Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 11, 2008

Turkey found guilty of human rights violations in case of missing Cypriots

The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey guilty of human rights abuses in the case of Greek Cypriots missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Cyprus Embassy in Washington reported Thursday.

The Court said that Turkey is guilty of “the continuing violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of failure of the authorities of the respondent state (Turkey) to conduct an effective investigation into the whereabouts and fate of the nine first applicants who disappeared in life threatening circumstances.”

According to the article: “The applicants are 18 Cypriot nationals, nine of whom have been considered missing since they were taken into captivity by the Turkish army during military action in Cyprus in 1974. They have not been accounted for since.”

Vasilis Palmas, a Cyprus government spokesman, said of the judgment: “this is a positive development and the Government expresses its satisfaction.”

For the full article, click here.

Iran executes 30 Baluch in seven days

Over the course of one week, Iranian security forces hanged and killed dozens of people, almost all of them Baluch, LCHR’s sources on the ground report.

Seventeen young Baluch were hanged on the morning of December 27, 2007, the sources said in their appeal to the international community, adding, “The government did not allow the publication of the hanging to be reflected in any media. This was not the first time that a large number of people were executed in one day. This has been the official policy of the Iranian regime to engage in a systematic oppression of Baluch people since its emergence 30 years ago.”

Over the course of three days after the start of the New Year, several more Iranians were killed. The first day saw the hanging of 13 Iranians, more than half of them reportedly Baluch. The second day saw two more hangings and two other Baluch men shot to death. Then, “on the third day of the New Year, two Baluch teenagers were shot dead in Zahedan while they were carrying water,” the appeal said.

The appeal adds, “Mohammad Reza Sarawani, deputy of Social Affairs of Baluchistan province announced that 76 percent of the Baluch people live under the poverty line, the official news agency of Shana reported on 31 December 07. The official average figure for people who are living under the poverty line in Iran is 11 percent. A very simple comparison of the Baluch people who are living under the poverty line and the rest of Iranian population clearly indicates a comprehensive discrimination policy against the people of Baluchistan. The Baluch people who are living in such conditions are also subjected to various ways of oppression and repression. This is clearly a crime against humanity to keep the Baluch people poor and backwards and whenever they raise the voice four demanding their legitimate and basic rights, they become the target of the most inhuman and oppressive policies.”

For the full appeal, click here.


UNHCR calls for $261 million to assist displaced Iraqis

The United Nations refugee agency on Tuesday made a plea for $261 million in 2008 in order to address the Iraqi refugee crisis, The Associated Press reported the same day.

“The money is needed to provide health care, financial support and other assistance to the most vulnerable of the 2 million Iraqis who have fled the country, as well as to help some 400,000 of those who have left their homes but remain in Iraq,” the article said, citing statements from Ron Redmond, the spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Redmond said the agency was unable to confirm Iraqi government reports that at least 30,000 families returned in late 2007,” the article added. “He said the U.N. doesn’t encourage Iraqi refugees to return home because of the security situation but supports Iraqi government efforts to help those who return voluntarily.”

It continued, “The agency also helps neighboring nations strained by the influx of Iraqi refugees, he said. Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and several of [the] Gulf states, in addition to Jordan and Syria, are hosting refugees from Iraq.”

For the full article, click here.


Photojournalist documents other side of Afghanistan

Paula Lerner, a photojournalist who managed to capture a glimpse of the everyday life of the people of Afghanistan, wants to show Americans another side of Afghanistan, according to The Boston Globe.

“Lerner, a magazine and commercial photographer, became interested in Afghanistan through her volunteer work for the Business Council for Peace, or Bpeace, which helps women establish businesses in post-conflict regions,” the article says, adding later, “Her photos, as well as video and audio recordings that focused on the lives of five Afghan women, eventually were put together for a multimedia project on The Washington Post’s website.”

Lerner considers herself a journalist and advocate. “I make no bones about it,” she said. “I think it’s more interesting to take a point of view.”

Afghanistan’s fate has become closely intertwined with the foreign policy of the United States,” the article says, “and yet, Lerner noted, ‘it’s hard for us Americans to wrap our heads around the culture,’ but ‘it’s vital for us to have a connection with that place.’”

According to the article, “One of her photos shows Afghan children – too young to know about Taliban or Russian rule – playing in a yard. While taking the photos, Lerner could see the impact of their innocent laughter on the face of her Afghan guide.”

“It made a difference; it was healing,” Lerner said, “I could see it in front of me. That’s what’s so compelling about being in a place like that and telling those stories. It’s not just living through all that but coming out the other end and being human again.”

For the full article, click here.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arab regimes cracking down on activist bloggers

Almost one month has passed since security forces jailed Fouad al-Farhan, a 32 year-old Saudi blogger. “If it’s longer than three days, I want this message to reach everyone. I don’t want to be forgotten in jail,” Farhan had previously written to a friend in anticipation of his detention, according to Agence Global.

