Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 09, 2007

Restoration of democracy in Pakistan would boost Afghan security, U.S. official says

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Tuesday, U.S. Undersecretary for Defense for Policy Eric Edelman discussed his reservations about the recently-imposed emergency rule in Pakistan, while stressing Washington’s conviction for the establishment of democracy in the country.

Edelman voiced concern over President Pervez Musharraf’s emergency declaration as well as his vagueness in setting election dates that would return Pakistan to civilian rule.

“We are deeply disturbed as a government, as are others, by the issuance of the so-called provisional constitutional order. I think it would have been our preference that Pakistan stay on the course that it was on of having elections and moving towards a more firmly rooted constitutional form of government, rooted in the voice of the people as registered at the polls,” he said.

The cross border movement of Taliban and al-Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan has usually been viewed as a principally Afghan problem. However, insurgent groups are active in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well, leading some to fear a much larger regional problem. On this, Edelman said: “It is something that we have been concerned about and have had ongoing discussions with our Pakistani colleagues about, and our hope is that we can help provide them with the kind of successful counterinsurgent strategy that they are going to need, which is going to involve a lot more than just military activity. It is going to require a lot of economic, social, and political development.”

For the full article, click here.

Head of U.N. rights branch condemns Georgia for use of force on protestors

In light on the recent government crackdown on protestors, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued a statement Thursday urging the Georgian government to uphold fundamental rights, Reuters reported the same day.

President Mikhail Saakashvili issued the 15-day state of emergency and shut down the independent media in an effort to stifle anti-government protests.

Over 550 demonstrators were hospitalized on Wednesday alone after riot police used force against them. Arbour was “particularly worried over reports of disproportionate use of force, including against Georgia’s Public Defender, the detention of opposition leaders and the beating of demonstrators.”

The article says: “Georgia, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has an obligation to ensure that fundamental freedoms including the right to life and prohibitions on arbitrary detention and torture ‘cannot be suspended, even in times of emergency,’ according to Arbour.”

For the full article, click here.

Pakistan's state of emergency puts U.S. in difficult position

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, key U.S. ally in counterterrorism, has imposed a state of emergency in his country, leading to a crackdown on human rights, and prompting protests from angry civilians. TIME featured the story in an article Thursday.

Musharraf has said that he plans to return Pakistan to democracy. However, as the article notes, he has worked against the institutions of a democratic society. On November 3, Musharraf suspended the constitution, suppressed independent media, fired top judges, jailed secular politicians, and sent troops to halt protests in cities.

“Those [Musharraf] has arrested are progressive, secular-minded people, while the terrorists are offered negotiations and cease-fires,” said Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s best-known human rights activist.

The U.S. government has been allied with Musharraf largely because of his professed dedication to fighting terrorism. The Bush administration, though, has little in the way of real influence over him despite giving Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, the article says, and it is unlikely that the U.S. will stop giving aid, because of the country’s key role in counterterrorism.

“We are mindful not to do anything that would undermine counterterrorism efforts,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said.

The state of emergency in Pakistan has only helped militants, though, according to the article. Rather than fighting these militant groups, Pakistan’s army and intelligence forces must now devote time, energy and resources to stamping out opposition protests in the cities.

Rumors have been spreading around the country of another coup. Upon hearing about this possibility, Abida Hussain, a former ambassador to the U.S., said: “If there were a coup, it would be the best day for Pakistan.”

For the full article, click here.

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ASEAN charter drafted that would protect human rights

Southeast Asian leaders are expected to sign a landmark charter that would promote human rights and democracy in the region, although it is uncertain how members such as Myanmar (Burma) will be brought into line, Agence France-Presse reported today.

The charter would commit Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members “to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Although ASEAN was founded 40 years ago as an anti-communist bloc, the charter would be the first time its codes and principles were codified.

The charter maintains, however, the principle of non-interference into internal affairs of its member states. The draft also does not mention the possibility of expulsion or suspension as punishment for ASEAN members in breach of the charter.

“The content of the charter is likely to be impressive, especially because ASEAN's international legitimacy and reputation are very important,” said Hiro Katsumata of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “But this does not mean that some of the provisions of the charter will be implemented, especially in relation to human rights and democracy in Myanmar.”

For the full story, click here.

