Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 18, 2008

Red Cross criticizes U.S. military prison in Afghanistan

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), gave a vocal and pointed criticism of the United States military’s handling of detainees in the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Kellenberger urged the U.S. to reform its policies. He said that many of 600 or more detainees at the base did not even know why they were being held. Kellenberger had just completed a one-week visit to Afghanistan, during which he spent a day at the highly secretive prison.

Red Cross chief spokesman Florian Westphal commented on Kellenberger’s remarks within a wider context. "We’ve talked about the absence of a clear legal framework and of sufficient procedural safeguards with regard to Guantanamo, in particular, as we have done for Bagram."

For the full article, click here.

Pakistan closes Afghan refugee camp, displacing thousands

The Pakistani government has begun to destroy the homes and buildings of the Afghan refugee camp in Jalozai, Pakistan, beginning a process that will displace thousands, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Established by refugees fleeing the violence of the Soviet invasion nearly three decades ago, the Jalozai camp has housed a generation of Afghans who have never even set foot in their country; according to the article, very few have any desire to return.

Pakistan has been seeking to destroy the camp and others like it for some time. The government viewed Jalozai as a great financial burden and a breeding ground for terrorists. United Nations officials and Afghan leaders managed to help postpone its closure until after the harsh winter months.

As Jalozai closes, the Pakistani government begins the destruction of the some 80 other refugee camps that are left in the country. The closures will affect an estimated 2 million refugees.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi Christians heavily targeted by extremists and insurgents

The Iraqi Christian community says it is being specifically targeted – with unparalleled intensity – by insurgents, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

In this year-to-date, 10 churches have been bombed, two leading clergymen have been murdered, and numerous worshippers have been targeted and accosted.

Some Iraqi Christians claim the attacks against them constitute a campaign of genocide.

The Christian community numbered around one-million before the 2003 invasion. Now, after five years of violent civil unrest, the community has fallen to between 500,000 and 700,000 people.

While the violence has affected all Iraqis, the Christian community is particularly vulnerable because, unlike other groups, it has no militia or tribes for protection. According to the article, Christians have had to rely on coalition and Iraqi forces instead, but they maintain that the forces have let them down.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A brutal year for Pakistani women

A report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) states that there were over 4,000 cases of violence against women in the country last year, BBC News reported on Tuesday.

HRCP recorded 4,276 cases of women’s rights abuses in 2007, which HRCP Secretary Iqbal Haider described as “a brutal year for women.” Still, the figures may be a “gross understatement,” as the group says was the case in the 2006 report. According to HRCP, “many cases go unreported or are hushed up.” The new report says that in 2007, 636 women were honor killing victims, 731 were raped and 736 kidnapped. In northwestern Pakistan, Taliban militants have been continuing to bomb girls’ schools – therefore “badly affect[ing] the attendance and enrolment of girls in schools,” the report adds.

HRCP also documented 71 suicide attacks, which left up to 927 people dead.

For the full article, click here.

Looking to archaeology as a tool for peace

For the past five years, archaeologists Ran Boytner and Lynn Swartz Dodd have been working on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would decide the future of the region’s archaeological treasures if a state of Palestine is ever created, Canada Free Press reported Monday.

Boytner, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Dodd, of the University of Southern California, believe that archaeology would bring Israelis and Palestinians together to protect the land’s heritage. “We’re talking about putting your precious archaeological heritage – things you believe your ancestors created – in the hands of what you now consider to be your enemy,” Dodd said. “We’re asking enemies to become partners.”

Archaeology can also play an important role in peace agreements. “According to international law, if there is a future Palestinian state, the Israelis will have to return archaeological artifacts to the Palestinian state” Boytner said. “That, for the [Israeli] right wing, would be a major rallying point to oppose the peace process. Therefore, archaeology could be a deal-breaker in future peace negotiations. But if we can deal with archeology, we can help create a stable peace process that will be respected by both sides for years to come.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Afghan stations broadcasting Indian soaps in spite of ban

Several private Afghan television stations have ignored the government’s recent ban on Indian soap operas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.

