodus is now escalating in the wake of Sunday’s cross-border ambush, IRIN, a U.N. humanitarian news service, reported Tuesday.

Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq on Sunday killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers in a cross-border ambush, placing added pressure on Ankara to initiate military action in Iraq.

“It will be a disaster. Families living near the border are usually [poor] and are being forced to flee their homes, carrying a single bag and leaving behind a history and the comfort of a family to an unknown destiny,” Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan regional government, said.

Dirar said that families are scared since the killing of the Turkish soldiers, and the kidnapping of eight others by the Kurdish rebels, caused more panic among the locals. They now fear a response by the Turkish military, he said.

“We have recorded more than 3,000 individuals traveling from villages near the border to areas near Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk,” Dirar said.

For the full article, click here.

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Despite 4,200 confirmed cases, Iraq, UN say cholera outbreak under control

Since August there have been about 4,200 laboratory-confirmed cases of cholera and 21 deaths form the disease. Still, United Nation agencies and the Iraqi government say that the outbreak is under control, IRIN, a U.N. humanitarian news service, reported Tuesday.

“Iraqis have adhered to the rules to guarantee their safety against cholera and numbers have dropped dramatically; in addition, more than 70 percent of reported cases are being treated with success,” said Taha Abdallah, a senior official at the Ministry of Health.

“There are some areas where sanitation is poor and there is a deficit of potable water, leaving residents in a more dangerous situation, but we are working hard to contain the problem. And with the end of the summer season, the possible spread of the disease is lower,” Abdallah added. “An intense campaign was developed among displaced families to prevent the spread of the disease among the most vulnerable.”

According to the article: “The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) are urgently calling on all Iraqis to follow the preventive measures, which are simple and affordable and have proved to be effective in warding off the risk of a cholera outbreak. So far 39 districts in 11 provinces have been affected, according to the Ministry of Health.”

Even though number of cholera cases has declined, the article says that “both UNICEF and the WHO have continued their support for local health units by providing technical support, training on case management, outbreak investigation and containment. The two UN agencies have also been supporting awareness and hygiene promotion campaigns in the country.”

For the full article, click here.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Vice-President Cheney warns Iran of "serious consequences"

In a foreign policy speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Sunday, Vice-President Cheney called the Iranian government “a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East,” The New York Times reported today. He further remarked that there would be “serious consequences” if Tehran did not stop pursuing its nuclear program.

Cheney’s remarks came after President Bush stated that a nuclear armed Iran could lead to “World War III.” People at the conference believe that the remarks by both government officials represent a significant step towards increasing pressure on Iran, which could lay the groundwork for the threat of military action.

Dennis Ross, who served as a Middle East envoy for President Clinton and the first President Bush and is now a scholar at the Washington Institute, said that Cheney’s statements were “strong words” with “serious implications.”

The UN Security Council has already placed sanctions on Iran for its uranium enrichment program. The United States is now looking to place harsher economic penalties on the country, such as a broader cutoff of bank lending and technology.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, resigned Saturday, on the eve of negotiations with Europe, and has been replaced with more of a hard-liner.

According to the article, the Bush administration seems to be hoping that the Iranian people will rise up against the Iranian government. “The spirit of freedom is stirring in Iran,” Cheney said. “America looks forward to the day when Iranians reclaim their destiny, the day that our two countries, as free and democratic nations, can be the closest of friends.”

For the full story, click here.

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Egypt, female circumcision deeply rooted in tradition

As many as 97 percent of the Egyptian women, Christians and Muslims, aged 15 to 49 have undergone as UN refers to call it, genital mutilation or FGM, the AFP reports.

Few women dare to question the tradition that goes back to the time of the pharaohs, despite the stories of bleeding, infections and other nefarious effects. Many women how has undergone the FGM are afraid of what will happen if their daughters do not do it.

The paper reports that around 60 Egyptian women, all circumcised, are gathered to listen to a gynecologist from the NGO.

“People have to know if the girl is normal, if (her sexual organs) are too big, or deformed?” says another. She is echoing a belief among many women here that too ‘prominent’ genitals must be cut off -- at least if they are female.

The gynaecologist states that “comparing female and male circumcision is like the difference between clipping a nail and cutting the whole finger off.”

According to the article the government has even enlisted the country's top religious authorities to drive home the message against what UNICEF describes “one of the most persistent, pervasive and silently endured human rights violations.”

Click here for full article

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