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Afghan lawmakers and children killed in bombing

Between 35 and 41 people died when a bomb exploded on Tuesday at a sugar factory in Baghlan Province, BBC News reported Wednesday. Politicians, teachers, and numerous children were killed as they greeted a delegation of parliamentarians visiting the factory.

According to Alex Kroeger, the BBC’s correspondent in Kabul, it remained unclear if the attack was a suicide bomb. The Taliban has denied responsibility for the incident, but the Taliban and al-Qaeda are the only groups know to carry out suicide attacks.

This incident has demonstrated the spread of violence into the more peaceful northern regions of the country.

For the full article, click here.

Deportation of Afghans from Iran prompts humanitarian concerns

Since October, thousands of Afghans have been deported from Iran to Afghanistan. As a result, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IRIN Monday that the government has implored Iran to stop the removal of citizens without work permits or refugee status.

The announcement comes as the harsh winter approaches. “Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to any mass deportation during winter,” said Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry, adding that the country lacked the capacity to integrate a large number of deportees.

The Afghan government, the U.N., and international organizations have criticized the Iranian government for earlier deportations, leading to the implementation of a more gradual deportation process.

However, within the last 10 days, Afghan officials have reported that mass deportations have restarted, with up to 500 Afghan citizens being sent across the border daily.

In addition to the many young male refuges, are hundreds of vulnerable women, children and elderly people.

According to the article: “UN agencies have helped Afghan authorities set up two transition centres in Nemroz and Herat provinces where deportees receive assistance and shelter for up to 48 hours. Some also receive help to reach their final destinations inside the country, according to the UN.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Development aid and human rights

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Congressional Friends of Denmark Caucus convened a conference in Washington Wednesday entitled, Development aid and human rights: Promoting human rights in bilateral and multilateral development programs. The speakers included, His Excellency Stig Barlyng, Ambassador of Denmark in Uganda; Margaret Sekaggya, Chairman of Uganda’s Human Rights Commission; and Morten Kjaerum, Directior of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. The moderator for the conference was His Excellency Friis Arne Petersen, Ambassador of Denmark to the United States.

The focus of the briefing was on the situation in Uganda: what has been done, and why the work has been successful.

Sekaggya said in her presentation that when bilateral cooperation between Denmark and Uganda first began Kjaerum asked: “What do you want us to do.” Sekaggya said that she responded: “We do not need you to point out all the violations, we need to train human rights.”

The Danish Institute for Human Rights funded the Uganda’s Human Rights Commission and together they developed human rights trainings for the police – which had never been done before, Sekaggya said. These proved to very successful, according to Sekaggya, and today the trainings have been incorporated into the law enforcement curriculum. Many prisons, meanwhile, have also asked for the trainings.

Sekaggya said that the most important component of the Uganda-Denmark relationship is the Poverty Eradication Plan, which priorities assistance areas, ensures public participation in eradication efforts, promotes transparency and accountability, and fosters economic growth. What the Danish government has done, she said, is support all sectors: from law and justice to human rights to conflict resolution.

Sekaggya said that the success of the Uganda-Denmark relationship is due to mutual respect for each other’s goals.

Sekaggya also stressed the importance of taking regional differences into consideration when working on the programs. For example, the northern parts of Uganda still have a large military footprint because of prior regimes, while the southern areas are more agricultural. Therefore, there have to be different programs tailored to each area, Sekaggya said.

Kjaerum began his presentation by emphasizing the importance of teaching people about their rights, saying that someone who understands there rights would say: “I do have rights, and if I do, there has to be someone out there to protect them.” In discussing the trainings, Kjaerum said that there has to be a dialogue between civil society and the government, saying: “A human rights approach must secure legitimacy, i.e. it must begin by debating the values in order to arrive at a common departure.”

Both Sekaggya and Kjaerum talked about the need of everyone to get involved, from state actors to non-state actors, to individuals on a local level.

“Fifteen years ago we had a hammer and today the toolbox is so much bigger, Kjaerum said. “We need different approaches from many different actors.”

Barlyng said that the Denmark-Uganda relationship provides an example of the best way to support human rights in that it consists of a combination of dialogue and financial support. The dialogue should be with the government, statutory bodies and civil society, he said. The financial support, meanwhile, should be on a macro level for general support and social development, and also at a governmental level that supports human rights organizations.

