Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, December 14, 2007

Afghans need more ownership over rebuilding effort, Canadian NGO says

Aid workers need to give more space to the local people in Afghanistan and involve them in efforts to rebuild the war-torn country, the Afghan director of the Montreal-based NGO Rights and Democracy, tells The Canadian Press.

She added that some international organizations attempt to impose western solutions to Afghanistan’s human rights problems.

“You are also supposed to help their rebuilding capacity,” she said. “People should learn how to build their own future. You cannot always go and repair it for them.”

Hasan also spoke positively about using Islam as a tool for change. “There are some interpretations which have a restricted view of women’s rights and these limiting interpretations are the ones mostly seen by the world,” she said. “There is a lot of space for women’s rights in Islam... and we can use it today in our present reality.”

The article noted that: “According to recent figures, only 35 per cent of girls of school age attend classes, with only 10 per cent of girls attending secondary school. In five southern provinces – where support for the Taliban is still high – at least 90 per cent of school-age girls do not attend school.”

“Women’s right is not an overnight thing, women don't just take off their scarves and become modern,” Hassan said. “If you are already there, then you have to make sure you successfully stay there, and then you'll see changes.”

For the full article, click here.

Widespread suffering plagues remote Ghazni district

An article in Wednesday’s New York Times chronicles the circumstances in the Nawa District of Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province, where the level of Taliban infiltration is high and the government’s presence is barely discernable.

Many villagers in Nawa have not seen medics for years and they line up to get help for their suffering children from American medics.

According to the article: “A catalog of pediatric suffering quickly formed into queues: children with grotesque burns and skin infections, distended scrapes and scorpion and spider bites, bleeding ears, dimmed eyes or heavy, rolling coughs. Some were bandaged in dirty rags. Others were in wheelbarrows because they lacked the strength to walk.”

Afghanistan remains hobbled by underdevelopment, poverty and illiteracy, a legacy of decades of war. The population’s health problems are acute. But the problems in areas like these villages, the residents said, have been aggravated by the continuing insurgency and the harsh edicts of the Taliban, whose rule survived in such remote places even after it lost control of Kabul, the Afghan capital, late in 2001,” the article later adds.

In Nawa, the “degree of poverty is complete,” the article says. “The villages have no electricity. Many people use the same irrigation ditches to wash, clean their plates, butcher meat, brush their teeth and drink. The canals are lined with animal waste. Few children are seen wearing winter clothes.”

The medic for Second Platoon, B Company, Pfc. Corey R. Ball, was asked on one of his recent patrols to treat not only infected cuts and persistent colds, but also retardation, blindness, autism, deafness and epilepsy. “We are medics,” he said. “They want us to be miracle workers.”

According to the article, the U.S. military will continue to reach out to Nawa and has “arranged for several recent patrols…to distribute winter coats and gloves to the children. In many villages, some children were barefoot and wearing a single layer of clothes. The temperature dips well below freezing each night.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S. citizens released from Viet Nam

Three U.S. citizens have been released from Viet Nam, including a couple accused of carrying a handgun and bullets at the Ho Chi Minh City airport, and a pro-democracy activist, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

Le Van Phan and his wife Nguyen Thi Thinh, a Vietnamese-American couple, were called “terrorists” by state media after their arrest on November 23. Leon Truong, a member of the California-based Viet Tan party, was arrested on November 17 with five other activists, including another Vietnamese-American, a French woman, a Thai citizen and two Vietnamese nationals.

The other Vietnamese-American arrested, Nguyen Quoc Quan, “is still in custody and we haven’t received a formal notification of charges brought against him,” Steve Royster, spokesman for the State Department’s consular affairs division, said.

Loretta Sanchez, Democratic legislator from California, said “it is appalling to me these arrests ever happened,” and called for the immediate release of Nguyen.

“When will the harassment, the arrest of the U.S. citizens, and the harassment and jailing of the Vietnamese people end,” she asked at a news conference on Capitol Hill, accusing Hanoi of human rights abuses against its own citizens.

