Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Playwright hopes term ‘femicide’ will attract attention of U.N., presidential candidates

Eve Ensler, the Vagina Monologues playwright, spoke out against “femicide” at a February 7 event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Grand Rapids Press reported the same day.

By quoting United Nations estimates of how “one in three women will be raped or abused in her lifetime,” she declared that violence against women must be put to an end. According to the article, “She said labeling crimes against women as femicide may get the U.N. and the presidential candidates to make it a priority.

Ensler also shared examples of violence against women from her travels to Manila, Pakistan, and the Congo.

“We have brought about many changes, but we have not dismantled the cultural underpinnings of violence,” she said.

For the full article, click here.

Tom Lantos: Holocaust survivor, voice for the oppressed

Everything in Congressman Tom Lantos’ life derived from the fact that he was a Holocaust survivor, Frank Mankiewicz said in The Washington Post on Wednesday. The suffering he experienced during those formative years was intense, and it remained with him for the rest of his life.

Along with almost the entire Jewish population of Hungary, Lantos was sent to a concentration camp. However, following several escape attempts, he was saved by Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, who hid him and 18 other young Jews from the Nazis.

In the article Mankiewicz recounts his memories of Lantos, expressing his admiration for the Congressman’s “dedication to the cause of the oppressed.”

For the full article, click here.

Spielberg chooses Darfur over Olympic fame

Internationally-renowned director Steven Spielberg will no longer be an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, BBC News reported Wednesday. In a formal statement, he accused China of being unresponsive regarding the five-year conflict in Darfur, where 200,000 people have been killed, and two million have been forced from their homes.

Spielberg believes that the international community, especially China, should take greater responsibility for the crisis in Darfur.

Beijing sells weapons to the government of Sudan in exchange for roughly two-thirds of the country’s oil. China, however, prefers to separate politics and the Games, and has attacked those who attempt to connect the two.

Spielberg’s action was described as “noble” by Abdul Wahid Mohammad Ahmed al-Nur, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM). “He will certainly go down in history as someone who gave human lives precedence over fame and money,” al-Nur said.

For the full article, click here.

Rights group accuses democratic countries of not fully defending press freedom

Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday released its annual press freedom report. The report accuses democratic countries of not being dedicated enough in protecting journalists’ freedom of expression.

The Paris-based group also expressed concern over journalists’ safety abroad, especially in conflict zones where “journalists continue to be buried almost every week.” In addition, the report describes the manner in which journalists will most likely experience problems in the future in certain countries, citing attacks during upcoming elections as a major point of concern.

The report specifically mentions the upcoming Olympic Games in China, and the hardships that journalists and bloggers currently undergo there, saying: “Every time a journalist or blogger is released, another goes into prison.”

In addition to China, the report also explores press freedom over the past year in 98 countries.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rice and Gates address the future of Iraq

In their Washington Post op-ed Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discuss next steps for Iraq.

2008 will be a year of “critical transition” as the troop drawdown continues and Iraq is left to work harder to control its own territory, Rice and Gates say. They add that a normal bilateral relationship is needed between Iraq and the U.S., “with the support of moderate political forces from all of Iraq’s communities – Sunni, Shiite and Kurd.”

They argue that the Iraqi government wants sovereignty, and is working hard to obtain it, citing the fact that Iraq’s police and army are taking the reigns in protecting their citizens. With the help of the United States, “Iraq [is] on the path to self-sufficiency,” Rice and Gates say. They state that an integral phase in this process will develop in the coming months with the help of military and diplomatic personnel. Rice and Gates “encourage Congress and the public to support the efforts of our senior diplomats and military officers as they forge ahead with these talks – which we believe are essential to a successful outcome in Iraq and, by extension, the vital interests and security of the United States.”

For the full article, click here.

Arab TV broadcasters face new threat of censorship

A charter has been adopted by the majority of Middle Eastern nations that will allow the participating governments to punish satellite channels considered to have offended Arab leaders, or national and religious symbols, BBC News reported Tuesday.

Information ministers from all 22 members of the Arab League met in Cairo at the behest of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to discuss the growing popularity of independent satellite television channels, and the supposed problems they create for the governments of the Middle East. The document calls for stations “not to offend the leaders [of Arab countries] . . . and not damage the social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values,” of the participating states. If the signatory governments feel these offenses have been made, they may “withdraw, freeze, or not renew the work permits of media,” in their country. The document also calls on broadcasters to avoid erotic content or images that promote smoking or alcohol consumption.

For the full article, click here.

