Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 16, 2007

Saudi Arabian girl sentenced to jail after being gang-raped

A Saudi Arabian court has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence for a woman that was gang-raped. The original punishment was for violating laws on segregation of the sexes , as the convicted woman was seen with an unrelated man in his car at the time of the attack, BBC News reported Thursday.

According to the article, when the woman appealed, “the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them.”

The article notes that: “According to the Arab News newspaper, the 19-year-old woman, who is from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, was gang-raped 14 times in an attack in the eastern province a year-and-a-half ago.”

“Seven men from the majority Sunni community were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years.”

“But the victim was also punished for violating Saudi Arabia’s laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.”

“On appeal, the Arab News reported that the punishment was not reduced but increased to 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence.”

The attackers’ sentences – originally of up to five years – were doubled, but, according to the article, “the sentences are still low considering they could have faced the death penalty.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S continues contact with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated in 2005 that the United States should not “engage” with the Muslim Brotherhood. However, contact has now resumed, The Washington Times reported this week.

According to the article: “U.S. Embassy officials said they are acting in conformity with a worldwide policy of dealing with political parties that are represented in their national parliaments. Muslim Brotherhood members can only run for Egypt’s parliament as independents, and U.S. officials say they have met them only in that capacity.”

“Our rare contacts with the nominally independent members of parliament have occurred only in the full light of day, with many other Egyptians present, including members from the ruling National Democratic Party,” said Francis J. Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt.

Asked whether the dealings were approved by Rice, who ruled out such contacts in June 2005, Ricciardone said: “Of course, we report fully to Washington on these contacts.”

According to an Egyptian official, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is illegal, foreign diplomats may meet with parliamentarians, regardless of their affiliation.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. That list includes Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — both represented in their respective parliaments.

For the full article, click here.

Rights group exposes prisoner abuse in Afghanistan

Amnesty International appealed to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Tuesday to stop transferring prisoners to Afghan authorities, Agence France-Presse reported the next day.

The human rights group expressed concern over abuse of prisoners in the Afghan prison system, citing incidents such as whippings, beatings, exposure to extreme cold, and food deprivation.

Amnesty also called on ISAF to stop “any further transfers of detainees to the Afghan authorities and take responsibility for the custody of such detainees until effective safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment are introduced in the Afghan detention system.”

However, NATO-spokesman James Appathurai said he has not received evidence that such abuses were occurring. Although he admits there may be problems in the system, he stressed the need to treat Afghanistan as a sovereign country with a sovereign government.

“It's true there are concerns. This is precisely why the allies have invested, and a lot, in the reform of the Afghan institutions, including the NDS. It's the only appropriate and acceptable way to improve the situation,” he said, referring to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security by its initials.

“Afghanistan is a sovereign country,” he continued. “It’s not up to NATO to put a parallel detention system in place on Afghan territory.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian engineer abducted in Afghanistan

Afghan authorities have said that an Iranian engineer was seized by gunmen in the western province of Herat, BBC News reported Wednesday. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident.

The engineer was working on a rail link project between the two countries.

For the full article, click here.

Displaced Iraqis now being turned away in Basra

With more than 40 displaced families arriving in Basra every day, local officials say that the province can no longer accommodate all of the Iraqi families fleeing insecurity, IRIN reported Monday.

“We cannot cope with any more families seeking refuge in our province, whatever their reasons. The governorate is seriously affected by the high number of displaced families,” Hassan Abdul-Kareem, a senior official in the Basra Governing Council, told IRIN. “Health services have deteriorated, schools are overcrowded and we aren’t even able to offer a good service to our locals. Things have become worse since the high influx of new arrivals.”

The increasing number of families fleeing to Basra has, according to the article, “led to higher crime rates, deteriorating security and a rise in the number of commercial sex workers.”

“We cannot try to offer something that isn’t available; we lack resources. We understand the desperation of Iraqi families trying to flee violence but the central government has to take urgent action to better disperse displaced families to other governorates,” Abdul-Kareem said.

For the full article, click here.

Institute for Global Engagement delegation returns from Viet Nam

The Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) and an accompanying delegation recently visited Hanoi and the Northwest province of Lao Cai as a part of its 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vietnamese government, according to an IGE press release issued Wednesday. The MOU works to promote religious freedom in Viet Nam.