Viet Nam has stated that it only prosecutes people who break the law, and not political activists, although provisions ban anti-state propaganda.

For the full story, click here.

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Syrian opposition activists arrested on international Human Rights Day

Dozens of opposition activists – including the brother of political prisoner Anwar Bunni – were arrested in Syria on international Human Rights Day, according to human rights groups, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

Approximately 30 people who signed the 2005 Damascus Declaration, which called for “radical change,” were targeted in the crackdown, the groups said, adding that the activists also took part in a protest on December 1.

Akram Bunni, who was elected as secretary of the National Declaration of Damascus Council on December 1, was one of the activists visited by security officials on Monday. His brother, Anwar Bunni, was sentenced to five years in jail earlier this year after signing the declaration on relations between Lebanon and Syria.

“It is a flagrant violation of international treaties on human rights,” said the Syrian Human Rights League, adding that they condemned the actions which coincided with international Human Rights Day on Monday.

For the full story, click here.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wilson Center event addresses Afghanistan six years after Taliban’s fall

The Woodrow Wilson Center held a public event on December 6 entitled, “Appraising Afghanistan: Measuring Success and Failure, Six Years Later.” Speakers from four different fields presented their viewpoints on the situation in the war-torn nation.

According to William C. Martel, an associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University, there are three levels of victory: tactical victory, political military victory and grand strategic victory. He explained the meanings of the different levels, saying that tactical victory is short-term victory, for example, victory in a battle. He described political military victory as a larger institutional transformation. Grand strategic victory was explained as the reordering of the international system, and Martel cited World War II and the Cold War as examples.

In Afghanistan, in late 2001, the Taliban regime started to crack; this could be referred to as tactical victory, Martel said. When the al-Qaeda members were first chased out of government positions, this was a political military victory. The U.S. objective in Afghanistan was to chase out the Taliban regime, before the Taliban would become a threat to U.S. interests, and then rebuild Afghanistan. This reflects a grand strategic victory, Martel said.

Seth G. Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, followed Martel on the panel. According to Jones, domestic governance and external support are two of the most critical issues for Afghanistan. With regards to domestic institutions, Jones pointed to the fact that in the country’s rural areas, the police are often poorly trained, which means that villages are not being protected. Jones adds: “In these areas they have no chance but to provide the Taliban what they ask for, otherwise they will be shot in the head and dragged behind a car.” ON the subject of governmental problems, he also noted that access to water and electricity is still nonexistent for many Afghans. Jones also said that one of the major problems facing Afghanistan today is meager public support. While support for the Taliban is not high, he said, support for the government is very low.

On the matter of external support, Jones said that in the past several years, international attention to Afghanistan has waned considerably. He added that there has been insufficient emphasis on a regional approach to the situation.

William Byrd, an economist in the World Bank’s South Asia division, began his presentation by focusing on the counternarcotics effort. “Counternarcotics have failed,” he said, noting that while there have been some indications of progress, the circumstances at present are dire.

“If we do not deal with the drugs it will be hard to solve anything else,” Byrd said. He added: “We need a smart strategy because the drug industry is not static.” Byrd said that a key step in such a strategy is confronting large trafficking rings and their sponsors and also ensuring that complicit Afghan officials are fired from their posts. Still, he cautioned that the problem will not be solved quickly. “It will take a long time before we get rid of drugs in Afghanistan,” Byrd said.

Malaly Pikar Volpi, the executive director of the U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council, a nonprofit organization founded by Afghan-Americans and Americans, spoke last on the panel. Volpi presented some signs of progress, noting that the number of healthcare workers has increased in Afghanistan. However, she also presented a striking anecdote: “I met a woman who was a nurse and she was one of those women who are counted as educated in the Afghan community. But she told me that she was illiterate, and I asked her how she knew what kind of medicine to give to her patient. Then she told me that she had colored the bottles so she would know which one went for which disease.”

