Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thousands of Afghan children working in brick factories

More than 2,200 children are working long hours in Nangarhar Province brick-making factories to pay off family debts, according to the Afghan Child Action Protection Network, the U.N.’s IRIN news agency reported Tuesday.

Some 90 percent of the 2,298 children are deprived of their education due to their long work hours. Almost all of the families employed by the factories owe their employers and other brick merchants large amounts of money, which, the article says, keeps them “trapped in a cycle of unending dept due to high interests rates imposed by the lenders.”

“Some families are in debt for many years,” said Hayat Khan, director of Nangarhar’s department of labor and social affairs, adding that this forces them to work as “slaves” in factories.

For the full article, click here.

Spreading war displacing higher numbers of Afghans

Violence is spreading across Afghanistan and has forced thousands of people to flee their homes this year, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday, citing the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC says that at least 13,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes since January 2008.

“There is growing insecurity and a clear intensification of the armed conflict, which is no longer limited to the south but has spread to the east and west,” said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger.

For the full article, click here.

China rejects U.N. official’s appeal for Tibet visit

China has rebuked a request by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Lousie Arbour to travel to Tibet this month to investigate the fallout of anti-Chinese protests, Reuters reported Thursday.

“Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor and Canadian Supreme Court judge, had sought to go to Tibet around mid-April to evaluate the situation after a series of protests by Buddhist monk and rioting in Lhasa on March 14,” the article noted, citing her spokesman, Rupert Colville.

Colville said, “The Chinese authorities came back to her… and said it wouldn’t be convenient at this time.”

For the full article, click here.

White House criticizes Egypt for election interference

The United States has come down hard on Egypt for disqualifying candidates from local elections this week, and said it was pushing Cairo for political reforms, Reuters reported Thursday.

The election provided the ruling National Democratic Party with another sweeping victory. The NDP won up to 100 percent of the seats in some areas. But the results are already being viewed as unrepresentative. Turnout was very low; an NGO that monitored the elections said no more than one percent of registered voters took part. The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the elections.

“We have been troubled by the reports of harassment, detainment and arrests of opposition candidate and campaign workers in the lead-up to the elections,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “We believe that the Egyptian people deserve the opportunity to peacefully express their views by means of the ballot box.”

For the full article, click here.

American college students selling t-shirts to help Iraqi counterparts

Tamara Jafar, a junior at Harvard University, recently created an initiative that seeks to foster interest in the people of Iraq, and particularly Iraqi students.

Jafar, along with the help of Emory University graduate Sarah Couyoumjian, designed vintage-style Baghdad University t-shirts to be sold online at www.RallyforIraq.com. All proceeds go to a scholarship fund to help Iraqi students seeking higher education. This fund will help lower the costs of tuition and living expenses at institutions around the globe.

Rally for Iraq is applying for non-profit status to cater to private donations.

To read more about Rally for Iraq, click here.

Assyrian priest killed in Baghdad

Father Adel Youssef, an Assyrian Orthoodox priest, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad’s Karrada district last week, BBC News reported on April 5.

Fr. Youssef’s death comes in the wake of other attacks on Iraqi Christians. Last month, Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was abducted after serving mass. His body was found buried in a shallow grave two weeks later, having died from poor health during the incident.

Since the 2003 invasion, many Christians have Iraq for fear of the Islamic militants who target them. Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholics, said, “We are praying and asking God for security in Iraq,” adding, “What can we do? How many people have been killed? Christians, Muslims, Sabaens, people who have dedicated themselves to serving this country but they are killed.”

Cardinal Delly also said that the church is “ready to forgive the people who committed these crimes for the sake of the single family of Iraq.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Egyptians growing desperate amid bread shortages and rising world food prices

Roughly 500 activists and textiles workers were arrested, dozens more were injured, and one young boy was killed during clashes with police in Al-Mahalla Al-Kobra last Sunday in protests over rising bread prices, the U.N.’s IRIN news agency reported Thursday.

The protests have stemmed from the perception that the Egyptian government has not done enough to tackle acute shortages of the subsidized bread that many Egyptians depend on amid rising food prices. Long lines in front of bakeries have led to other outbreaks of violence in many of Cairo’s impoverished neighborhoods. Families are taking children out of school to stand in the bread lines, and according to security sources, 11 people have died in the lines from exhaustion, while two have been stabbed over disputes for places in the lines.

For the full article, click here.

Ten schools destroyed in past three weeks in Afghanistan

Armed attackers, believed to be associated with Taliban insurgents, have burned down ten schools in seven different Afghan provinces since the school year began on March 23, the U.N.’s IRIN news agency reported Thursday. Several additional attacks occurred in the same period, with one teacher in Khost Province reportedly killed.

