Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Appointment of U.N. special representative to Afghanistan brings opportunity for better relief coordination

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent appointment of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide as his special representative to Afghanistan presents a new opportunity to reorganize and coordinate the sprawling and disjointed relief efforts in the war-torn nation, Zalmay Khalilzad says in an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times. Khalilzad is the United States permanent representative to the United Nations.

With a rebuilding effort that involves, among other entities, 30 national embassies, four development banks, several U.N. agencies, and around 2,000 nongovernmental organizations, there is no shortage of international support. However the lack of communication between these separate groups is a real problem, severely limiting their effectiveness on the ground. That is why the appointment of Eide is so important, Khalilzad says, explaining that Eide’s position empowers him to coordinate civilian assistance with military efforts, while also bridging the gap between international organizations and the Afghan government. If these varied efforts are fully organized, Khalilzad believes Afghans will finally be able to take full advantage of the assistance that they have been provided.

For the full op-ed piece, click here.

Iran releases woman sentenced to death by stoning

Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her four-year-old son, Ali, were released from Choobin Prison in Iran on Monday, BBC News reported the next day. Ebrahimi had spent a decade in prison on charges of adultery and had been sentenced, along with her partner, Jafar Kiani, to death by stoning. Kiani was executed in July 2007.

The Iran-based Stop Stoning Forever (SSF) campaign played a large role in bringing international pressure to bear on the Iranian government to release Ebrahimi and Ali. The recent fatwas of three prominent ayatollahs may have also helped facilitate the release.

Ebrahimi’s son was born while she was still in prison. The two now live safely with Ebrahimi’s family.

For the full article, click here.
To read the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Report to the United Nations 2008, click here.

Egypt’s doctors take on Mubarak

The Egyptian organization Doctors Without Rights has held several high-profile demonstrations recently to protest the low wages doctors are forced to live on, BBC News reported Wednesday.

Led by Dr. Mona Mina, a passionate Coptic Christian woman, Doctors Without Rights embodies the growing dissatisfaction among Egypt’s middle class, not only with the political repression that has come to characterize President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, but also with the state of the economy. Inflation is up and soaring food and energy costs are pushing a growing number of educated, middle class Egyptians into poverty.

For the full article, click here.

Young Afghan students working in poppy fields to pay for education

Many rural Afghan children like 14-year-old Esmatulla, who was attending school and living on his own in Helmand Province, are now missing out on their education as they must work in the poppy fields to pay for their cost of living, the United Nations IRIN news agency reported Tuesday.

Esmatullah’s story seems to be ever more common. Increasing insecurity and attacks on rural schools kept him from attending class in his home town. Thus, he was sent to Helmand’s capital, where slightly better security allowed him to continue his education. But to afford the new costs of living independently, Esmatullah has had to return to his rural community to work in the poppy fields, causing him to miss class. It now appears that pursuing an education often requires so much effort on the part of young Afghans that they miss the very education they are working for, and put themselves at risk of drug addiction in the process.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Egyptian couple given 10-year prison sentence in religious conversion case

Bolis Rezek-Allah, a Coptic Christian man, and Enas Yehya Adbel Aziz, a Muslim convert, were last week sentenced to 10 years in prison by an Egyptian court for falsifying marriage documents and acts of blasphemy, according to the Coptic Assembly of America.

In Egypt, it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to another religion; just as it is illegal for a non-Muslim man to marry a Muslim woman (Muslim men are allowed to marry indiscriminately). This left Rezek-Allah and Aziz stuck in a catch-22 situation forcing them to change Aziz’s stated religion and name on her marriage document. However, when the couple attempted to fly out of Egypt, police arrested and detained them, subjecting them to torture while in detention.

For the full article, click here.

Opportunistic organ-dealing black market thriving off Egyptian poor

In a country where almost half of the citizens live in poverty and inflation continues to cripple the already meager resources of the poor, many Egyptians are selling pieces of themselves to survive, the Los Angeles Times reported on March 13.

