Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 14, 2008

Iran’s punishments for homosexuality “peculiarly barbaric”

The British government has granted asylum to an Iranian homosexual due to the danger he would face in his home country, The Times reported on Friday.

Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, but “Iran’s draconian punishments are peculiarly barbaric,” the article says. Victims are hanged in public from cranes using the method of slow strangulation, designed to cause maximum suffering. Human rights campaigners say that more than 4,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed since 1979, and thousands more have been sentenced to lashes.

According to the article, Iran's criminalization of homosexuality is often a convenient way of punishing political opponents against whom there is little other specific evidence.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

White House expresses concern over Egypt’s political arrests

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Wednesday that the Bush administration was concerned by the “campaign of arrests” made in Egypt of individuals involved in upcoming elections who oppose the governing part, Reuters reported the same day.

Egypt has detained more than 350 members of the Muslim Brotherhood since mid-February, and is now holding more than 730 of its members, group leaders say.

With Congressional disapproval beginning to grow louder in Washington over Egypt’s human rights record, the White House made a clear statement of criticism. “We call on the government of Egypt to cease any actions that would compromise the ability of the Egyptian people to fully exercise their internationally recognized human rights and to participate in a free and fair election,” Perino said.

For the full article, click here.

Continuing efforts needed to ensure equal rights in Afghanistan

M. Asharf Haidari, the political counselor of the Afghan Embassy in Washington, believes that much remains to be done to combat the violence and insecurity that hamper efforts to improve Afghan women’s lives. Haidari’s views are expressed in an op-ed in the March 7 edition of The Washington Times.

Although Afghan women have regained many of the freedoms they lost under the Taliban’s “gender apartheid,” Haidari fears that “worsening security and violence threatens the freedoms Afghan women have fought for over the past seven years.”

Haidari cites the disparity between the $35 billion in international aid pledged, and the $14.5 billion actually delivered as one of the main reasons for the insecurity and the government’s inability to adequately assist its most vulnerable citizens.

“Taliban fighters have killed female teachers and burned down hundreds of schools, depriving more than 300,000 girls of education in the south and east of Afghanistan,” Haidari said, later adding: “It is only in the enabling environment of security, rule of law, and prosperity that the hopes and dreams of Afghan women can grow.”

For the full article, click here.

Leaked document reveals Viet Nam aims to suppress political opposition

A leaked internal document from the Communist Party of Viet Nam, which was obtained, verified and translated by Human Rights Watch, shows that the government is pursuing a policy of suppressing political opposition, the group’s Asia advocacy director told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee Wednesday.

According to HRW’s Sophie Richardson, the confidential document, detailing the conclusions of a Politburo meeting of August 6, 2007, states that recent political trials have “achieved some degree of success.” Their purpose is “making an example or teaching a lesson, to effectively prevent the contrarian political activities of the enemy forces while they are still in the embryonic stages.”

It claims that those carrying out “reactionary anti-state activities” will “utilize international forums on democracy and human rights, religions and races to strengthen their reputation, slander and make false accusation against the state.”

Political trials are needed, the document says, but “political, rhetorical, argumentative and professional” techniques should also be used to “limit the spread of false ideas in the population about democracy, human rights, religious freedom, which impacts negatively on the Party and the State foreign policy.”

It uses this as a reason to “fortify the security measures to ensure our political stability, peaceful order in society and…to ensure the perpetuation and stability of socialism.”

For the full text of Richardson’s testimony, and to read extracts from the document, click here.

U.S. policy for Afghanistan: Reassessing strategies

As Congress contemplates re-authorization of the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act, as well as budgetary and supplemental support for reconstruction effort and military efforts, a critical juncture has been reached. Issues regarding the U.S.’s strategy for Afghanistan have been discussed at numerous hearings sponsored by both House and Senate committees. The Afghanistan Advocacy Group, a national nonpartisan network of Afghan-American and American professionals and activists, will host a timely forum on Capitol Hill on this topic. The forum will focus upon AAG’s recommendations on policies and programs for Afghanistan, based on the practical “on the ground” experience of many members and strengthened by advice of experts in the U.S. who understand both cultures.

Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Time: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Followed by lunch and Q&A
Location: Rayburn B-338 Conference Room
RSVP: Please confirm your participation by contacting
info@afghanistanadvocacygroup.org by noon on Monday, March 17.

What has been missing in the dialogue on the Hill regarding these issues since 9/11 is the voice of Afghan-Americans. This group has been an underutilized asset in policymakers’ understanding of the challenges in Afghanistan, as well as possible approaches to improving efforts to bring about security and economic development. As productive and concerned citizens of the U.S., whose native country is Afghanistan, Afghan-Americans provide a unique perspective. AAG’s goal is to bring that perspective to Capitol Hill and share it with Hill offices in a constructive and concise way. AAG participants and supporters will participate in a “Capitol Hill Walk” after the event, stopping by all Members’ offices in the House of Representatives on relevant committees to provide AAG’s Policy Brief and to show support for continued U.S. assistance for Afghanistan. The walk will begin at Room B-339 at 1:30 p.m. and will take approximately one hour.
The goal of the event and such information sharing is to add value to the process of reassessing AFSA and other legislation related to Afghanistan and the war against terror and identifying ways in which to improve the effectiveness of U.S. funding for Afghanistan.

The objective of the Afghanistan Advocacy Group is to serve as a platform in order to advance dialogue between concerned citizens and U.S. and Afghan policymakers on development and security in Afghanistan. AAG has been building a network of professionals and activists from across the U.S. who can provide constructive recommendations on programs and reforms needed to achieve stability and economic and social development in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Taliban blocking aid, U.N. says

A tenth of Afghanistan is now off limits to aid workers because of Taliban strikes, The Associated Press reported Wednesday, citing a United Nations report.

According to the article, the report, released Monday, claims that “36 districts – including most of the east, southeast and south – are largely inaccessible to Afghan officials and aid workers.” As a result, many of those who are most affected by the conflict are out of reach of assistance.

For the full article, click here.

Food shortages in Afghanistan force some families to subsist on grass

In the Ajristan District of Afghanistan’s central province of Ghazni, many families have been driven to eat dried grass in order to survive during crippling food shortages, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Monday.

A spokesman for Ghazni’s governor confirmed widespread food shortages, but promised that relief supplies would be delivered to the affected communities as soon as the roads were reopened.

Whether this assurance was enough for the poor of Ajristan and Nawa districts remains to be seen. Some do not feel they have the luxury to wait. “Our children will die if we do not receive urgent assistance,” said Atiqullah, a local elder.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt’s Brotherhood alleges government interference ahead of elections

Muslim Brotherhood members accused the government of greatly diminishing its chances in Egypt’s upcoming local elections by allowing only 60 of its 10,000 potential candidates to register, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Authorities have prevented the banned group from forming a political party, forcing its members to run as independents in local and national elections. Through these tactics, the Brotherhood has been able to create the largest opposition bloc in the national parliament. Now, however, registration centers across the country are reportedly blocking candidates by refusing to accept applications from people who run as independents.

On Sunday, more than 6,000 Brotherhood supporters demonstrated in two Egyptian cities, Tanta and Alexandria, protesting the government’s oppression of the group. The next day, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, lambasted the government, describing elections in Egypt as “a boogieman that frightens the government and makes it respond with actions that are not to be practiced but in the most dictatorial and corrupt regimes.”

For the full article, click here.

Montagnard community in U.S. protests visit of Vietnamese delegates

The official visit of a group of Vietnamese delegates to Greensboro, North Carolina, sparked “uproar” among the immigrant community from the Highlands of Viet Nam, who often refer to themselves as Montagnards.

The protests are related to reports – including those issued by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – of widespread human rights violations in Viet Nam, particularly impacting the Highlanders.

The delegation meanwhile, insisted that there is freedom of religion and respect for human rights in Viet Nam, and that those who have been arrested have been allied to groups promoting violent uprisings.

Neither side apparently had any desire for face-face meetings. Delegates turned down the opportunity to visit areas with significant Asian immigrant communities, calling them “security risks,” and leaders among the Highlanders denounced the idea of meeting as a photo opportunity for the delegates.