Iraq: oil-wealthy nation with millions of hungry citizens

Iraq: oil-wealthy nation with millions of hungry citizens
Even with a successful economy, millions of Iraqis are hungry and lack access to clean water, Reuters reported Tuesday.

“Four million Iraqis cannot guarantee they’re going to have food on their table tomorrow,” said David Shearer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

Although Iraq has a significant amount of oil wealth, ongoing violence has displaced some 2.5 million people. Because of the dangerous state of the country, only a small percentage of these individuals have been able to return home.

The United Nations has made an appeal to donor governments for $265 million in 2008. As the article notes: “Elements of the appeal include food ($97 million), shelter ($37 million), health ($32 million), human rights ($26 million), water and sanitation ($21 million) and education ($18 million).”

The article also notes that Iraq’s “government said it would for the first time give $40 million from its own coffers.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian women’s magazine shut down for ‘damaging society’

Iranian authorities have shut down a popular women’s magazine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.

The magazine, Zanan,” had previously avoided closure through its cautious avoidance of politics – focusing exclusively on women’s issues.

Iran’s Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance revoked Zanan’s license on January 28, saying that the magazine offers “a somber picture of the Islamic republic” that “compromises its readers’ mental health” by “publishing morally questionable information.”

According to the article, Zanan’s closure was followed by a court summons for female journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub, who is being prosecuted for reporting from a womens demonstration in March 2007.

The last two years have seen dozens of publications and journalists accused of acting against national security. Reza Moeni, of the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), says that there have been more than fifty cases since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power.

For the full article, click here.

Iran reinstates some election candidates following pressure

Amid growing criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, Iran’s Guardian Council has reinstated more than 280 previously disqualified candidates for next month’s parliamentary elections, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Out of the initial 7,200 prospective candidates, 5,300 are now eligible. According to the article, most prominent pro-democracy reformists still remain out of the race.

Members of both the reformist and conservative camps had said that a wide ban would risk a low election turnout and undermine polling. A high turnout is vital to allowing Iran to present an image of validity to the international community.

Among those candidates reinstated is the grandson of Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s Islamic republic.

For the full article, click here.

Civil rights activist sentenced to death in Iran

A Baluchi civil rights activist has been sentenced to death in Iran, the Iranian Minorities Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO) reported Monday.

Yaghub Mehrnahad, who founded an NGO called Anjoman Sedayeh edalat (the Voice of Justice Association), was arrested in May 2007 and charged with acts against national security. It is thought that his arrest was in response to opinions he expressed on the Internet.

Members of his family who were permitted to visit him claim that he has been subjected to torture during his imprisonment.

The Baluchis are just one of many minority groups in Iran that face systematic, institutionalized discrimination.

For the full article, click here.

To read more about the Baluchis in Iran, click here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Iran’s Baha’is face ongoing persecution

Despite mounting international pressure, circumstances for Baha’is, as well as other religious minorities, continue to deteriorate in Iran, the Middle East Times reported Monday.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution expressing “serious concern” over the worsening human rights situation in Iran, specifically mentioning the ongoing persecution of the Baha’i. It recognizes and condemns “attacks on Baha’is and their faith in state sponsored media, increasing evidence of efforts by the state to identify and monitor Baha’is and prevention of Baha’is from attending university and from sustaining themselves economically.”

The resolution marks the twentieth time since 1985 that the U.N. has stated its concern about the situation of this group.

For the full article, click here.

Self-immolation among Kurdish women a major concern

Alarming numbers of Kurdish women turn to self-immolation as a form of protest, BBC News reported Saturday.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a disturbing trend has begun to emerge – women setting themselves ablaze in silent protest because of family problems. The article, citing anecdotal evidence from medial sources and women’s activists, say that “on average a woman a day tries to kill herself in the Kurdistan region.”
Theories as to why this trend is occurring range from depression based on strict religious beliefs to the oppression of conservative, patriarchal societies. Chilura Hardi, the head of the women’s radio station Radio Khatuzeen said of the situation: “The way they kill themselves is a real tragedy. Can you imagine? You put kerosene on yourself and light it. Some of them lock themselves in a room so that nobody can actually get to them and save them.”
During Saddam’s reign, female subordination was institutionalized. In the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, for example, Saddam killed all the men in the villages and let the women attempt to survive alone. To move on from this type of rule takes time, and Iraqi society is still having difficulty moving forward, Hardi says.
The Kurdish region has recognized the issue of self-immolation, with human rights minister Dr. Yousif Shwan Aziz admitting that immolation is a problem that his government is struggling to deal with. Aziz discussed efforts to address the issue, and said that his community believes in the “progress of women and men.” However many women in the area do not share their government’s optimism. One woman, whose sister burnt to death, stated, “I don't believe that women here have power. The reports in the media are just talk. The reality in our society is totally different. It’s a fact that the government is too feudal. It doesn’t have a solution for the problems.”
For the full article, click here.