After discussing healthcare, Volpi addressed violence against women in Afghanistan – a problem that she said is increasing. However, Volpi noted that underreporting is widespread because of infrastructural deficiencies and the fact that many do not regard it as a crime. Statistics are available though. Volpi called attention to recent United Nations figures that indicate that 64 percent of the women who report being abused were married. Violence from a family member is the most common type of abuse, she said. Volpi also noted that 60 to 80 percent of the marriages in Afghanistan are forced. These types of marriages can be enmeshed within a cycle of extreme violence. “If one person kills another person, the family members get the daughter of the killer’s family and than they can do whatever they want to this woman,” Volpi said.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Afghan refugee repatriation figures prominently in latest UNHCR Global Appeal

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has asked donors for about $100 million to support its Afghan operations over the course of the next two years, IRIN reported last week, citing UNHCR Global Appeal 2008-2009.

According to the article: “The UNHCR will need over $49 million in 2008 and over $50 million in 2009 to assist 540,000 Afghan refugees who are expected to return primarily from neighboring Pakistan and Iran.”

“Insecurity and lack of land, shelter and livelihoods in Afghanistan are the main obstacles to return for refugees,” said the UNHCR Appeal, which was released on December 4.

The article said that Afghanistan’s weak institutional capacity to effectively manage returnee and internally displacement person issues is also a concern. “Despite UNHCR’s efforts, the capacity of relevant government counterparts remains limited due to the high turnover of officials both at the central and provincial levels,” said the Appeal.

As the article notes: “Over four million Afghan refugees have returned to their country from Iran and Pakistan in the past six years. About three million Afghans still live in Pakistan and over one million live in Iran, the UNHCR reported in December 2007.”

For the full article, click here.


Torture is a state policy in Egypt, human rights group says

An Egyptian anti-torture group said Monday that the Egyptian government is officially sanctioning the use of torture, adding that state violence is escalating, Reuters reported Monday.

“Torture in Egypt is a state policy, a systematic and organized policy,” the Nadim Centre anti-torture group said in a statement marking the release of a report on torture in Egypt covering a four-year span between 2003 and 2006.

According to the article: “Nadim said it believed torture was a sanctioned government policy because of identical methods of abuse it said were used in various prisons and police stations, including electric shocks and suspension by the hands and wrists.

Nadim also said the authorities typically buried people who died from injuries inflicted while in custody under heavy police guard, suggesting a deliberate policy of covering up torture.”

Later, the article added that: “The report also showed that Egyptian law only recognized mistreatment as torture if it is carried out on criminal suspects to extract a confession.”

According to the report: “But torture that is perpetrated to punish or as a favor to a third party or which is perpetrated for no reason save to spread fear and impose police control is no more than ill treatment, and is treated as a misdemeanor, and the penalty for it does not exceed three years of imprisonment.”

For the full story, click here.


U.N., Viet Nam commit to sustained cooperation on human rights

On International Human Rights Day, the United Nations pledged continued support to Viet Nam to help implement its human rights commitments, Mathaba.net reported Monday, citing the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

“Viet Nam has made tremendous social and economic progress, and shown leadership by ratifying several key international human rights treaties,” said U.N. Resident Coordinator John Hendra. He added that it is important that future growth be inclusive so all Vietnamese can benefit from the country’s progress.

“The UN system stands ready to both assist Viet Nam in meeting its international commitments and in its continued efforts to enable all Vietnamese people to enjoy their rights enshrined nearly 60 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.

While Viet Nam has made progress in complying with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), U.N. officials said that more needs to be done in both areas so that women and children are able to participate more fully in Vietnamese society. United Nations Development Fund for Women official Suzette Mitchell said the circumstances of rural and ethnic minority women in particular must be addressed as part of complying with CEDAW.

For the full story, click here.

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Germany deports Iranian convicted of murder

An alleged Iranian secret agent, Kazem Darabi, who was convicted for the 1992 murders of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin, was deported from Germany on Monday, German officials said, according to Agence France-Presse. Darabi’s accomplice, Abbas Rhayel, was also deported last week after serving 15 years.