Highlights from the visit included: the second “Religion and Rule of Law” conference to be held in Southeast Asia; the signing of a protocol which provides guidance for further implementing the socio-economic policies of an NGO working in Lao Cai; meetings with members of Viet Nam’s National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Public Security to deepen religious dialogue; and a personal meeting with President Triet.

The IGE delegation gathered information about the religious freedom climate in Viet Nam, and learned of Hanoi’s program to educate governmental and religious leaders about ordinances, decrees and guidelines dealing with religious freedom.

For the full press release, click here.

Labels: ,

Disparity between rich and poor growing in Viet Nam

The rapid economic growth in Viet Nam has left many rural communities behind, Agence France-Presse reported on November 7.

In Na Lia, a rice faming hamlet of approximately 400 members of the Tay ethnic minority, residents do not have electricity or telephones, and the village economy is largely cashless. Moreover, Na Lia has not witnessed the growth seen in cities such as Hanoi.

“There’s a vast disparity between Vietnam’s rural and urban areas,” said Hassan Ahmad, whose Singapore-based group Lien Aid has launched an anti-poverty project here, funded by the city-state’s Ian Ferguson Foundation.

According to the World Bank, “the poverty rate among ethnic minorities and communities in mountainous areas is much higher compared to the national average.” In 2004, 60 percent of the people in these communities lived in poverty.

Lien Aid has been working in Na Lia, and has implemented initiatives such as new sand-filtered water-tanks, and the construction of a new school and library. Agricultural experts have also introduced soy beans and high-yield rice, doubling outputs in the process.

“People from other villages have come to take a look,” Ahmad said. “We believe this project can be replicated. The real needs in Vietnam are in places like this, beyond the mountains and at the ends of inaccessible roads.”

For the full story, click here.

Labels: , ,

CHRC hold briefing on Iraqi refugee crisis

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a briefing Thursday on “the plight of Iraqi refugees.” The panel of witnesses included representatives from the Untied Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Refugees International, and Amnesty International.

Wendy Young of UNHCR began by saying that since the Iraqi refugee issue was last addressed by the Caucus earlier this year, the situation has just gotten worse. There are now 2.2 million internally displaced Iraqis and 2.3 million that are displaced outside of the country’s borders. Young addressed some of the problems the Iraqi refugees are facing today. First of all, the influx of refugees is putting enormous pressure on host countries that have inadequate infrastructure to meet their needs, Young said. Also, problems with obtaining visas have left many refugees unemployed. Moreover, many women and girls have resorted to prostitution and reports show that these numbers are growing.

Richard E. Scott of IOM chose to focus his testimony on the state of Iraq’s internally displaced person (IDP) camps, which he described as very crowded and dangerous, with the residents afraid for their lives. On the reasons for camp overcrowding, he said “today [the refugees] have fewer places to flee to,” referring to the fact that neighboring countries are beginning to close off their borders. Scott also said that 34 percent of IDP camp residents do not have any access to medications and that many children are forced to work because their families cannot afford to send them to school.

Media reports describing the return of many Iraqi refugees seem to suggest that the situation inside the country has improved significantly. However, Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch gave a contrasting account. Frelick said that the refugees are really coming back because they cannot obtain work in their host countries, have exhausted their life savings and are unable to feed their children. The pressure has taken a toll on host countries, especially Jordan and Syria, which together more than 90 percent of the refugees. While the situation is difficult for these countries, Frelick said that circumstances are particularly dire for the refugees. “Now that both have closed their doors, the situation is looking especially bleak for today’s and tomorrow’s victims of war and human rights abuse inside Iraq who will have no place to seek asylum outside their country. We need to convince Jordan and Syria to reopen their doors,” he said, adding that doing so “rises to the level of a moral imperative.”

The testimony of Sarnata Reynolds of Amnesty International was along the same lines as the other speakers in that it addressed the critical circumstances of displaced Iraqi children, more than 60 percent of whom have missed at least one year of school because of work and other reasons. Reynolds said that free clinics have been set up to serve the children, but that because of a lack of funding they cannot treat severe illnesses. She also commented on America’s obligation to resolve the crisis. “The U.S. must take extraordinary steps to resolve the [refugee] situation,” Sarnata said.