Blogging on Egypt’s abuses can be a dangerous task

Through an interview with the Los Angeles Times, we are granted a window into the chaotic world of Wael Abbas, one of Egypt’s foremost bloggers.

Abbas has made it his mission to document and report on the countless government abuses and human rights violations in President Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. His posts catalog police torture, political oppression, labor strikes, sexual harassment, and radical Islam. His dogged reporting has garnered international acclaim, but also many an email like the one highlighted in the Times article: “May God honor my sword by slaying Wael Abbas.”

“What matters to me is publicizing violations against human rights,” Abbas said.

His target is what he claims has gone wrong in Egypt during Mubarak’s 26-year rule. “I’m trying to enlighten people to what’s going on,” he said.

Abbas does this through dramatic videos – often taken with his camera phone – documenting brutal and abusive tactics by government forces. Some of the images he has captured have gained such notoriety that they have lead to the prosecution and conviction of police officers involved in abuse.

For the full article, click here.

Scobey’s stance on human rights puts Cairo on the defensive

Scobey’s stance on human rights puts Cairo on the defensive
Recent statements from newly-named U.S. ambassador to Egypt Margret Scobey indicating her approval for leveraging economic aid to encourage human rights reforms have spurred much indignation from Egyptian officials, according to the online daily Almasry Alyoum.

International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboul Naga has informed a group of visiting former and current U.S. lawmakers that U.S. aid represents less than 2 percent of Egypt’s GDP.

An official diplomatic source said that if Scobey’s opinion reflects the U.S. administration’s current position, Cairo hopes her opinion will change soon as she gains a first-hand perspective of the situation on the ground in Egypt.

For the full article, click here.

Public execution, stoning and amputation continue in Iran

Public hangings are a “strangely everyday scene” in Iran, BBC News reported Monday.

The number of executions has increased dramatically under the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Amnesty International says that the figures are up from 200 executions in 2006 to about 300 last year, with more than 30 taking place in January of 2008.

“In Islam, punishment is very harsh,” says Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi, a professor of Islamic law based in the holy city of Qom. “Because the philosophy of punishment is to prevent the people from committing a crime.”

According to the article, Iran’s chief judge has ordered that no public executions should be held without his personal authorization. However, a similar edict ending the punishment of stoning has not been obeyed. Iran has also been accused of reviving the practice of amputation.

Iranian Nobel peace prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi says that she believes there is a political dimension to the growing number of executions. “I see this as a way of putting fear into society," she said.They want to use this to frighten people, to make people afraid of voicing criticism.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese pro-democracy dissident dies

Hoang Minh Chinh, one of Viet Nam’s most famous dissidents, has passed away at the age of 85 following a long illness, BBC News reported on February 8.

Chinh, formerly a leading figure in the Communist Party, began to criticize the regime in the 1960s, spending many years in jail and under house arrest due to his calls for democracy. In 2006, he took part in the establishment of the largest democratic campaign to date, Bloc 8406.

According to the article, his past attachment to communism somewhat alienated him from the younger generation of activists, who wanted a clean break from the past.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Threatened by insurgents, Norway closes embassy in Kabul

Norway has closed its embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported on February 10, due to mounting terror threats and the recent deaths of several non-military Norwegian personnel.

Norway had been singled out twice by al-Qaeda in past years for its troop deployment in Afghanistan, which is set to increase by 200 more soldiers according to Norwegian Defense Minister Ann-Grete Strom-Erichsen. Norway also has drawn the ire of Al-Qaeda in the past because of the reprinting of the inflammatory Danish cartoon that depicted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in Norwegian newspapers.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. predicts another mammoth harvest of Afghan opium poppies

This year will see another huge harvest of Afghan opium poppies and Europe, Asia, and the United States should expect an influx of heroin and opium this upcoming spring, according to a new report compiled by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime given to the New York Times.

According to the report, cultivation is still increasing in the insurgency-hit south and west of the country, and taxes on the crop have become a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency. While there is evidence that the spike is leveling off, the “total amount of opium being harvested remains shockingly high,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“This is a windfall for antigovernment forces, further evidence of the dangerous link between opium and insurgency,” Mr. Costa added. Yet he did note positive signs for the future. 67 percent of those farmers offered assistance in planting other crops decided to abandon poppy growing, and additional statistics show that poppy cultivation decreases with increasing security.

