Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Iranian activists among ‘human rights defenders’ selected for protection in international campaign

Front Line, and Ireland-based human rights group, and The Body Shop Ireland, on Monday launched an action campaign to protect at-risk human rights activists around the globe.

The campaign, “Protect One Empower a Thousand,” focuses on a group of human rights defenders in six countries living under threat because of their activities.

Among the defenders are lawyer Saleh Kamrani and journalist Sa’id Metinpour, both of Iran. Kamrani and Metinpour, both active in defending the rights of Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, have been detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison since their arrests in late August of this year. Neither man has been charged, brought to trial or allowed access to an attorney; Metinpour has reportedly been subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

The campaign also focuses on rights defenders from Honduras, Uzbekistan, Serbia, West Papua and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To take action on behalf of the human rights defenders, click here.
For more information on Mr. Kamrani and Mr. Metinpour, click here.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Egyptian blogger badly beaten in prison

After being sentenced to 4-years in jail in February, Abdel Karim Suleiman has been beaten in prison and sent to an isolation cell, Reuters reported today. Suleiman was the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for Internet writings.

Suleiman, a former law student who was convicted in connection with eight articles he wrote in 2004, was jailed for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak.

According to the article “The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which represents Suleiman, said in a statement that a prison guard and another prisoner beat him while a prison official looked on. The beating caused one of his teeth to be broken.”

The article adds that: “Later, the group said, Suleiman was sent to a ‘disciplinary cell’ where he was put in handcuffs and leg shackles and beaten again. The group said the beatings resulted from Suleiman ‘uncovering an act of corruption in the prison’ but gave no further details.’”

“An Interior Ministry spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment. The government says it opposes torture and prosecutes abusers if it has evidence of wrongdoing,” Reuters reported.

For the full article, click here.

Escalating gender-based violence in Basra forcing women to stay indoors

In Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, women are increasingly stay indoors due to increased levels of anti-women violence, police and NGOs told IRIN.

“Basra is facing a new type of terror which leaves at least 10 women killed monthly, some of them are later found in garbage dumps with bullet holes while others are found decapitated or mutilated,” the city’s police chief Maj. Gen. Abdel Jalil Khalaf told IRIN in a telephone interview. “The perpetrators are organized gangs who work under religious cover pretending to spread instructions of Islam but they are far from this religion. They are trying to impose a life style like banning women from wearing western clothes or forcing them to wear head scarf.”

Khalaf said that police in September found the body of a decapitated woman alongside that of her decapitated six-year-old son.

“We do believe that the number of murdered women is much higher as more cases go unreported by their families who fear reprisals from extremists,” he added.

A woman activist with a local NGO in Basra, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said that women, who are threatened by extremists, have approached her NGO but they cannot help them as they do not have shelters or appropriate places in the province for the women to take refuge in.

Iraq’s southern cities in general and specifically Basra don’t have these shelters for women, a matter that has derailed our efforts in helping them. And therefore we approach the local police, dignitaries and religious leaders to harbor them. Some of them accept it while others refuse,” she said.

The activist added that the issue has been raised many times with local officials in Basra but the city’s deteriorated security situation makes women’s rights the last on their list of priorities. “And women are left with only two choices: either to leave the city if they can afford it or stay locked in their houses,” she said.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam arrests six activists, according to dissident group

A dissident group has reported the arrest of six pro-democracy activists on Saturday by security forces in Viet Nam, Agence France-Presse reported today. The group included two U.S., one French and one Thai national.

The U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform) party released a statement saying that the activists “aspired to publicize information on successful non-violent struggles from around the world and to use these lessons to help empower the Vietnamese people.” Viet Tan said that neither the activists’ families nor the non-Vietnamese citizens’ embassies had been notified of the detentions. The group additionally declared that: “While these individuals may have different backgrounds and reside in different countries, they are Vietnamese patriots who share a common dream to establish democracy and reform the country.”

A police official from the district where the detentions reportedly occurred told AFP that “We have not heard anything about this affair.”

For the full article, click here.

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Iran holds trial for French filmmaker

According to Reporters Without Borders, French-Iranian filmmaker Mehrnoushe Solouki appeared in a closed-door trial because of her documentary regarding the Iraq-Iran war, The Associated Press reported Monday.

A graduate student at Quebec University, Solouki is charged with the intent to commit propaganda. She was arrested in February, and released in March, although she was barred from leaving Iran.

Authorities became aware of Solouki’s work after she started investigating a mass grave outside Tehran containing bodies of people executed by the government in 1988.