Man tortured to death by Egyptian police

Ahmed Saber Saad was recently tortured to death by Egyptian police, BBC News reported Wednesday.

Saad was tortured for three days and then dumped on the street in Giza. He died a day later from his injuries.

According to officials, Saad had been held on suspicion of drug possession. However, state prosecutors ordered his release, saying there was insufficient evidence against him. Police tortured him instead.

Egyptian Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud has ordered an inquiry into the reports.

As the article notes: “The case follows the sentencing on Monday of two police officers to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a man with a stick at a police station in Cairo.”

“Human rights groups say that torture is endemic in Egypt because suspects are held incommunicado for long periods and police interrogations take place without counsel,” the article says, adding: “The Egyptian authorities reject this and insist that cases of torture are investigated and prosecutions sought.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Burma reject U.N. offer to mediate talks

According to Burma’s state media, the country’s ruling generals will not participate in the United Nations’ plan for three-way talks that include pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, BBC News reported today.

In an article addressed to U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said: “We will welcome positive co-ordination and co-operation for Myanmar [Burma] affairs, but will never accept any interference that may harm our sovereignty.” The article goes on to say that if Burma’s issues are brought to the U.N. Security Council, the country “will have no other way but to face and endure.”

The military junta said Wednesday that they had released all but 91 people who were detained after the protests in September; however, human rights groups believe at least 600 are still in jail.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the lack of progress being made in Burma.

For the full story, click here.

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Two Egyptian police officers sentenced after torturing 21-year-old

Two Egyptian police officers were sentenced Monday to three years in prison for their involvement in the 2006 torture of a 21-year-old minivan driver, The Washington Post reported the next day.

The case of Emad el-Kabir has become a landmark in Egyptian rights cases, and not because of the police torture. According to rights groups, that is something that happens on daily basis, but the fact that this incident was recorded – via a cellphone video camera – makes it unique.

Footage of the incident spread on the Internet when Egyptian bloggers obtained the clip. According to the article: “The video spurred greater reporting of torture in Egypt and heightened international criticism of human rights abuses by Egyptian authorities.”

According to the article: “Police took Kabir to their station in a working-class neighborhood of Cairo in January 2006 after he intervened in an argument between his cousin and police. Police used a cellphone to record the mistreatment that followed: Pinioning Kabir’s hands, police sodomized the man with a wooden pole as officers jeered.”

“Police treatment of Egyptians often is openly rough – officers slap street children in full view of passersby, for example. Local rights groups say torture is systemic and that poor training leads police to rely on beatings to obtain confessions,” the article noted.

There are other cases, including the torture of a 13-year-old boy who was detained by police in August for stealing tea bags. The article states: “Police allegedly returned the boy to his family burned, gouged and on the verge of a coma.” The boy died a few days later and police deny responsibility in the death.

For the full article, click here.

More than 46,000 Iraqi refugees returned home last month, government official says

The number of Iraqi refugees returning to their country after fleeing abroad is growing. According to an Iraqi government spokesman, more than 46,000 people came home last month, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

According to the article “the latest figure comes as Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Syria and Jordan, have tightened their borders to Iraqis fleeing the turmoil in their own country. Syria is home to at least 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, and Jordan has about 750,000.”

“Many of those Iraqis are living in limbo,” the article adds, “unable to work and running out of whatever money they were able to bring out of Iraq.”

“According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. Besides Syria and Jordan, Egypt has absorbed 100,000. Some 54,000 Iraqis are in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon, 10,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in various Persian Gulf countries,” the article said.

The Iraqi Red Crescent issued a report Monday saying nearly 2.3 million Iraqis – most of them women and children – are currently internally displaced within the country.

The article noted that “the number of internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Iraq grew by 16 percent in September from the previous month, to 2,299,425, the Red Crescent said. That figure has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2007, when less than half a million people were listed as displaced.”

For full article, click here.

Death toll from flooding in Viet Nam rises, with typhoon expected this weekend

Government reports issued today say that more people in central Viet Nam have died due to floods, raising the death toll to 82 as fears of a typhoon, expected to hit the country this weekend, loom, Reuters reported today.