Kristele Younes of Refugees International said that a major problem is the fact that there are little available resources to treat mental health patients, adding that many of these people has been victims of rape, kidnapping and other crimes. “These are things that have to be addressed immediately,” she said.

Younes also said that many families have been separated while host country borders have been closed. She made clear that as Syria has closed its borders and threatened to deport people, many refugees have no other option but to return to Iraq, and this has nothing to do with an improved security situation there. “We are not talking about victims; we are talking about highly educated people,” Younes said, adding that they now feel humiliated, as if they are nothing. Before they had families and friends and were highly regarded in their communities, she said.

Younes said that if the U.S. does not show interest and try to support other countries in the region; this massive displacement can cause problems and destabilize the region.

Lavinia Limon of USCRI spoke about the importance of U.S. assistance, saying, “the U.S. will help Iraqi refugees like every other refugee, not more not less.” She said that many think the situation now is America’s fault. “We have a responsibility,” Limon said. She also argued that the U.S. could take in more Iraqi refugees, saying: “It’s clearly a matter of will; we have done it before.”

Limon also agreed with the other witnesses on the importance of education and healthcare, but said that the primary needs are more critical, as people first need food and shelter. However, assistance efforts haven’t focused explicitly on their primary needs, because these are too difficult to meet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wilson Center hosts president of Southern Sudan for update on peace agreement

The Woodrow Wilson Center on November 7 hosted the event, “Sudan Update: Is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement Holding?” Present to speak was His Excellency Salva Kiir Mayardit, First Vice President of Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan.

Mayardit said that Sudan has faced critical issues in implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The differences between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Party is a major issue; it has resulted in the SPLM leaving the Government of National Unity in protest a few months ago

In the transition to democracy, Sudan needs to do many things that are not currently being done, His Excellency said. When it comes to the transformation process, the National Congress Party (NCP) is dragging their feet in accomplishing anything, Mayardit said, adding that this has served to water down the CPA. He also said that a major problem has been the lack of free and fair elections.

Mayardit also argued that any party from the south other than the SPLM would not accept the CPA, and the same goes for the north, thereby making it seem like there is almost a dictatorship within the country.

One of the major challenges facing peace in Sudan, Mayardit said, is the issue of oil and border definition. Oil revenue is supposed to be shared between the north and the south; however, the north has not been splitting its revenue in this way. Additionally, because the borders are hard to define, he said, they keep shifting southward to where more oil is located.

His Excellency also discussed the current situation in Darfur. He said that “Darfur is the new national identity of Sudan,” demonstrating that the country is a multi-ethnic rather than Islamic state. He also compared the current situation in the region to what Southern Sudan faced during the civil war.

When asked about the role of women in Sudan, Mayardit gave the floor to a female member of his delegation. She explained that the SPLM upholds the values and principles of justice and equality. In regards to the peace talks for Darfur, she said that if no Darfurian women had been included, the Southern Sudanese women would have given the President a hard time.

The relationship of the United States with Sudan was also brought up. Mayardit said the U.S. has been supportive of the CPA, and has given support to litigations. He added that the U.S. gave relief to the people of Sudan during the war. Regarding the U.S. role in Darfur, Mayardit said that America is not responsible for the situation because it is a Sudanese problem. He believes the U.S. should assist in whatever way the country is able.

The CPA is struggling, Mayardit said, adding that external pressure to form the peace agreement can cause the people of Sudan to feel as if they do not have ownership of it. However, achieving a sustainable resolution to the conflict in Sudan is critical, Mayardit stressed. “Peace in Sudan is key to peace in all of Africa, and the whole world,” he said.

Labels: , ,

Displaced Iraqi at increasing risk of detention in Lebanon

Iraqi refugees are experiencing considerable hardship throughout the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, where they are being detained with increasing frequency, Refugees International, a Washington based group said in a report Monday, according to The Associated Press.

The organization’s report was, according to the article, “issued after its team visited Lebanon, Syria and Egypt for a month to gauge what homeless Iraqis deal with.”

“The report highlighted the plight of Iraqis in Lebanon, where an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugees live. Lebanon’s history of sectarian violence and its stated refusal to act as an asylum country has led authorities to deny Iraqis any rights or access to services, the report said,” according to the article, which added: “It said authorities began ‘systematically arresting and detaining those who are in Lebanon illegally’ since May, when government troops battled al-Qaida inspired militants holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the country’s north.”