The French Foreign Ministry has repeatedly expressed concern about Solouki’s case and is in contact with her lawyer in Iran. There has been no comment about the trial from Iranian officials.

For the Associated Press article, click here.
For the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty article, click here.

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USIP addresses ‘the role of Kurds in the new Iraq’

The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a public event Monday with Omar Fatah, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, to address the role of Kurds in the new Iraq.

Fatah began by briefly recounting salient portions of Kurdish history, saying that it is important to know this for understanding views on Iraq today. “We have been attacked, persecuted and threatened by our neighbors, and made to fell unsafe and unwelcome in the lands of our birth,” Fatah said, referring to the plight of the Kurds.

“Nowhere was the brutality more severe than when Saddam Hussein spent most of twenty years trying to liquidate our people,” he added. “Through the horrors of Halabja, the Anfal campaign and a merciless military campaign, the Ba’athist regime sought our complete elimination as a people.”

Fatah continued: “We have survived and today we are recovering in every sense of the word – economically, culturally, politically and socially.”

Fatah said that when the coalition forces went in to Iraq in 2003, “we were happy beyond belief.” Their arrival brought the end of the Ba’athist regime and the Kurds made a decision to rejoin Iraq, but with certain conditions, he said. Fatah explained that these conditions were sought because of the decades of suffering Kurds experienced at the hands of Baghdad.

“We were determined never again to fall victim,” he said. “We insisted on a federal constitution, one that guaranteed our rights to self-determination and preserved the freedoms we had died for.”

Fatah argued that while many believed that the goal with those actions was independence, it was instead was federalism. “We want to be a part of a federal, democratic and secular Iraq that respects our rights, and the rights of all groups in the country,” he said.

Iraqi Kurdistan has now passed a hydrocarbons law and begun establishing contracts with interest parties to enhance oil and gas infrastructure. These steps will bring much needed development to the region, Fatah said, adding that they will ultimately assist Baghdad, as 83 percent of the Kurdistan’s oil revenue is slated to go to the national treasury.

On the subject of the current situation with Turkey, Fatah said: “We regard the Turks as our friends,” adding, “they sheltered us and provided us comfort and resources when the rest of the world had abandoned us.” He also noted that Turkey is the largest investor in Iraqi Kurdistan and called attention to social and cultural ties.

“We do not want conflict with Turkey and we do not allow our territory to be used for attacks on Turkey,” Fatah said, adding: “The Turkish Army has for twenty years tried to defeat the PKK within Turkey, and has not been successful, and it is a mistake to insist that we defeat them with far fewer resources and capabilities. We are doing what we can, and we will do more, to restrain the violent actions of the PKK, which threaten not only Turkey but also the Kurdistan region.”

Fatah stressed that a solution to the crisis will only come through dialogue. “We want to work with Turkey and other interested parties to find a long-term political solution, which can bring peace and cooperation back to the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey,” he said.

In concluding, Fatah told the audience: “Today the sacrifices you [the United States] have made have not been in vain. Iraq is free today, and at least one part of Iraq, the Kurdistan region, is becoming the kind of peaceful, democratic and tolerant society that America and its allies hoped for when they committed to the liberation of Iraq.”

Congressional Human Rights Caucus holds briefing on Pakistan

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) held a briefing Friday on the human rights situation in Pakistan. Expert witnesses included T. Kumar, from Amnesty International; Tom Malinowski, from Human Rights Watch; Mohammad Akram Sheikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan; and Jennifer Leonard, from the International Crisis Group.

Convening the discussion, CHRC Director Hans Hogrefe emphasized the importance of holding the briefing in order to examine the current developments within the larger context of the situation regarding Pakistan. He said that “all these things are extremely, extremely troubling,” and it is necessary to urge Pakistan to return to a democratic process that respects the rule of law.

The United States’s relationship with Pakistan was discussed by all of the witnesses, and many suggestions were made regarding what the U.S. should do next. Pakistan, one of the United States allies, is “The only country that can make a difference at this point,” according to Kumar. He added that the U.S. should send a clear message that the actions of suspending the judiciary and constitution will not be accepted.

The development of a relationship with the people of Pakistan was suggested as an important change needed in American foreign policy. Malinowski said that the U.S. has been too preoccupied with who was ruling in Pakistan rather than developing the democratic institutions in the government. He suggested that the U.S. push for a restoration of the country’s governmental institutions, such as the judiciary and constitution, which are necessary for establishing a legitimate government and protecting Pakistan’s citizens.