The ban was imposed on April 14 in response to scenes in a number of popular Indian programs of men and women dancing together and other “immoral” images. But, according to the article, “some private television stations have ignored the ban and continued to show the popular programs.” The government has been adamant that deviants will be punished, with President Hamid Karzai insisting, “These television programs, which contradict the daily life of Afghans and which our people do not accept, must be stopped.”

Tolo TV, the most popular station, said the ban is illegal. “It is unlawful declaration; we broadcast our programs based on media law, and well never stop airing these Indian serials,” Tolo’s Massod Qiam said.

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan hands down 100 death sentences

One-hundred death sentences issued by provincial courts have been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.

According to the article, “Fifteen death sentences have already been carried out in the last few months.”

The sentencing has alarmed rights advocates. “The court proceedings are carried out behind closed doors, without the presence of a defense attorney, and often without the presentation of any proof on the part of the public prosecutor,” said Wadir Safi, a jurist and law professor at the University of Kabul.

For the full article, click here.

‘Warlordism’ undermining democratic rule in Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Afghanistan broadcaster Jan Alekozai spent the past month in Kabul speaking with local students, officials, and tribesmen who expressed concern that corruption and lack of security was weakening the central government, while empowering regional warlords. RFE/RL spoke with Alekozai about his findings on Sunday.

“I participated, for example in a meeting [in Jalalabad]… When the meeting was over, hundreds of people approached me – students from high school and from university. They were asking, “Do the Westerners and the Americans know our problems – that aid money is coming from the Westerners but it goes into the pockets of [corrupt] people in the government offices,” Alekozai said.

He added, “People think now that [troops from] 37 countries or more are there in Afghanistan the security should be much, much better. They should terminate the warlordism and the private militias. [Instead], those people have connections with the government officials and they still have protection from the government. And that brings insecurity.”

For the full article, click here.

Taliban increasingly targeting NGOs, aid workers

A report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) says that the Taliban and other anti-government forces have drastically stepped up attacks against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and aid workers during the first quarter of 2008, the U.N.’s IRIN news agency reported Tuesday.

“Our data demonstrates a serious escalation in fatalities with nearly as many killed in the first three months of 2008 as were killed in all of 2007,” said Nic Lee, the ANSO director in Kabul. He added that cases of abductions had also seen a marked increase.

Twenty-nine separate attacks were recorded between January 1 and the end of March. Eleven aid workers have been murdered, and nine more seriously wounded. Twelve people have been kidnapped in seven different instances, resulting in two of the 11 fatalities. It is believed that Taliban fighters had a hand in 16 of the 29 attacks, with the remaining 13 attributed to criminals seeking financial gain.

For the full article, click here.

U.S. seeks consulate in Tibet

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on April 9 that the United States wants to open a consulate in Tibet to secure full access to developments in the Chinese province, The Washington Times reported the next day.

Rice’s statement constituted an implicit recognition of global criticism of China’s crackdown in Tibet. According to the article, “It was not clear if Washington has discussed the issue with Beijing, but the secretary said she is not satisfied with the Chinese suggestion to let one American official go to Tibet as a part of a group that had a government handler.

For the full article, click here.

25 Brotherhood members sentenced by Egyptian military court

An Egyptian military tribunal on Tuesday convicted 25 influential Muslim Brotherhood members and sentenced them to up to 10 years in jail, The Associated Press reported the same day.

The accusations against the members of Egypt’s largest opposition group included money laundering and terrorism, but it was not clear on Tuesday if all 25 were found guilty of both crimes. Fifteen other defendants were acquitted in the same case.

The verdict ended a yearlong trial that came amid a widespread government crackdown on the Brotherhood that has resulted in 800 detentions so far this year. The trial received much pointed criticism from international human rights groups for its closed door approach and military setting. The case was taken to a military court because the 1981 Egyptian Emergency Law allows the president to refer civilians to military tribunals. Opponents of the trail believed it should have been a civil trial instead.

Amnesty International deemed the sentencing “a perversion of justice,” and called for a civilian re-trial. “Today’s sentences leave little doubt that the Egyptian authorities are determined to undermine what has become the main opposition group in the country,” the group said in a statement.

For the full article, click here.