Darabi and Rhayel’s trial caused a diplomatic crisis between Europe and Iran after German judges found the killings to be based on orders from Tehran. Relations between Germany and Iran deteriorated after the verdict because Iran was furious about being fingered for sponsoring terrorism.

According to German law, life sentences are reviewed every 15 years, however, the court ruled Darabi would stay in prison longer due to the severity of the crime.

Wolfgang Wieland, a member of Germany’s opposition Greens who handled secondary charges brought against Darabi and Rhayel during their trial, criticized the decision, saying, “It will be interpreted by Iran not as generosity on the part of the West but as weakness.”

For the full story, click here.

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Iraq’s food rations to be reduced again in 2008

Because of inadequate financial support from the Iraqi government, the quantity of freely-delivered national food rations will be further reduced at the beginning of 2008, IRIN reported last week.

“Since the government’s financial support will not be available next year, we will reduce the items from 10 to five and the quantities of the remaining items will not be the same as this year and in past years,” Trade Minister Abid Falah al-Soodani told parliament.

Siham Ibrahim, a 55-year-old mother-of-eight, commented on her past experiences with the rations system. “Each month I went to the agent to receive the food rations and I was surprised this time to find that two or three items, such as the children’s milk, were missing. In fact, we have not received children’s milk for the past three months,” she said. Ibrahim has two children aged 2-5.

For the full article, click here.

Hundreds turn out to see Iraq’s first cardinal preside over Baghdad mass

More than 200 Iraqis attended Sunday’s Mass at a church in eastern Baghdad to see the first Iraqi cardinal, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Worshippers were searched at the door and snipers kept watch on the roof.

According to the article: “Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Church, celebrated the two-hour Mass three weeks after Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the top ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.”

Delly recently presided over other services in Baghdad and Irbil.

“We are of one family, everyone should work for the progress of this country,” he said during his sermon.

According to the article: “Many people who filled the pews at the elegant brick Church of the Virgin Mary said they were taking advantage of a lull in violence to attend services and to congratulate Delly. The imam of a nearby Shiite mosque shook hands with him in the church’s courtyard after the service.”

“I came here to show the unity of the Iraqi people,” said the black-turbaned imam, Jassim al-Jazairi. “We are happy with the cardinal. We are very proud of any person, whether Christian or Muslim, who raises the name of Iraq in the international arena.”

For the full article, click here.

Cambodians mark International Human Rights Day by protesting forced evictions

Many in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, are protesting against forced evictions, which have already resulted in the displacement of thousands of urban families, BBC News reported today.

The protests occurred on the final day of a visit by Yash Ghai, the United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia,. He said that poor people are losing land to the elite throughout Cambodia, and that a weak judicial system allows land-grabbers to act with impunity.

“There’s an enormous amount of suffering,” Ghai said. “People are extremely anxious and fearful of the police and the courts, who are very much part of this system for the appropriation of land. So the whole legal system has become enormously corrupt.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen has stepped in on several occasions to order well-connected people to hand back land. He has also promised to sack any government officials involved.

For the full article, click here.

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Iranian students hold rare protest against government crackdown

Iranian students protested at Tehran University on Sunday against a government crackdown on activists, The Associated Press reported the same day. It was the second demonstration in less than a week.

One witness, Mehdi Arabshahi, said the protest lasted more than two hours as students rallied against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardline administration.

“Students chanted against policies by Ahmadinejad’s administration, which is imposing pressures on the universities and detaining activists,” Arabshahi said.

A protest at Tehran University last week resulted in the arrest of 33 students and activists, including four women, a left-wing student group reported.

Iran’s students were previously the power base for Iran’s reform movement, but have faced pressure from Ahmadinejad’s government, resulting in fewer anti-government protests.

State media also reported that the Intelligence Ministry had detained a group of activists who had planned to hold an illegal gathering at Tehran University, although it did not say how many were arrested, or when.

For the full story, click here.

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