Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 28, 2008

Iranian authorities raid private homes for ‘immorality’

More than 30 men have been arrested at a party in a private home in the Iranian city of Esfahan, Human Rights Watch reported Friday. The men have been accused of consensual homosexual conduct, drinking alcohol and other related ‘morals’ offenses.

Since their arrest in late February the men have been held without charge and without access to lawyers.

In May 2007 police raided another private party, arresting 87 people. Since then, police have intensified surveillance, harassment and abuse of people associated with those arrested or suspected of homosexuality.

According to the article, the last documented death sentences for consensual homosexual conduct in Iran were handed down in March 2005. It is not known whether they were carried out, but there is evidence of widespread patterns of arbitrary arrest and torture based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi women scientists, engineers, health professionals paired with international counterparts

The Committee on Human Rights of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and the Institute of Medicine has developed a new project that will help Iraqi women stay in touch with new developments pertaining to their professional fields.

Prior to the early 1990s, Iraqi women working in areas such as medicine and science were given ample opportunities to research and teach. However, now due to the present state of Iraq, most women have had to halt their studies, as their institutions have been closed or become too dangerous to attend.

The International Twinning Project for Iraqi Women has created a network of intellectual and moral support that will help female scientists, engineers, and medical professionals stay in touch with their colleagues and remain informed about new developments in their fields. The project aims to “provide Iraqi women colleagues – those remaining in Iraq and those who have taken refuge in other countries – access to news of current developments in their fields, including scientific papers, breaking developments in their field, information on relevant international meetings, and moral and collegial support,” the Committee website says.

To date, 13 pairs of women have been placed and they are now communicating and building connections.

For more information on the Twinning Project, click here.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies charges 14 countries with human rights violations

In a report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) charged 14 Middle East and North African governments with participating in actions that limited their citizens’ civil liberties, Inter Press Service (IPS) reported Thursday.

CIHRS stated that, “Special attention should be awarded to providing protection to human rights defenders in the Arab World,” and asked the international community to “urge Arab governments to duly reconsider their legislation, policy and practices contravening their international obligations to protect freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to form associations, including non-governmental organizations.”

Countries pegged by CIHRS for violations were Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Yemen.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. panel calls for larger role for widows in peace-building

At a recent United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) panel, the topic of widowhood in conflict was introduced by Margaret Owen, the director of Widows for Peace and Democracy (WPD).

Representatives from NGOs and conflict-affected nations came to a consensus that listening to the voices of widows is critical in peace-building efforts. Their needs must be addressed, not only in the short term, but the long term as well, the participants maintained. Representing widows’ voices, it was agreed, will help poverty reduction efforts, and contribute to the welfare of widows and their children. Since most women are directly affected by conflict, involving them in the peace process is vital for positive change, the participants said.

For more information on Margaret Owen, click here.

Iranian human rights activist dedicates award to women of Iran

Iranian women’s rights activist Parvin Ardalan was recently awarded the Olaf Palme award for human rights, but she was prevented by Iranian authorities from traveling to Sweden to collect it.

In an acceptance speech transmitted to the ceremony via video link she paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of activists throughout Iran who work tirelessly, and at great risk to themselves, to bring greater equality and freedom to the women of the region.

She specifically mentioned the Change for Equality campaign, which aims to collect one million signatures in support of greater women’s rights. More than fifty activists associated with the campaign have been arrested or threatened over the past eighteen months.

“I dedicate this award to all the women of my country,” she said. “To my mother, to the mothers of prisoners of conscience, and to all the other mothers of my land, who while enduring, have taught us how to resist discrimination, so that we too can pass on these teachings to our children and to future generations.”

To read the full speech, click here.

Human rights activist at risk of deportation to Iran

An Iranian human rights activist was arrested in Turkey on Thursday and authorities are threatening to return him to his native country, Newsmax reported the same day.

The activist, Dr. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, was seized by authorities when he arrived at Istanbul’s international airport on a flight from Germany, where he is a legal resident. An Iranian intelligence officer arrived at the scene and demanded that the Turks extradite him to Iran.

Dr Ebrahimi fled Iran in 2003. He had already been jailed for nearly two years for disobeying orders to attack protesting students at Tehran University in July 1999. Instead, with the help of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, he made a film of on-camera “confessions” exposing the activities of the secret unit of the Revolutionary Guards, of which he had previously been a member.

Pooya Dayanim, an Iranian activist based in Los Angeles, said he has “no doubt” that Ebrahimi “will surely be tortured and killed” if the Turks send him back to Iran.

For the full article, click here.

Three quarters of neonatal deaths go unreported in Viet Nam

The number of babies in Viet Nam that die within the first 28 days is four times higher than official figures, Reuters reported Thursday, citing a study published in the latest issue of the journal BMC International Health and Human Rights.