U.S. interests were also a focus of the discussion. The United States’s relationship with Pakistan has been based on fighting terrorism, however, according to Malinowski, “Musharraf has done more to destabilize Pakistan than al-Qaeda could ever dream of.” Leonard also mentioned that while lawyers and human rights activists were being jailed, approximately 20 militants were released. She said that this shows a contrast in priorities, and a fear of secular groups rather than extremist ones. Malinowski added that while lawyers, judges, and human rights activists were being detained, Pakistan was not going after members of al-Qaeda. Episodes like these cause the people of Pakistan to become more cynical, making it harder for the U.S. to do what it needs to do, he said.

The recent statement by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte that Musharraf is an “indispensable” ally was decried as a mistake by the witnesses. According to Sheikh, Washington’s allegiance to Musharraf makes it harder to work with the Pakistani people, and strengthens Musharraf’s power. Sheikh said that in this way, Musharraf was holding Pakistani society hostage. Malinowski expanded on this statement, saying the U.S. has been unable to push Pakistan due to the fact the U.S. needs Musharraf for a problem Pakistan “helped sustain and create.” Sheikh suggested that the solution was to isolate Musharraf from his country’s institutions, thereby stripping him of his power.

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Pakistan's Supreme Court upholds Musharraf election

The main outstanding challenges to General Pervez Musharraf’s election to another term as president were dismissed Monday by the newly-appointed Supreme Court, leaving only one petition remaining, The New York Times reported the same day.

Musharraf won the election on October 6, however, the Supreme Court ordered that the court hear challenges from other candidates before confirming the results.

The Supreme Court was then dismissed on November 3, and a new court of 11 judges, who took an oath under the temporary Provisional Constitutional Order, was established. Only four judges from the previous Supreme Court took the oath. The court is now considered to be pro-government, and a ruling in Musharraf’s favor was expected.

For the full article, click here.

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Afghan children primary victims in Baghlan incident

The Associated Press reported on Monday that an unendorsed internal U.N. report stated that Afghan lawmakers’ bodyguards fired “deliberately and indiscriminately” into a crowd following the November 6 Baghlan suicide bombing, and that children suffered “the brunt of the onslaught.”

According to the article: “Hundreds of children crowded onto the tree-lined driveway leading to the New Baghlan Sugar Factory to greet visiting lawmakers when the blast went off.”

The report also stated there no was evidence that an attempt had been made by authorities to identify and prosecute the gunmen.

The AP also obtained a report from the U.N. Department of Safety and Security that stated the Department was uncertain how many people died from the suicide attack as well as the subsequent gunfire.

For the full article, click here.


U.N ranks Afghanistan as fifth least developed country in the world

Afghanistan has dropped one place in the U.N. global human development index despite anticipation of significant improvement in its development indicators, IRIN reported on Sunday.

Afghanistan’s National Human Development Report, a 176-page document drafted by around 40 Afghan and international experts, included the results. Despite double-digit economic growth over the past several years, the country has failed to significantly reduce poverty and hunger. Among developing countries, Afghanistan has one of the lowest adult literacy rates: 23.5 percent in 2005, according to the report. Afghan women tend to be the most disadvantaged. Their school enrollment rates are about half of those for their males; many also have difficulty accessing health services and substantial employment opportunities.

The report also addressed major shortcomings in the country’s formal and informal legal mechanisms and called for a hybrid system that would bridge traditional rules and the formal legal system.

According to the article: “The report warned of Afghanistan’s limited progress towards its nine millennium development goals (MDGs). It said in spite of remarkable advances in human development since 2002, the country is not progressing fast enough in many sectors to achieve its MDGs by 2020, which will have ‘dire consequences for the poor and most vulnerable.’”

For the full article, click here.

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Women's rights activist arrested in Iran

Maryam Hosseikhah was arrested November 18 under charges of “acting against Iran’s national security,” and publishing false information on the Women’s Cultural Center and the One Million Signatures Campaign websites, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported Monday.

“Maryam and some of her friends were writing on these websites,” Hosseikhah’s husband Shahab Mirzayi said. “The issues are not political, they're social issues – they’re engaged in bringing equality for men and women. They want to take a draft law to the parliament. What they’re doing is legal and transparent. Unfortunately they’re facing these actions – it’s not clear why they’re being treated like this.”

Iran has increased pressure on women’s rights activists and members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. Two members of the campaign, Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi, were arrested in September and October, while activist Delaram Ali recently had her prison sentence suspended for participating in a protest.

Human rights groups have called on Iran to stop pressuring these activists.

For the full story, click here.

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