For the full article, click here.

Death toll of Iraqi women increases due to honor killings

Honor killings in Iraq have severely increased in the last year, reported CNN on Friday.

In Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, at least 133 women were killed last year for violations of Islamic teaching or honor killings. Police report that these women were murdered “because they failed to wear a headscarf or because they ignored other "rules" that secretive fundamentalist groups want to enforce.” The majority of these cases remain unsolved as police are trying to find an “anonymous enemy.”

Women are killed “in brutal fashion -- some strangled to death, their faces disfigured; others beheaded. All bear signs of torture.” A fear has been instilled in Iraqi women in which everything they do will be judged. Attacks have intensified as British forces have withdrawn and left Iraqi police forces to maintain peace and stability. However Amnesty International has voiced concern over the increasing violence.

In a 2007 report, Amnesty stated “Politically active women, those who did not follow a strict dress code, and women [who are] human rights defenders were increasingly at risk of abuses, including by armed groups and religious extremists.” Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation in Iraq has switched from “the best” to “the worst” in terms of freedom for women in an Islamic world.

For the full article, click here.

Rise in number of women attending university deemed ‘alarming’ by Iran

Iran’s Research Center of the Majlis (parliament) has produced a report describing the recent rise in the number of women attending university “alarming”, warning that it could lead to “social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Sunday. The report urges the government to stop this “worrisome” trend.

According to Elahe Hejazi, a university professor in Tehran, the report reflects both traditional gender discrimination and despair among young males about their prospects in life. “If such concern is being expressed, then it's because our society is not ready to accept than a woman could be more educated than a man,” she said.

The problem is one of ideology, says Shahl Shafigh, an Iranian-born women's rights activist in Paris. “With the door of opportunity closed to most young girls, and with all the control their families and others exert over them, young women are mostly going after knowledge and science to gain freedom and human dignity,” Shafigh says. “And this is a good thing to happen in a country.”

The last two decades have seen a 23 percent increase in the number of girls taking university entrance exams, and the amount og girls passing the tests nearly doubling to 65 percent.

For the full article, click here.

Muslim journalist discusses her distaste for headscarves

Mona Eltahaway discussed the conflicting views of Muslims and headscarves in a Washington Post column on Sunday.

Muslim women and headscarves are synonymous with one another and Eltahaway states that she is “fed up that the fights between the two sides always take place over women’s heads – literally and figuratively. Women rarely get a say in such arguments – just their hair and what’s on it is deemed more important.” When female students were prohibited from wearing headscarves in Turkish universities, Eltahaway thought that was unfair. However she thinks it is also unjust that Muslim women in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are forced to always wear headscarves. “If Turkish women were barred from education because of headscarves, Saudi girls were dying from lack of them.”

Eltahaway personally decided that after 9 years of wearing a headscarf, it was time to take it off. But she noticed that once in the minority of women who wore headscarves, she is now in the minority again—as more women have decided to wear headscarves as part of a religious obligation. Eltahaway attributes this trend to a “growing conservatism” among the Muslim Brotherhood which holds 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament, as an arm wrestling contest is created from the “my Islam is just as good as your Islam” feelings.

Eltahaway urges the Muslim community to “get over this headscarf obsession” and move on to issues that truly need addressed.

For the full article on Eltahaway’s opinion, click here.

Re-conversion recognized by Egyptian court

An Egyptian Supreme Administrative court ruled that the state must recognize citizens who reconvert to Christianity reported Reuters on Saturday.

Prior to the ruling, a citizen was forbidden to convert from Islam to any other religion and the religion on their identity papers could not be altered either. However Saturday’s court decision has stated that “12 people who had converted to Islam from Christianity and then back again could have their reversion to their original faith stated on their government identity papers.”

This decision is a huge step for Coptic Christians in Egypt who were unable to identify their religion after conversion, based on the old laws. The new court ruling cannot be appealed and “overturned a lower court decision in April which said the state had no obligation to recognize a convert to Islam's decision to revert back to his original faith because it violated Islam's ban on apostasy.”

New identity papers and birth certificates will be issued to reconverts; however their previous religion of Islam will also be on the papers, something that may be a platform for discrimination. This decision is one of a new wave of improvements helping the minority religions of Egypt. Last week a court ruled that the Egyptian Baha’is were no longer obligated to lie about their religion on identity papers, but can now leave the section blank.

For the full article, click here.