Most families are responsible for registering newborns within 30 days of birth, while those in remote areas must do so within the first 60 days. According to the report, many parents do not see an urgent need to register and those living in remote areas like the Central Highlands do not have easy access to registrars.

Without proper statistics, Viet Nam could be missing out on international aid that is geared towards improving child survival rates.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Concern spreads in Great Britain over forced marriages

A new study has found that forced marriages are more common in Great Britain than ever assumed, Der Spiegel Online reported Wednesday.

Sociologist Nazia Khanum recently produced a report centered around her home town of Luton, England. Through her own field work in Luton, and the work of contemporaries throughout England, Khanum believes there could be about 4,000 cases of forced marriages in England every year.

As the majority of forced marriage cases involve Muslims, the issue has brought to the foreground what should be permissible in England on the grounds of cultural tradition and religious freedom, and what should not. With a growing population of 1.6 million Muslims in England, the British states must soon decide how to change their previously “hands-off” approach when dealing with this sensitive yet necessary issue.

For the full article, click here.

Muslim converts impeded from returning to Christianity in Egypt

A decision by a top Egyptian administrative court to allow 12 Muslim converts to revert to their Christian faith has been appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, further impeding the plaintiffs’ ability to return to their original faith, Compass Direct News reported Wednesday.

Judge Muhammed Husseini has asked Egypt’s top judicial body to review the constitutionality of the lower court’s decision, which had been based on a law, Article 47, which allows conversion. Judge Husseini seeks to show that Article 47 is in fact unconstitutional, as it conflicts with an amendment of the Egyptian constitution that declares sharia, Islamic law, to be the nation’s main source of legislation. Sharia forbids conversion from Islam. The cases of several hundred converts to Islam seeking to return to Christianity have been frozen pending the result of this one case.

For additional coverage of what is proving to be a historic case of Egyptian jurisprudence and religious freedom, click here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Egyptian editor jailed for remarks on Mubarak

Outspoken Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa was sentenced to six months in jail on Wednesday for supposedly inciting national instability by speculating on the health of President Hosni Mubarak, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

The charges against Eissa stemmed from accusations that his reports on Mubarak’s health led investors to pull their money out of Egypt during a time when some $350 million in foreign investment was withdrawn from the Egyptian stock exchange. Eissa denies any responsibility for Egypt’s economic downturn. Instead, he accuses the courts of playing politics, and the government of shifting blame for bad policies.

“The regime is trying to defend itself because it knows it has plunged the country into successive crises and, if my imprisonment will make bread reach the people who are queuing for it, then I am ready to go to prison,” he said.

For the full article, click here.

Is a direct attack against the Sudanese government an option?

An aerial assault against the Sudanese government in Khartoum has the potential of ending the Darfurian genocide without a single American life lost, writes Mark Helprin in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times.

Helprin believes a direct attack against Khartoum’s war machine, or a threat there of, is the best way to end the genocide in Darfur. Khartoum’s continued aggressive tactics and clear disregard for international opinion demonstrate that some level of force must be used, he suggests. Yet the inability of the multinational troops to wage successful combat leaves the people of Darfur with no reprieve. A brief coordinated strike by American forces, however, could destroy Khartoum’s air force on the ground and their ability to supply and support the janjaweed in Darfur. Helprin says this could be accomplished without one American boot on Sudanese soil.

How fast might the government in Khartoum come to terms with the international community, Helprin wonders, if it knew this was a possibility?

For the full op-ed, click here.

Iraqi refugees putting strain on Sweden

Sweden, which once welcomed Iraqi refugees with open arms, has begun to limit asylum requests, BBC News reported on March 21.

The country is home to more Iraqi refugees than any other European nation. In Soerdertaelje, a small industrial town southwest of Stockholm, about 30 asylum seekers arrive from Iraq each week, according to Anders Lago, the town’s mayor. Forty percent of Soerdertaelje’s population is first and second generation immigrants.

“Matthew,” an Iraq refugee, said that he chose Sweden as a place of asylum because “When you hear that Sweden has fought its last war 400 years ago, there’s no expecting any war. So you feel you can live in safety. You feel more human.”

According to the article, “Witnessing how immigrants are welcomed to a small town like Soedertaelje, it is not hard to see why so many Iraqi asylum seekers have chosen Sweden.”

However, overcrowding has been a consequence of the large influx, with as many as 15 immigrants living in one home. The Swedish government has also begun to take preventive measures to ease the strain.

The article states, “In 2007, Sweden’s Migration Board approved 72% of all Iraqi asylum requests…In January and February of this year, the majority of Iraqi requests for asylum were turned down.”

For the full article, click here.

U.S. admits to killing Egyptian in Suez Canal

U.S. officials have now admitted that warning shots fired by an American naval ship at approaching boats in the Suez Canal on Monday resulted in an Egyptian casualty, BBC News reported Wednesday.