Provincial authorities have been asked by the government to warn people about the danger of moving as the flood water receded. Many deaths have been reported during the first part of this week while people tried to salvage wood and cross streams.

The flooding could also spread the bird flu in Quang Tri Province, an Agriculture Ministry Official said. Quang Tri is one of the four provinces that reported an outbreak of the disease among birds in the past month.

Typhoon Peipah, which entered the South China Sea on Monday, is expected to hit the central province of Khanh Hoa, the top coffee growing province in the country. Vietnamese officials have also asked the coastal provinces to warn fisherman as the typhoon heads for the coast.

Almost 200 people have been killed from storms and floods since early October.

For the full story, click here.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PKK fighters force Iraqi border families to flee

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has forced around 120 Iraqi families to leave their homes near the Iraqi-Turkish border, according to the Kurdistan Campaign to Help Victims of War, an NGO, and local residents, IRIN reported Monday.

“Militants broke into our home and told us to leave within an hour. They were armed and we couldn’t resist,” said Firamerz Adar, 48, from Deshtetek village, near the border. “One of my neighbors’ who complained was beaten and then forced to leave with his 11 family members.”

“They said we could return to our homes when the fighting with Turkish forces ended. We took a few things with us and started to walk south, trying to find a vehicle that could take us to a safer place,” Adar added.

Sergevaz Lafaw, a Kurdish rebel commander of the PKK, told IRIN: “Some families have been forced out of their homes because their residences are of strategic importance and also for their own safety as shells could fall on their homes and hurt their loved ones.”

Since mid-October, nearly 7,000 people have fled their homes in areas near the border, Kalif Dirar, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government said. Dirar added that tensions were on the rise despite the Iraqi government’s efforts to prevent a major offensive at the border that could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

“Our hospitals aren’t prepared for a major offensive. We hope NGOs and the government will provide enough supplies to prevent chaos at the health centre, which until now has been functioning well in Kurdistan,” said Ahmed Behi from Zakho General Hospital.

For full article, click here.

Iranian female activist's sentence upheld in appeals court

An Iranian appeals court upheld the sentence for young female activist Delaram Ali, who was arrested for participating in a women’s rights protest last year, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

Ali was originally sentenced to 28 months in prison, and 10 lashes, but her lawyer – who has not been officially informed of the verdict – said: “We have understood that a jail sentence of two years and four months has been upheld and the flogging has been dropped.”

Five other women who organized the protest were given shorter sentences earlier this year.

Police who were accused of beating up the women when they broke up the protest were cleared of charges last month.

Speaking on the “unfair” verdict, Nobel peace laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi said: “Delaram was beaten at this gathering and broke her arm. We pressed charges against the police, but in the end the police were acquitted and Delaram was sentenced to jail.”

For the full story, click here.

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Student leader arrested in Iran

Ali Azizi, a senior member of the main Islamic students’ association, was arrested by Iranian authorities, Agence France-Presse reported today. No reason has been given for his arrest.

“Agents came to our house on Sunday and arrested my son,” his mother said. “I have had no news of my son since his arrest.”

According to the ISNA news agency, students held a protest on Sunday for the release of three of their peers, while shouting slogans against officials. This was the third demonstration to be held since the students were charged with printing anti-Islamic images.

The new demonstrations come a month after students protested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Tehran University.

For the full story, click here.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Two Christian activists acquitted by Egyptian state security court

Two Christian human rights activists have been acquitted by an Egyptian state security court. They were detained on charges of defaming Islam, a judicial source told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat had been held since August 8. “Despite the acquittal, it was not immediately clear whether they had yet been released from jail,” the article states.

Faltas and Ezzat, members of the Canada-based Middle East Christians Association (MECA), were accused by Egypt’s state security prosecutors of threatening the social peace by propagating anti-Islamic material.

According to the article: “The material in question was a book entitled ‘The Persecuted’ that the association compiled from Egyptian newspaper reports and court cases which involve perceived persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.”

Originally, they were also accused of converting a Muslim, named as Mohamed Ahmed Hegazy, to Christianity, although this charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

As the article notes: “Proselytizing to promote the Islamic faith is taken for granted in Egypt, though not enshrined in law. However, promoting any other religion is considered unacceptable. Conversions to other religions are not banned by law.”