“How very telling that the Saudi authorities consider a blogger dangerous enough to be jailed,” Mona Eltahawy writes. “It is appalling that he is still detained without charge, but Fahran’s ordeal is the latest example of a growing phenomenon in the Arab world: one person + one blog = one very angry dictator.”

Citing a prominent example of the power of blogging, Eltahawy adds, “Last November, a most powerful triumph of blogging took place in Egypt, when two police officers were sentenced to three years in prison for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. Egyptian authorities were cornered into prosecuting the officers after public outcry and international media coverage. What caused both? Two bloggers posted a video clip of the assault that one of the officers had filmed using a mobile phone. The clip then made it to YouTube and was used as evidence against the officers during the trial.”

For the full article, click here.

Three Egyptian police officers jailed for beating, dishonoring prisoner

Three police officers have been sentenced to jail after beating a prisoner in Alexandria and humiliating him by forcing him to wear women’s clothing in public, Reuters reported Saturday, citing judicial sources.

“The court convicted Yusri Ahmed Issa, an officer, of torture and of assaulting the prisoner’s honour, and sentenced him to five years in jail,” the article said. “Two other lower ranking policemen were sentenced to a year each.”

Reuters added: “The sources said the police officers had forced Ibrahim Abbas, who was then suspected of theft, to put on women’s clothing and walk in the streets of Alexandria on Egypt’s northern Mediterranean coast in April 2006. They also beat him with batons inside the police station, the sources said.

“International and local rights groups say torture is widespread and systematic in Egyptian jails and police stations. They say most abuse cases never make it to court, and torture convictions resulting in jail time are relatively rare.”

For the full article, click here.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Two Kirkuk churches car bombed as strikes on Christian locales continue

There has been a spate of attacks on Christian targets in Iraq this week, with the latest occurring today as two car bombs exploded outside two Kirkuk churches, Reuters reported.

According to the article, “The spiritual leader of Iraq’s Catholics said on Tuesday that a recent wave of bomb attacks on churches in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul was aimed at showing Iraq was not at peace rather than singling out Christians for persecution.”

On Sunday, “attackers bombed two churches, a convent and a church-run orphanage in the northern city of Mosul and three churches and a convent in Baghdad,” the article said, citing the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad Emmanuel III Delly.

For the full article, click here.


U.S. lawmakers call for Viet Nam to focus on human rights reforms

A high-ranking congressional delegation last week praised Viet Nam’s economic progress, but called on the country to apply the same effort to human rights reform, The Associated Press reported on January 3.

“We think that freedom of individuals and free markets go together and complement one another,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who led the delegation.

According to Hoyer, the two sides discussed trade issues, the protection of intellectual property rights and relations with China.

As the article notes, “While relations between the two countries have grown closer in recent years, U.S. officials have continued to express concerns about human rights in Vietnam, which does not tolerate opposition to the ruling Communist party.”

“The economic dynamism of Vietnam will only be expanded by encouraging more individual rights among the population,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

For the full article, click here.


Vietnamese Catholics hold vigils for return of church land

Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholics gathered across Hanoi over the weekend, holding prayer vigils in a renewed plea for the return of the church land seized by the government in the 1950s, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday.

”Priests and Catholic followers lit candles, placed flowers and sang at the iron fence around a property near Hanoi’s central St Joseph's Cathedral after Saturday prayers and Sunday masses,” the article reported. ”They say the large French-colonial villa and the 1.1 hectares (2.7 acre) it sits on are the former office of the Vatican’s delegate to Hanoi, confiscated by the state when he was expelled in the late 1950s.”

As the article notes, ”Vietnam, a former French colony and a unified, communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines – about six million out of a population of 84 million.”

For the full article, click here.


Iraqi Kurdish women’s organizations leading the way in fight against FGM

Female genital mutilation is a widespread phenomenon affecting up to 90 percent of women in the African countries of Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. But, to a lesser extent, it also occurs throughout the Middle East. However, In Iraq, local Kurdish women’s organizations are leading the way to combat the problem, Time reported on January 4.

“These are busy times for Pakhshan Zangana,” the article notes. “Head of the women’s caucus in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament in Arbil, she is on the verge of pushing through a piece of legislation that is the first of its kind in the Middle East – a law criminalizing female genital mutilation (FGM).”

“Sixty-eight out of 120 deputies signed our bill, so we could have got it passed by ministerial decree,” Zangana says. “But law-making is the job of parliament, and we want everybody to debate this issue openly.”

The article adds: “The bill received its first reading on Dec. 3 and is likely to be passed by February.”

For the full article, click here.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Human Rights Watch denounces Iran for using security laws to suppress dissent

In announcing the release of a report on the Iranian government’s crackdown on civil society, Human Rights Watch said Monday that Tehran is “relying on its broadly worded ‘security laws’ to suppress virtually and public expression of dissent.”