The brokerage of human organs is turning into a global trend, with poor people from China to Moldova trading kidneys and livers for the chance to escape their seemingly hopeless situation. In Egypt, the traders set up shop in cafes near clinics and labs, waiting for the desperate to come to them.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt grapples with Internet freedom case

The Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt began hearing a new case on Monday involving freedom of expression and freedom of the Internet, The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reported on March 15.

The case is an appeal filed by Judge Abdul Fattah Murad against the December, 2007 judgment of a lower administrative court, which supported freedom of the Internet and freedom of expression in Egypt. Murad filed his previous case calling for the banning of the websites of 49 human rights organizations, newspapers, and blogs, calling the websites “terrorist” and saying that they tarnish the reputation of Egypt and the Arab governments.

An additional sense of intrigue has been added to the whole affair because of Murad’s legal troubles before this suit. In early 2007, reports surfaced that Murad had lifted dozens of pages from a Arabic Network for Human Rights Information study for his own book, without any citation or permission, a blatant violation of intellectual property laws.

For in-depth coverage of this case, click here.

China’s policies in Tibet draw global criticism, Dalai Lama’s anger

The Dalai Lama has accused China of waging “cultural genocide” against Tibetans, and has called for an international inquiry into the brutal suppression of protests there, The New York Times reported Monday.

In what appears to be his strongest public defense of Tibetan Buddhists struggling against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama endorsed the right of his people to express their objections, albeit peacefully, against the Chinese authorities, and said he would not ask the protesting Tibetan to surrender to Chinese military police by midnight Monday, as Beijing had demanded.

Though he is the head of the Tibetan government in exile, the Dalai Lama has refrained from publicly calling for Tibetan independence since negotiations began in 2002 with the Chinese government. His recent departure from that stance no doubt will give Tibetan protestors encouragement while further enraging the government in Beijing.

The Dalai Lama’s impassioned comments reflect similar support that has come from all corners of the globe, as the Tibetan Buddhists exhibit their fiercest resistance to the authoritarian Chinese rule in decades. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Senator and presidential hopeful Barak Obama both spoke out Monday, urging the Chinese government to show restraint with the Tibetan protestors, and insisting that China respect the internationally-recognized human rights that belong to both Chinese and Tibetan citizens.

Additionally, Congressman Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a strongly worded statement, condemning China’s “brutal crackdown on dissent” and the disrespect shown to the “unique religious and cultural heritage of the Tibetan people.”

For the full article, click here.
For Rep. Berman’s full statement, click here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Humanitarian situation in Iraq still dire despite bolstered security, reports say

Amnesty International’s recent report on Iraq declares that “a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis keeps escalating,” CNN reported Monday.

In light of the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released extensive reports outlining the grave circumstances in the war-torn country. Among other concerns, the ICRC noted that healthcare is severely inadequate and Amnesty said “the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis” keeps escalating.

Amnesty also discussed the high number of civilian causalities, saying: “Civilians are also at risk from Multi-National Forces and Iraqi security forces, with many killed by excessive force and tens of thousands detained without charge or trial.” The group also criticized the Iraqi government, asserting that it has “failed to introduce practical measures to deal with the gross and serious human rights violations perpetrated by its security forces. There appears to be no serious willingness to investigate properly the many incidents of abuses, including killings of civilians, torture and rape, and to bring those responsible to justice.”

For the full article, click here.

Female runner among Afghanistan’s four Olympic hopefuls

Out of a total of four athletes, Mahboba Ahdyar, 19, is the only woman slated to represent Afghanistan in the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Reuters reported Monday. Competing, according to Ahdyar, will not be about winning, but instead about pride and proving herself as an Afghan woman.

Girls were banned from playing outdoors or participating in sports under Taliban rule and many Afghans still remain hostile towards female participation in athletics.

“Some people in our society are against sport for women,” said Ahdyar. “They want us only to stay at home, but I disagree with them. God gave the same rights to men and women, that is why I don’t care what they say.” She also said that competing will be for her benefit and also for “the benefit of all young people.”