U.S. officials had previously claimed that there were no casualties or injuries stemming from Monday’s incident. However, with growing publicity and anger surrounding the event, the U.S. embassy in Egypt issued a new statement Wednesday confirming the death of an individual in one of the boats.

For the full article, click here.

$10 billion aid shortfall plagues Afghan reconstruction efforts

Western countries have failed to deliver $10 billion of assistance pledged to the Afghan government, and the United States, the largest donor, is responsible for half of the deficit, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing a report published by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, a coalition of Afghan and international aid organizations.

Written by an Oxfam policy adviser, the report warned that a lack of sufficient funding had severely hampered reconstruction efforts and that development assistance which had been given to Afghanistan had largely been inadequate and in many cases wasteful.

The donation deficit between assistance pledged and assistance delivered can party be attributed to poor security, government corruption, and the poor organization of efforts on the ground. But the report argues that these obstacles must be faced for reconstruction to succeed. “The magnitude of the shortfall underscores the importance of donors increasing efforts to mitigate or adapt to such problems,” it said.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian journalist forced into hiding

Abdul-Jalil Al-Sharnouby, a member of the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists (EJS), and editor in chief of the official Muslim Brotherhood website, has been forced to go into hiding after his house was raided twice by security forces, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a press release Tuesday.

Through EJS, Al-Sharnouby has asserted that security forces invaded his home twice this year and have confiscated books, paper work and other personal belongings. “It scared my wife and my young daughters,” he said of the raids.

The International Federation of Journalists condemned the Egyptian government’s tactics and has pledged to fully support EJS and its members as they struggle to maintain their right to free speech.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said that, “The targeting of media associated with any political group threatens attachment to democratic principles, particularly at election time.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian authorities shut down lifestyle magazines

Nine Iranian magazines have been closed down by the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Culture for publishing photos of “immoral and corrupt” Western celebrities and promoting “superstitions,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on March 19.

Thirteen others were warned against publishing similar stories and threatened with losing their licenses.

According to the article, all but one of the magazines closed down avoided political or social issues, focusing on lifestyle, celebrities, cinema and family issues.

But Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, spokesman for Iran’s Association for Press Freedom, said that although the publications do not cover politics, their closures were politically motivated.

“The government of [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad interferes with everything; it doesn’t have to be only politics,” Shamsolvaezin says. “The authorities want literary and cultural publications to follow the government’s line. These publication were closed down because they did not follow the Ministry of Culture’s policies.”

The closures are part of a wider crackdown on independent journalism in Iran.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian woman parliamentarian challenges orthodox Islam

Zeinab Radwan, the deputy speaker of Egyypt’s Parliament and a professor of Islamic studies, has argued against the mainstream interpretation of Sharia law by suggesting that a woman’s voice is equal to a man’s, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Sparking outrage amongst politicians, scholars, and religious leaders, Radwan continued her break from tradition by suggesting that non-Muslims should have increased civil rights; a cause that human-rights groups have long championed.

In the face of this opposition, Radwan insists her claims are based on sound, if different, juristic interpretations of the Islamic faith.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Syrian security forces kill three

On Thursday, three Kurds lay dead with four others wounded during an incident in Qameshli, Syria, reported BBC News on Friday.

The incident occurred during the celebration of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year. The victims were killed by Syrian security forces who, according to the article, claim “Kurds had burned tyres and thrown stones at the police during celebrations on Thursday.”

The article also reports, “The estimated one million Kurds living among Syria's overwhelming Arab population of about 20 million have longstanding grievances and are kept under tight control.”

For the full article, click here.

Spring festival interrupted by water cannons and teargas

On Saturday, over 100 Kurdish demonstrators and 10 Turkish policemen were injured during a raid on the Kurdish spring festival in Diyarbakir, Turkey reported Reuters on the same day.

Turkish police broke up the Newroz festival, the Kurdish New Year celebration, because demonstrators were “shouting slogans supporting the banned separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)” reported the article. The police claim that the celebrations were not authorized by the government and were organized by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which is prohibited in Turkey.

Across Turkey, participants in the Newroz celebrations were detained and arrested for their involvement as well. The article states “Turkish police firing water cannons, teargas and wielding batons clashed with demonstrators in the streets.”

High tensions exist between the Turkish government and the PKK, who represent the Kurdish ethnic minority in Turkey. Clashes occur regularly, particularly during Newroz.

For the full article, click here.

Chinese intellectuals denounce governmental actions against Tibet

Chinese intellectuals in Shanghai have circulated a petition speaking out against the government’s “one sided” propaganda campaign about Tibet, The New York Times reported Monday.