For the full article, click here.

Peace efforts in Afghanistan hindered by lack of international support

A study by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation has found that peace efforts in Afghanistan are disconnected from one another and lack much-needed support from the international community, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday, citing The Canadian Press.

Based on 58 interviews of diplomats, NGOs, Afghan officials and community leaders, the study calls on the Canadian government to encourage the international community and Afghan government to better coordinate and improve the existing peace initiatives in the short term, while continuing sustained commitment to projects that support civil society, women’s groups, and opposition groups.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi women suppressed as militia groups continue to hold sway

Iraqi women have become increasingly silenced as militia groups attempt to force them to conform to strict Islamic teachings, Inter Press Service reported Tuesday.

Militias organized by the Mahdi Army and the Shia Badr Organization dominate the country. The article reports that “in December at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months in [Basra] city alone” for not complying with Islamic ways. Residents in Basra reported that “women who do not wear the hijab,” the traditional head and body covering, “are becoming prime targets of militias. Many women say they are threatened with death if they do not obey.”

Life-threatening situations in other Iraqi cities have prevented women from attending schools for fear of abduction. According to the article: “In early 2007 Iraq’s Ministry of Education found that more than 70 percent of girls and young women no longer attend school or college.” Women have also taken lesser positions in the workforce for fear that holding too much power will create unwanted attention from the militias.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan overlooked

Although a summit occurred recently between Saudi Arabia’s minister and president of the Saudi Supreme Human Rights Commission and Pakistan’s federal minister for human rights, the two countries are still responsible for major human rights abuses, writes Nir Boms, Vice President of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, in a Washington Times op-ed on March 7. Saudi Arabia, Boms asserts, is “a world leader in human rights violations and Pakistan is not far behind.”

Boms cites various examples of rights violations in Saudi Arabia, such as evidence of secret detention centers holding individuals arrested for speaking up against the government. There have also been two recent beheadings, bringing this year’s toll to 27 – last year’s was 158.

Regarding Pakistan, after a State of Emergency was declared recently, the Pakistani Constitution has not been upheld, resulting in individuals being arrested and detained with neither charge nor trial. The Pakistani police have also been kidnapping and then murdering individuals, a practice labeled “encounter killings.”

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are “officially western allies,” and “the United States has a chance to make a difference, albeit a small one, by asking some probing questions,” Boms concludes.

Full the full article, click here.

Darfur experiences major cut in U.N. food aid after bandit attacks

Bandit attacks on drivers and trucks delivering food aid have caused the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut its deliveries to the region in half, BBC News reported Monday.

Roughly two million people in Darfur rely on food aid.

The other alternative would be to send aid through the air. However, due to a lack of funding, WFP says it may have to halt its Humanitarian Air Service even though its “helicopters and aircraft are needed more than ever because of high insecurity on the roads,” according to WFP representative in Sudan Kenro Oshidari. Such a change would also affect WFP flights to South Sudan.

For the full article, click here.

Increased food prices raising specter of unrest in Egypt

A new wave of food price hikes has hit the Egyptian economy hard, with the country’s poor bearing the brunt of the burden, BBC News reported Tuesday.

Crowds of people lined up outside a local bakery in Cairo on a recent day, anticipating the arrival of cheaper bread. According to the article: “Everyone here complains they are being squeezed by the latest wave of price rises.” Staple food items such as wheat, cooking oil, rice, and dairy products have increased in price significantly, causing already-poor communities to buckle under the financial pressure.

“The government should not make things expensive for the Egyptian people, because we are the poorest of the world,” said Karima Mohamed, a mother of five. “Salaries here have not increased, but prices have gone up threefold and fourfold.”

As notions of political unrest seem to stir, Egyptian officials “are promising big salary increases,” the article says. It adds: “In the last two years Egypt has been swept by an unprecedented wave of strikes in both public and privately-owned factories and even in some government departments.”

For the full article, click here.