Ahdyar plans on continuing to wear her headscarf while racing in China because it is a “symbol of Muslim women.”

For the full article, click here.

Beijing interfering with communications in Lhasa

On Sunday, LCHR learned from colleagues with close ties to the situation on the ground in Tibet that China has closed down communications with Lhasa and sent tourists out of the country. Our colleagues call on the international community to raise global awareness through extensive television coverage, saying that this may compel the Chinese government to halt its crackdown.

Conservatives win majority in Iranian parliamentary elections

Both conservatives and reformists are claiming victory in Iran’s parliamentary elections, held on March 14, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Golnaz Esfandiari. The conservatives have won a majority of the seats, she said, but the reformists have managed to gain forty seats despite massive disqualifications of their candidates.

The government says that turnout was around 60%. In Tehran it was 40%, and some critics say it was lower. There are reports that some Iranians didn’t vote because they didn’t believe that the elections were free or fair, or because they didn’t see them as offering any real choice.

Yet the elections have brought some change. Ahmadinejad may have a more difficult time with the new parliament, she said, because many of the hardliners elected are from a group that opposes has criticized his foreign and economic policies.

For the full briefing, click here.

Viet Nam rejects accusations of human rights abuse

The U.S. State Department’s criticism of Viet Nam in its annual human rights report has been rejected by the communist country’s government, Agence France-Presse reported on March 14.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said that no one had been arrested for their political or religious views, and the report is based on based on “false and prejudiced information.”

“During the past years, Viet Nam has made great achievements in ensuring and developing its citizens freedom in all fields, including freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of information, which can be clearly seen through the strong development of means of communication, especially the Internet,” he said.

The report criticized the Vietnamese government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent, including the arrests of pro-democracy political activists and limitations upon freedom of religion, expression and assembly.

For the full article, click here.

To read the report, click here.

Iraqi Kurds gather to honor victims of Halabja gas attacks

Thousands of Kurds on Sunday mourned the loss of their loved ones on the 20th anniversary of the chemical attack on Halabja, The New York Times reported the next day.

On March 16, 1988, Saddam Hussein launched an attack on Halabja, a city in northern Iraq consisting primarily of ethnic Kurds. The poisonous clouds of chemicals killed over 5,000 people and caused harmful side effects for thousands more. The article notes that after the attacks: “Survivors suffered health problems, including sterility and breathing difficulties, and had children born with deformities.”

Ceremonies were held in Halabja to “commemorate the dead” with “Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki call[ing] for a moment of silence and a reading of a verse from the Koran,” the article reported.

For the full article, click here.

Video of Saudi woman driving circulated to protest rights restrictions

In honor of International Women’s Day, Saudi women’s rights advocates posted a three-minute YouTube video of Wajeha Huwaider driving on a public road, in defiance of Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, BBC News reported Tuesday, March 11. The video features Huwaider as she first drives on a residential road, which is considered legal in the region, but then makes her way onto the main highway.

Although two leading Islamic scholars recently argued that it is pointless to continue the ban, many conservatives continue to push to keep it.

Huwaider says that “many women in this society are able to drive cars, and many of our male relatives don’t mind us driving. I hope that by next year’s International Woman’s Day, this ban on us will be lifted.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kabul’s air pollution a serious health crisis

Worsening air pollution in Afghanistan’s capital is “seriously” threatening the health of the city’s, the United Nations’s IRIN news agency reported on Sunday, citing Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).

Pollution, including unclean air and water, and solid waste are believed to be responsible for over 70 percent of the diseases in Kabul, said Dad Mohammad Baheer, the deputy director of NEPA. “In terms of air pollution we are facing a crisis in Kabul,” he explained, adding: “Over the past few years diagnosed cases of cancer, mainly among children, have increased considerably.”

The pollution has been exacerbated by the destruction of Kabul’s plant life. Over 70 percent of its greenery, particularly trees, has been lost over the past two decades.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian courts indict five men for having HIV

The Egyptian government recently brought indictments against five men arrested on suspicion of having HIV and practicing homosexual acts, Human Rights Watch reported on March 11.