The petition blames the government of “fanning racial hatred” in China because it has blamed ethnic Tibetans and the Dalai Lama for the violence. The state-controlled media has been accusing international media of placing too much focus on the Tibetan crisis, which is why China has banned international journalists and most foreigners from Tibet, as well as from nearby areas where many Tibetans live.

The petitioners voice their support for the Dalai Lama in the document. “In order to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, the government must abide by the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of speech explicitly enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, thereby allowing the Tibetan people to fully express their grievances and hopes and permitting citizens of all nationalities to freely criticize and make suggestions regarding the government’s nationality policies.”

For the full article, click here.

Man sentenced five years for speaking out against Olympics

Yang Chunlin, after speaking out in favor of human rights over the Olympic Games, was sentenced to five years in jail, charged with inciting subversion, Reuters reported Monday.

Mr. Chunlin was jailed because he had posted his essays, which speak out against China’s parliament, its Communist Party, and Communism as a whole, on the Internet. Mr. Chunlin has declared that he is innocent because he was utilizing his freedom of speech and publication. His sister, Yang Chunping said her brother believes there is no point in appealing to the courts.

He had also worked with nearby villagers to issue a petition last year against the Olympics because of a land dispute. The petition stated, “We don’t want the Olympics, we want human rights.”

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, however, declared it impossible that Mr. Chunlin was arrested because of his essays. “Ask 10 people from the street to face public security officers and ask them to say ‘human rights are more important than the Olympics’ 10 times or even 100 times, and I will see which security officer would put him in jail.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Lone advocate struggles to aid abused women in UAE

For 18 years, Ms. Sharla Musabih has fought an uphill battle to protect victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Dubai, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Musabih operates a shelter, City of Hope, for abused women and their children. In addition to offering shelter, legal advice, and public advocacy, Musabih helps victims of human trafficking return home. She claims to have helped repatriate 400 victims in the past six months alone.

Her accomplishments have come at a price, though. Accusations of “selling babies” and abuse have recently been leveled at Musabih in local newspapers in order to discredit her, she claims, while prominent clerics are beginning to decry her aggressive tactics for instigating “wives against their husbands.”

“I never thought it would go this far,” Musabih said. “These people think I’m an enemy of the state and that I need to be controlled.”

According to Musabih, these most recent attacks are simply the latest in a long-running campaign of threats and defamation that stemmed once just from angry husbands, but now from clerics and government officials as well.

The heated and growing debate over women’s rights in Dubai is a manifestation of the unavoidable friction between the conservative Muslim sentiments of the city’s indigenous Arab minority and the diverse views of its foreign majority.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt’s ‘restricted democracy’

Egypt’s heavy-handed approach to curbing dissent and blocking political opposition leads Salama A. Salama, in the latest edition of Al-Ahram Weekly, to suggest that the existence of democracy in Egypt is merely a façade.

Salama laments the corruption and inefficiency that plagues Egypt’s government, which seems more intent on continuing the “illusion of pluralism” than taking concrete steps to solve the myriad problems affecting its citizens. In addition to accusing Cairo of manipulating elections “beyond recognition,” Salama criticizes the government of President Hosni Mubarak for insulting the Egyptian people, whom the authorities apparently deem not yet ready for true democratic freedom.

He asserts: “And there is no denying that the absence of democracy and good governance is wreaking havoc on the entire nation.”

For the full column, click here.

Afghan leaders struggle to combat opium production

A recent meeting of Uruzgan Province’s poppy eradication council illustrates the difficulties local leaders face in trying to curb opium production in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported on March 21.

Gathered around a small, wood-burning stove in the governor’s compound, the men expressed their frustration with the situation.

“No one wants to stop because the government has done nothing for us, said Mohammad Mawlawi, a local mullah. “They say, ‘We have no choice, we have to make a living to support our families.’ He wonders how to convince the farmers otherwise.

In the last six years, the international community has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for Afghan poppy eradication and a new state-of-the-art prison for drug traffickers. There is little to show for those efforts, however. Afghanistan produced 90 percent of the world’s opium in 2007, and the handful of traffickers in the new prison escaped through the under-guarded front door. These failings have forced authorities to reexamine tactics at the local level. But local leaders and coalition commanders are hesitant to lead the eradication charge against the insidious crop. Many small farmers depend on their meager yields to survive, and the destruction of their crops threatens to send them into the arms of Taliban. Many leaders and mullahs believe that increased education and the provision of alternative crops is the best means of ending the poppy’s popularity.

“If you support eradication one day, you can’t tell the people the next day we’re here for you,” said Lt. Col Tjerk Hogeveen, commander of the Dutch combat troops in Uruzgan. “They won’t believe you’re here to help them if you’re destroying their only source of income. If we want to win them over, supporting eradication without alternatives is the wrong symbol.”

For the full article, click here.