Students protest at 2 Iranian universities

Hundreds of students at two Iranian universities have demonstrated against the recent expulsions of campus activists, The Washington Post reported on March 5th. Higher-quality housing and food are also among the students’ list of grievances.

Some student demonstrations that have taken place in Iran have turned political. In 1999 in Tehran, thousands of students clashed with the security forces for almost a week. In contrast, the recent protests are smaller in size, and, according to one protestor, not about politics. However, Rashid, a graduate student studying in Tehran says of the demonstrations: “Those in power are speaking of a second cultural revolution, by which they mean limitation of universities. They want the students to be quiet.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Maternal mortality greatest threat to Afghan women, U.N. agency says

A recent study by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) stated that some 24,000 Afghan women die every year while giving birth, the U.N. News Service reported on March 3.

UNFPA representatives in Afghanistan noted that 1,600 of every 100,000 women that give birth there die in the process – about 25 times the number of people dying of security-related violent incidents. According to the article: “The reasons why so many Afghan women die while giving birth range from early marriage – more than half the girls are married before they reach 18 – and lack of health facilities, and skilled birth attendants to lack of education.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian journalist faces prison term

Iranian journalist Parnaz Azima was stripped of her passport and prevented from leaving Iran for eight months last year. She has now been convicted by an Iranian court of “spreading antistate propaganda” and sentenced to a year in prison, she says in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Acording to Azima, who holds both Iranian and U.S. citizenship, she is now faced with a choice between returning to Iran to serve her sentence or losing the deed to her 95-year-old mother’s home in Tehran, which was posted in lieu of bail.

She also discusses the plight of other journalists in Iran who are in situations more desperate than her own, saying that journalists in the international community have a responsibility to speak out and defend them.

For the full article, and to watch the interview, click here.

Iranians use fashion to protest social restrictions

A growing number of Iranians are using fashion as a form of protest against a repressive government, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on March 7.

The Islamic Republic has a strict dress code, requiring women to wear the head scarf and prohibiting men from wearing short-sleeved shirts or ties. The authorities often detain people with “improper clothing or haircuts” as part of a crackdown on those who violate this code.

Yet despite this, more and more Iranian are dressing according to a Western sense of style. “The more the authorities try to enforce the code, the more it seems Iranians want to push the boundaries of personal fashion – even at the risk of fines and imprisonment,” the article says.

Iraj Jamsheedi, an Iranian independent journalist, sees the drive to enforce the dress code as part of a larger effort by the government to control society. “Many people ignore the rules as much as they can, simply to protest this and other social restrictions,” he says.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi protestors denounce insecurity in Basra

In Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, over 5,000 protestors, mainly Shiite men, gathered Saturday to denounce worsening security, The Associated Press reported the same day.

According to the article, protestors carrying banners “demonstrated near the Basra police command headquarters Saturday, demanding that the police chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, and the commander of joint military-police operation, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji, resign.”

At the end of 2007, British troops returned control of the city over to the Iraqi government. Instability and disorder have been on the rise in the months since. The article notes that “killings, kidnappings and other crimes have increased significantly,” and adds: “Dozens of women were slain in Basra by religious extremists last year because of how they dressed, their mutilated bodies found with notes warning against ‘violating Islamic teachings.’”

For the full article, click here.

Spike in violence against Afghan women reported

Documented cases of violence against Afghan females have increased by 40 percent since March, 2007 the United Nations’s IRIN news agency reported March 8.

Worsening insecurity, poverty, and a growing culture of criminal impunity may all be factors for the trend. A UK charity group, Womankind Worldwide, recently reported that 80 percent of Afghan women are affected by domestic violence.

However, some U.N. agencies involved in women’s development efforts in Afghanistan say the dramatic rise in reports does not necessarily mean that instances of violence against women are occurring more. “There is an increased awareness among the law enforcement authorities, so it is not [necessarily] an increasing trend of violence – that has always been there – perhaps it is declining – but what is happening is that there are more people coming forward to report,” explained Ramesh Penumaka of the U.N. Population Fund in Afghanistan. “Nobody talked about this when it happened within the four walls of a house.”

For the full article, click here.