The government “uses these laws to subject those arrested to prolonged incommunicado detention without charge, solitary confinement, and denial of access to counsel,” HRW said.

According to the article, the report, “‘You Can Detain Anyone for Anything’: Iran's Broadening Clampdown on Independent Activism,” “documents the expansion in scope and number of the individuals and activities persecuted by the Iranian government over the last two years.”


“Dozens of Iranian laws provide the government cover for suppressing any peaceful activity they perceive as critical of their policies,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can trample over people’s basic rights and still claim to be acting legally.”


“Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005, government officials have increasingly used ‘security’ as grounds for persecuting independent activism,” HRW said.  “A set of laws within Iran’s Islamic Penal Code entitled ‘Offenses Against the National and International Security of the Country’ lay the groundwork for the government to suppress peaceful political activity and deny due process rights to those arrested.”


The press release added: “Iran’s vague security laws allow the government to arbitrarily suppress and punish individuals for peaceful political expression, association, and assembly, in breach of international human rights treaties to which Iran is party. Prison units such as Evin 209 and the treatment of detainees inside its walls are also in violation of Iranian laws governing the operation of detention centers and the rights of detainees.”


For the HRW press release and to access the full report, click here.

Iranian rights activists released on bail


Two Iranian women’s rights activists who were being held in a Tehran jail have been released on bail, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on January 4, citing Radio Farda.

Jelveh Javaheri and Mariam Hosseinkhah were arrested in connection with their involvement in a campaign to gather one million signatures in an effort to change discriminatory laws in Iran.  

Their lawyer said that he has not been informed of formal charges against the pair.  He said they were released after bail of a little over $50,000 was set. 

For the full article, click here.


Iranian rights activists released on bail

Two Iranian women’s rights activists who were being held in a Tehran jail have been released on bail, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on January 4, citing Radio Farda

Jelveh Javaheri and Mariam Hosseinkhah were arrested in connection with their involvement in a campaign to gather one million signatures in an effort to change discriminatory laws in Iran.  

Their lawyer said that he has not been informed of formal charges against the pair.  He said they were released after bail of a little over $50,000 was set. 


Brookings panel considers Middle East’s youth-centered demographic shift

The demographic youth bulge that the Middle East has witnessed in recent years has created opportunities for prosperity, but it has also presented a unique set of challenges that regional governments have failed to appropriately address, a panel of scholars said at a forum convened by the Brookings Institution Monday.

The region’s 100 million young people ages 15 to 29 are beset by high unemployment rates that have left many unable to achieve cultural milestones of adulthood such as marriage and independent living, the panelists said. Among the more resounding causes singled out at the forum: overly test-focused education systems coupled with labor markets that reward degree attainment over competence.

Focusing on Egypt as a case study, Ragui Assad of the Population Council and Diane Singerman, an American University professor, explored the predicament.
Assad described a nation that has made great strides in access to basic schooling – enrollment is essentially compulsory in the primary grades everywhere but rural Upper Egypt – but little in the way of educational quality. After forty years of simply producing credentials for government employment, the Egyptian public education system is having difficulty producing the skills needed by the private labor market, he said. At the other end of the spectrum, Singerman spoke on marriage, which can legitimate adulthood and sexuality, but also brings a lofty price tag – in Egypt marriage costs stand at roughly eleven times the average per capita household expenditure – making the youth unemployment problem all the more burning.

In Iran, where today’s youth bulge was brought on by the Islamic Revolution’s baby boom, a misdirected education system lies at the heart of the unemployment crisis, according to Djavad Salehi Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech University. Unemployed Iranians currently number 3 million, with youth making up roughly 77 percent of that figure, Isfahani said. (This, despite the fact that the national economy has grown at 4.5 percent per year over the course of the last decade, with inequality, although high, remaining steady.) Isfahani, echoing the other panelists, traced these circumstances to an education system inordinately focused on test-based learning at the expense of creative skill (i.e. writing, computer proficiency, etc.) development. Exacerbating the problem, many students view the tests as an all-or-nothing endeavor and those who fail often drop out instead of heeding calls to undertake technical and vocational education, which they don’t see as being rewarded in the labor market.

To correct a regional response to the crisis that was described as well-intentioned, but piecemeal, the panelists called on Middle Eastern governments to better coordinate their interventions, with, as Isfahani said, the goal of emphasizing productivity and human capital over diplomas. Sending the right signals on labor market needs is crucial, Isfahani and others maintained, or else students will not have the incentive to embark on a path of job-skill development. U.S. assistance can aid the transition, so long as Washington adopts the right outlook, Isfahani said, adding that the U.S. sees Iran’s 2.3 million unemployed youth as a source for regime change instead of a pathway to national prosperity.