“The government has taken to detaining Iraqis, placing them in jail with common criminals,” the report said.

According to the article: “Human rights activists say the Iraqis are generally jailed for a month, then offered the choice of returning to Iraq or staying on in prison — until they give up and opt to go home.”

Stephane Jaquemet, the regional representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, puts the number of Iraqis currently in jail in Lebanon at about 580.

For the full article, click here.

Human Rights Watch calls for suspension of Iranian activist's sentence

Human Rights Watch is urging Iran to suspend a two and a half year prison sentence against women’s rights activist Delaram Ali. The group also wants Tehran to free 10 other students and activists being held for their participation in demonstrations, All Headline News reported Monday.

Ali, who works with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, was charged with “acting against national security” and “advertising against the system.” She was originally sentenced to two years and 10 months, as well as 10 lashes. An appeals court later upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence to two and a half years.

“Women's rights activists, student activists – no one who criticizes the government is safe in Iran,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said. “These arrests should be seen as a sign of the Ahmadinejad administration’s utter desperation and insecurity about the basis of its own popular support in the country.”

For the full story, click here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Central Viet Nam suffers from more flooding

Central Viet Nam has endured its fifth major flood since August, leaving tens of thousands of homes submerged under water, Reuters reported today.

In the coastal cities of Hue and Danang, and Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, and Binh Dinh Provinces, relief workers delivered emergency supplies, including household kits, clean water containers and mosquito nets.

“The water is at very dangerous levels and we are not very clear on what all the needs are,” said spokesman Tao Van Dang of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Hanoi. “Some people need help for disease prevention.”

According to disaster reports, in recent days, 24 people have died and 8 have been deemed missing, while approximately 25,000 people have been evacuated to higher ground. The latest deaths have brought the total for the region to 332, 114 of which occurred since October 26.

In the past few weeks, Viet Nam has had an outbreak of acute diarrhea, including cases of cholera, as well as dengue and bird flu.

For the full story, click here.

Labels: ,

Burma arrests human rights activist as U.N. envoy meets with junta

Labor rights activist Su Su Nway was arrested on Tuesday as United Nations rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro met with members of the military junta, Agence France-Presse reported.

“She was arrested this afternoon while she was trying to put some anti-government pamphlets in place,” a source with knowledge of the matter who did not wish to be identified, told AFP.

Nway has been in hiding since August, when she led a protest against over escalating fuel prices.

Pinheiro is making his first trip to Burma in four years to investigate the death toll from the suppression of protests, as well as other human rights abuses. His visit comes after U.M. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s visit, and U.N. statements that the junta is willing to engage in discussions with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar analyst based in Thailand said the international pressure and scrutiny, as well as protests and sanctions, “have played a major role in forcing the military to express that they will come to the table.”

Pinheiro also plans to investigate claims of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.

For the full story, click here.

Labels: ,

Three Egyptian Christians detained by police

On Saturday, Egyptian police detained three members of a Christian rights group, including its spokesman and lawyer, the organization’s president said, according to Reuters.

According to the article: “In pre-dawn raids police entered the Cairo homes of Wagih Yakob, 45, spokesman for the Middle East Christian Association (MECA), and another member of the group, detaining both, said Nader Fawzy, president of the Toronto, Canada-based group.”

Mamdouh Azmy, the group’s lawyer, was detained later in the day from his office in Alexandria, Fawzy said.

“They haven’t done anything at all,” Fawzy said. “The government is trying to stop us from working in Egypt.”

Police confiscated thee computers and mobile phones of Yakob and the other man detained in Cairo.

MECA has a mission statement calling for secularism, and equality with full citizenship for Christians living in the Middle East.

For the full article, click here.

Kurdistan Regional Government denies Turkish bombings

According to media reports, Turkish military helicopters have bombed empty villages in northern Iraq, seeking Kurdish rebels. However, The Kurdistan Regional Government today denied these reports, Reuters reported.

“The unconfirmed reports came as four Turkish soldiers were killed in a clash with militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey near the Iraqi border,” the article notes.