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi Kurds fear economic sanctions

Iraqi Kurds fear devastating economic sanctions against their semi-autonomous region, after reports that Ankara has closed its airspace to and from Iraq and also planned further measures to put pressure on Kurdish authorities to act against PKK rebels in Iraq, the Guardian reported.

According to the article: “The sanctions, agreed on Wednesday, remained unspecified, but Turkish officials are reportedly considering restricting the flow of traffic and goods at the Habur bridge border crossing, which is an economic lifeline for Iraq’s north and an important supply route for multinational forces.

“When we talk of economic sanctions, we don’t mean to cause difficulty to people living in Turkey and Iraq,” said the Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan. “We are targeting the economic sources of the terrorist organization and those elements providing support to the terrorist organization.”

Turkey has 100,000 troops alongside its border with Iraq and has threatened a military invasion unless Iraq and the U.S. take sufficient action against the PKK fighters holed up in the remote mountains of northern Iraq.

According to the article: “Iraqi Kurds suspect that Turkey is using the PKK crisis as a pretext to squeeze their autonomous region, which is the safest in Iraq.”

“It is unfortunate that in the last few days, Turkey has closed its airspace to planes not only to the Kurdistan region but as far as we know also to Baghdad,” said Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president. “We don't know whether or when they will implement them [the sanctions], but we are following the situation closely.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the claims of the closure of Turkish airspace. However, Turkish businessmen visiting an international trade fair in the Kurdish capital Irbil, were left waiting because of the cancellation of flights from Istanbul.

For the full article, click here.

Displaced Afghan families cut off from much-needed aid

Due to an intensifying military insurgency and widespread violence, Farah Province in southwest Afghanistan has become inaccessible to the United Nations and other aid agencies, IRIN reported on Sunday.

International aid organizations have appealed to the Taliban to allow aid into vulnerable areas, however the fundamentalist group has not responded.

As displaced families attempt to move to safety, many have spent days without aid.

“We do not have adequate resources to assist needy people,” said Gulam Rasoul, provincial head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in Farah. He added that the province’s response capacity was weak and not in a position to meet the current needs of the displaced.

For the full article, click here.

Access to medical care improves for Afghan children

Thanks to the construction of health clinics and trainings for health providers, nearly 90,000 Afghan children who had have passed away before their fifth birthday will live to at least that age this year, President Hamid Karzai said Sunday.

The Associated Press reported the same day that the country has seen a dramatic increase in the level of access to health services since the U.S-led invasion.

“This is certainly very positive news,” said the U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, Adrian Edwards. “To come from such low life expectancy to see this improvement does appear to be an indication that the work on the health sector here is beginning to pay off.”

However, the country still faces difficulties in providing adequate child health care. Nearly one in five children still die before age five, many from malnutrition and illnesses such as diarrhea, tuberculosis, malaria.

UNICEF reported that most countries with the worst child mortality rates have suffered from armed conflict.

For the full article, click here.

Five more hanged in Iran, total executions for year climbs to 249

Iran held executions for four men convicted of drug trafficking in the southern Hormozgan Province, and a man convicted of murder in the city of Isfahan, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday.

According to an AFP count, the total executions for 2007 have reached at least 249. Executions in the country have increased dramatically in the past few months as a campaign said to boost security and promote virtue in society is enforced.

Reports did not say if the executions were held in public.

For the full story, click here.

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Iranians mark 28th anniversary of seizure of U.S. embassy

Thousands of young Iranians gathered outside the site of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Sunday to celebrate the 28th anniversary of its takeover by student radicals, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

Those gathered shouted slogans such as “Death to America! Death to Israel!” and wore bibs depicting the burning of American and Israeli flags.

“By being here I am doing my religious duty, and by being here I am saying I hate the bullying powers, especially the United States and Israel,” 18-year-old seminary student Esmaeel Mohammadi said.

In a keynote address, Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi called the seizure “a great and glorious event” that continues to inspire the Iranian people.

The seizure, which occurred on November 4, 1979, caused the United States to break off diplomatic ties with Iran. Many of the leading participants in the seizure such as Massoumeh Ebtekar, Abbas Abdi, and Mohsen Mirdamadi have become reformists highly critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s conservative government.

For the full story, click here.

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