The five men are among 12 detained since October of last year on account of HIV and are supposedly participating in the “habitual practice of debauchery,” the official terminology used when persecuting homosexuals. A number of the accused were assaulted by their captors and given tests to determine whether they ever had anal intercourse. These tests are considered tantamount to torture, HRW said.

The five indictments were handed down on March 4.

For the full article, click here.

Poll results indicate Iraqis hopeful

A recent poll carried out for the BBC, ABC News, ARD of Germany, and NHK of Japan found that Iraqis are becoming more optimistic, BBC News reported Monday.

Citing the survey, the article reported that: “More than 50% of Iraqis think their lives are good, more than at any time in the last three years” and “that a majority believe that security in their area has improved since 2007.”

While these results are more positive than past surveys, the polls also indicate that ethnic groups have are still deeply divided. According to the article: “While 55% of all Iraqis believe that their lives are good, only 33% of Sunnis are happy with their lives, compared with 62% of Shias and 73% of Kurds.”
The poll also addressed the impact that the 2007 military “surge” was meant to have. “Only 21% believe that the increase in US forces has made conditions for political dialogue in Iraq better, while 43% think the surge has made conditions worse,” the article said. “And 38% want American forces to leave immediately, compared with 35% who want the troops to remain until security has been restored.”
For the full article, click here.

Egypt objects to U.S. criticism on human rights

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on March 14 objected to recent criticisms from the United States on its human rights record, Reuters reported the same day.

Egypt’s anger was directed towards a White House statement voicing displeasure over a crackdown on members of the political opposition, as well as the annual human rights report put out by the U.S. State Department. The report accused Egypt, a major recipient of U.S. aid, of unfairly detaining Internet bloggers, cracking down on independent journalists and civil society groups, and jailing political prisoners, such as former presidential candidate Ayman Nour.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded by calling the report “unfortunately a mix of non-objectivity and non-science in presenting biased views of some non-governmental organizations.”

The ministry also showed its displeasure with the White House statements, insisting they “reflect a lack of understanding of the Egyptian political realities and raise questions at the same time about the true motivation behind the contents of these statements.”

For the full article, click here.

Red Cross reports need for clean water in Iraq

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday released a report assessing circumstances in Iraq five years after the 2003 invasion, Reuters reported the same day.

The healthcare situation in Iraq is bleak, with “hospitals lack[ing] beds, drugs, and medical staff,” the article states, citing the report. Many Iraqis are in desperate need of clean water as well. According to the article, “some areas of the country of 27 million people have no functioning water and sanitation facilities, and the poor public water supply has forced some families to use at least a third of their average $150 monthly income buying clean drinking water.”

The ICRC stated: “Five years after the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world.” Describing Iraq’s health care system, the group added that it is “now in worse shape than ever.”

For the full article, click here.

Egypt court rejects Nour appeal

A Cairo court on Monday rejected a request to free Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour on health grounds, Reuters reported the same day.

The ruling on Nour’s appeal for early dismissal was made by the Supreme Administrative Court, and it marked another setback for the beleaguered advocates working to free the political prisoner, who suffers from chronic heart problems and diabetes.

For the full article, click here.

Pope seeks peace in wake of murder of Iraqi archbishop

Pope Benedict on Monday sent a message to Iraqi Catholics calling for peaceful solutions to honor the memory of Paulos Faraj Rahho, a Chaldean Catholic archbishop killed last week, Reuters reported the same day.

Rahho, the archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped on February 29 after being attacked by gunmen. His body was found last Thursday in a shallow grave, with the cause of death unknown at this time.

“We have cried over his death, the inhumane way in which he had to end his life on Earth,” the Pope said during a mass at the Vatican in Rahho’s memory. “But today ... we want to thank God for all of the good that he did (and) that his Christians know to continue in their effort to build a peaceful society.”

The Pope also sent a passionate message regarding the situation in Iraq, saying: “Enough with the massacres, enough with the violence, enough with hatred in Iraq!”

For the full article, click here.