The article adds that: “Ankara claims the right of self-defense under international law to attack the PKK inside Iraqi territory is known to have staged limited cross-border operations against the PKK.”

When Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was asked in parliament about the report that PKK premises in northern Iraq had been bombed he replied: “I am not aware [of that].”

According to the article “The [Turkish] armed forces chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, said last Friday the military was ready and waiting for the government to order the cross-border operation, according to media reports.”

For the full article, click here.

Rights groups take Egypt to task for restrictions on religious minorities

Rights groups have criticized Egypt for forcing converts from Islam and religious minorities to lie about their beliefs in official papers, BBC News reported Monday.

As the article notes: “Egyptians over 16 must carry ID cards showing religious affiliation. Muslim, Christian and Jew are the only choices.

Human Rights Watch reports that the requirement particularly hits members of the Baha’i community, and Coptic Christians who became Muslims but want to go back.

According to the article: “The BBC’s Heba Saleh in Cairo says that without the all-important IDs, members of minorities face enormous problems in education and employment.”

The report is jointly issued by HRW and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

“Ministry of interior officials apparently believe that they don’t have the right to choose someone’s religion when they don’t happen to like the religion that person, him or herself, has chosen, “said Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork. “So we are asking the government today to end this arbitrary refusal to recognize someone’s actual religious beliefs.”

For the full article, click here.

Death sentence for Kurdish journalist upheld in Iran

A death sentence for Kurdish dissident journalist Adnan Hassanpour was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court, Hassanpour’s lawyer said November 9, according to Reuters. Fellow journalist, Abdolvahed ‘Hiva’ Botimar, who was sentenced to death at the same time as Hassanpour, has had his case referred to a lower court.

Hassanpour and Botimar received death sentences in July for mounting an “armed struggle against the system,” which is a capital crime. According to Iran’s judiciary, the charges are unrelated to their profession.

“Hassanpour’s charges are various, including giving classified military information to incompetent figures, having contact with foreigners and espionage,” Hassanpour’s lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht said. Nikbakht plans to appeal the sentence.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the death sentences “show how little Iran is bothered by international humanitarian law. They also show how determined it is to use every possible means to silence the most outspoken journalists and human rights activists.”

Under Iranian law, all execution orders must be upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court.

For the full article, click here.

Labels: , ,

House Foreign Affairs subcommittee holds hearing on human rights concerns in Viet Nam

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight held a hearing Tuesday regarding human rights concerns in Vietnam. The hearing was chaired by Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA). The subcommittee heard from three panels of witnesses.

Delahunt began the hearing by outlining the current situation in Viet Nam. He said that the economic relationship between the United States and Viet Nam is growing. When it comes to human rights, however, he said that the U.S. “should not be influenced by economic gains or other enticements to lose [our] values.”

Viet Nam’s lack of religious freedom was discussed often, with many of the witnesses and committee members saying that Viet Nam should be put back on the U.S. State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom list. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said that “no real progress has been made” in the area of religious freedom despite claims from the Vietnamese government.

Scot Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, defended the State Department’s decision to remove Viet Nam from the CPC list, saying that the removal did not mean all religious freedom problems have been solved. He explained that “the promotion of human rights continues to be one of our highest priorities.”

Sophie Richardson, Deputy Director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that Viet Nam was experiencing the harshest crackdown on dissent in 20 years, with the government moving to suppress all opposition. This statement was in agreement with the testimony of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), who said that since Viet Nam became a member of the World Trade Organization, there aren’t any Vietnamese dissidents who are actually residing outside of prison. Cong Thanh Do, spokesman for The People’s Democratic Party, highlighted the United States’ role, saying funding provided by the U.S. for counterterrorism training was being used to suppress the Vietnamese people.

Many recommendations were made on what procedures the United States should take in dealing with Viet Nam. LCHR President Kathryn Cameron Porter emphasized the need for expanded dialogue between American and Vietnamese leaders. Mentioning a recent LCHR-hosted NGO roundtable with a delegation from Vietnam’s newly-elected National Assembly, Porter urged Members of Congress to hold similar exchanges to help promote reform. “I believe you all hold a key to this,” Porter told Subcommittee Chairman William Delahunt and his colleagues, adding, “out of dialogue comes discourse.”

Labels: ,