Statistics from the Afghan Ministry of Education show that from March 2006 to February 2008, 235 schoolchildren, students, teachers and other education workers were killed, and 222 wounded. There were 2,450 “terrorist” attacks on schools during this period.

While Afghanistan’s record six million students this year is an indicator of improvement, the inability to provide safety for school staff and pupils has become a growing concern.

For the full article, click here.

Women in South Asia vulnerable to acid attacks

There have been an increasing number of acid attacks against women in South Asia, especially in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, BBC News reported Wednesday. The attacks are usually committed by males against poor women who had rejected them. According to the article, the intended message is “if you can’t be mine, you won’t be any one else’s either.”

The acid attacks can be lethal, leaving some blind, and all permanently scarred. This leaves victims very vulnerable, as it is difficult to live in a society where looks are so important, especially for women.

One victimized schoolteacher had to quit because her disfigurement was terrifying her schoolchildren. Some employers even refuse to hire acid victims. However, the required surgeries and skin grafts are too expensive for most women to afford.

Although regularly published in newspapers, acid attacks on women are still a relatively new issue for government institutions and NGOs. In the court, women are blamed for not accepting the man’s offer, and the offenders are let off with a lighter sentence. These women have done no wrong, but yet they continue to bear their scars and to be shunned by society.

For the full article, click here.

International NGOs denounce Egypt’s HIV-based arrests and trials

As five more men faced trial in Cairo on Wednesday, 117 organizations worldwide – led by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – signed a letter to the Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate condemning the Egyptian government’s HIV-based arrests and trials, and the forced tests administered to the suspects preceding the trials, which have been recognized as torture by the international human rights community, Human Rights Watch reported Monday.

The letter’s signatories span 41 countries on six different continents that work on health and human rights-related issues.

The letter is in response to the widening dragnet that has targeted men who practice, or are suspected of practicing homosexuality, or have contracted HIV or AIDS. A dozen men have been arrested in Cairo since October 2007, with signs that the number of arrests may increase.

For the full article, click here.
To read the letter sent to the Health Ministry and Doctors’ Syndicate, click here.

Bloggers ‘far freer’ than other news media in Iran

A study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School has found that “despite periodic persecution,” many Iranians are able to use blogs to express “viewpoints challenging the ruling ideology of the Islamic Republic,” The New York Times reported Sunday.

Researchers used computer software to analyze more than 6,000 blogs in order to get a general sense of the issues being discussed, and read more than 500 postings.

According to the article, Iran’s blogs mirror “the erratic, fickle and often startling qualities of life in the Islamic republic itself. The rules of what is permissible fluctuate with maddening imprecision, so people test the limits.”

The government filters out numerous blogs that criticize the government, religion or cultural practices, yet many seemingly critical blogs still exist. The study found that less than a quarter of those pushing for change were blocked.

The study has produced a map to illustrate the different attitudes and interests of the blogs. Resembling the night sky, each dot represents one blog, and the groupings and colors illustrate the quantity and topics covered.

For the full article, click here.

To view the map produced by the study, click here.

Viet Nam expels three foreign activists on ‘humanitarian visit’

Three political activists, all foreign citizens, have been expelled from Viet Nam, Intellasia reported Wednesday. According to the article, the Vietnamese newspaper Saigon Giai Phong said that the three were arrested on suspicion of “researching targets for terrorism.”

They had been trying to visit Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese-American who has been jailed in Ho Chi Minh City since November for political activism and allegedly traveling with a false passport.

All three are ethnic Vietnamese and belong to the Viet Tan Party, a pro-democracy group based abroad. The organization said that the three activists had been attempting to deliver gifts of food and medicine to Quan as part of a “humanitarian visit” and had done nothing illegal.

Quan was among a group of six activists arrested on November 17 while holding a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City. A French citizen and another American were released in December.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian human rights activist accused of spreading propaganda

Human rights activist Parvan Ardalan, who won Sweden’s Olof Palme Prize in February, has been summoned to court at least three times on a variety of charges in the last two months, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday. During the latest interrogation, on April 5, she was charged with spreading propaganda against the government.

She was awarded the Olof Palme Prize for her contributions to numerous women’s publications – most of which have been closed down – and for her part in founding the Change For Equality campaign, a movement aiming to collect one million signatures in support of greater women’s right in Iran. Iranian authorities prevented her from traveling to Sweden to collect the award, confiscating her passport a few minutes before the plane was due to depart.

At least forty activists associated with the campaign have been arrested since it began in August 2006. Most have been charged with acting against the state.

“I was asked about my activities on the ‘Change for Equality’ and ‘Zanestan’ websites,” Ardalan said after her visit to the security branch of a Tehran court. “They asked about the content of some of my articles and, as a member of the editorial teams of both websites, I defended that content. I was charged with propaganda against the state, but I reject the charge.”

For the full article, click here.

Reformist cleric jailed in Iran

A prominent reformist cleric has been convicted of endangering national security, insulting authorities, spreading lies and insulting Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Hadi Ghabel has been sentenced to forty months in jail and ordered to be defrocked. He went to the Clerical Court on Monday for a meeting with the prosecutor and, when he didn’t return, his family was informed that he had been imprisoned. This was despite the intervention of several conservative clerics who attempted to prevent the sentence from being carried out.

According to the article, Ghabel is an ally of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and a prominent member of Iran’s largest reform party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

“Ghabel was taken to jail because he continued to work for democratic reforms and opposed hard-line interpretations of Islamic rule,” his brother Ahmed Ghabel said. “Ghabel’s close links with top clerics in Qom was annoying hard-liners. He was seen as a threat to their hard-line agenda in Qom.”

He added, “To hard-line authorities, my brother must not wear clerical robe anymore. But such tactics don’t work. Defrocking my brother won’t stop him from pursuing reforms.

For the full article, click here.

Expelled female legislator seeks reinstatement in Afghan parliament

Expelled from the Afghan parliament in May 2007 for insulting fellow legislators, Malalai Joya has told reporters that she is ready to take her expulsion to court and be reinstated to her elected position, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

Joya claims that the delay in her appeal was the result of security issues and the struggle to find a lawyer she could afford for what will be an uphill battle. But now that her counsel has been secured, she says she is ready to take her case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

It was in a television interview given in 2007 that Joya compared her fellow legislators to animals, and accused them of punishable war crimes. Before their appointment to the legislative body, many of the members of parliament were warlords with histories of violent acts during the last several turbulent decades. Joya’s comments came in the wake of a March 2007 bill that had given the warlords immunity from war crime accusations.

To date, she has not apologized for her remarks, and is now more outspoken then ever.

“Instead of getting influential positions in the government and dominating parliament, the former warlords should be tried and punished for their actions,” Joya has said.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Iraqi widows continue to suffer poverty and loneliness

With the unremitting violence in Iraq, the number of widows continues to escalate, The Associated Press reported Sunday. A January 2007 survey has put the widow population at 738,240 women between the ages of 15 and 80.

The article gives several accounts of women who have become widowed due to violence. After the death of their husbands, most women are forced to move in with family members because they cannot afford to live independently.

Samira al-Moussawi, and Iraqi lawmaker, proposed legislation that would have set aside $1 million to educate widows and increase their meager pensions. The legislation was rejected.

Under Saddam Hussein, war widows were granted larger pensions, as well as plots of land.

“Back then, widows were taken care of better than they are now,” said Jalilia Hassan, whose husband was killed in the Iran-Iraq war. “We were not left in destitution.”

Another widow, Badriyah Hamid adds, “My husband was everything in my life. Without him, life is extremely difficult because no one can help us and no one can fill the gap he left. But besides the financial burdens on my shoulders, I have to care about the morality of my children and protect them from the evils of society.”

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian workers take to the streets as inflation continues

With the inflation in food prices, demonstrations and the specter of strikes have engulfed Egypt, with workers demanding more money and support, The New York Times reported Monday.

The call to strike was made via cell phones and e-mails as workers took to the streets as a sign of discontent with the current economic situation.

“Riot police officers massed in the central Tahrir Square and stood in formation outside the lawyers’, doctors’ and journalists’ syndicates,” the article says. “At the lawyers’ syndicate, a few hundred protestors stood on the roof and on a balcony chanting ‘Down, down, Hosni Mubarak.’”

In response to the outcry, the government warned workers that it would “take necessary and resolute measures toward any attempt to demonstrate, impede traffic, hamper work in public facilities or to incite any of this.”

According to the article, the workers’ major grievances are “rising prices, depressed salaries and what opposition leaders here said is an unprecedented gap between rich and the poor.”

For the full article, click here.

Indian soap operas to be banned on Afghan TV

The Afghan government has told the country’s private television stations to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday, citing the BBC.

The decision game from the Culture and Information Ministry after lawmakers met with clerics to discuss the growing number of imported television programs, which more religiously conservative clerics have deemed “immoral,” despite their popularity.

For the full article, click here.