Report says Mahdi Army is largest 'unofficial' aid agency in Iraq

A new report by Refugees International says that radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army provide large amounts of aid to Iraqis, NBC News reported Wednesday.

“In the patchwork quilt of sectarian neighborhoods that make-up Baghdad, almost all aid is delivered through political and religious groups,” the article says, citing Kristele Younes, the co-author of the report.

These groups are providing everything from food to rent money. “They are really meeting all the needs that the government and the U.N. should be meeting at this stage,” Younes said.

However, this can pose a problem when aid comes from extremist groups peddling their ideology.

Government aid is lacking for a slew of reasons, with corruption a major issue.

For the full article, click here.

Displaced Sudanese making perilous trek from Egypt to Israel

Thousands of Sudanese refugees have fled the violence destroying their country to live in Egypt. But, the accomplishment of avoiding the violence is diminished when they are forced to then live in abject poverty on the outskirts of Egyptian society. This is why so many are willing to risk their lives to make the dangerous crossing into Israel, Voice of America News reported Monday.

VOA Middle East bureau correspondent Aya Batrawy spoke with one Darfurian man, Galoud, to understand what compels so many refugees to make the perilous and costly journey to Israel. He spoke of the initial relief felt by escaping the carnage of Darfur, followed by the despondency from lack of employment opportunities in Egypt, a nation already with a 20 percent unemployment rate.

The opportunities for Sudanese immigrants in Israel remain uncertain however; refugee status has only been given to some, while others are deemed “economic migrants” and sent back. Still, Galoud believes the journey across the desert and over the border will be worth it. Even the fact that ten immigrants have been shot and killed by Egyptian border guards this year does not deter him.

For the full article, click here.

Turkish military attacks PKK

Turkish warplanes shot at Kurdish PKK rebels on Tuesday, Reuters reported Wednesday. The rebels were attempting to cross the Iraq-Turkey border.

In the Zagros Mountains of the Avasin-Basyan region, PKK members were “neutralized” – generally meaning killed – by the Turkish military, the article states. According to Ankara, PKK rebels use the mountains as a base for attacks against Turkey.

A spokesman for the PKK said that although Turkish forces bombed the mountains for over an hour, there were no PKK causalities.

Tensions between the PKK and the Turkish military remain after Turkey’s eight-day
incursion into Iraq February. The PKK, deemed a terrorist organization by the United
States, Turkey, and the European Union, has typically been targeted by Turkey in
springtime attacks.

For the full article, click here.

Domestic worker tricked into Iraqi employment

Darmianti binti Jaba Saleh, an Indonesian domestic worker, was tricked by her employment agency into traveling to Iraq for work, BBC News reported Wednesday.

According to the article, Saleh was told by her agent she “was headed for Kurdistan - a safe place, he told her, on the border with Iraq.” However when Saleh arrived, she quickly realized that Kurdistan was not a separate country, but rather a semi-autonomous region within Iraq.

Once Saleh arrived in Erbil, she said she and the other workers “[were] very afraid, especially when we heard the booming sounds outside. We’d all be crying in our rooms.” According to Saleh, dozens of workers from Indonesia were tricked into working in Iraq by her agency.

When Saleh attempted to leave, her agency refused, saying she needed to pay them $2,500. Luckily, with the help of an international aid organization, Saleh escaped Iraq. She is now suing her agency for their deceitful actions. The article states that this “is the first time Indonesia has tried anyone on a charge of sending migrant workers to Iraq unwittingly.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Arrest of government critics ‘routine’ in Iran

Peaceful campaigners, independent journalists and anyone who is critical of the government is at risk of arrest under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday. The last month has seen several more names added to the list of those imprisoned for voicing dissent.

Just after the publication of this article, Agence France-Presse reported that Emadeddin Baghi – an award-winning journalist and rights activist – has been returned to jail after being treated in the hospital. According to his lawyer, Baghi’s cardiac and nervous condition, which has not been cured, is a result of his imprisonment.

Among the most recent arrests is that of Abbas Khorsandi, leader of the unregistered Democratic Party of Iran, who was sentenced last week to eight years in prison. He was found guilty of threatening state security by setting up “an illegal political group.”

“He got this sentence only for holding opposing views,” says Khorsandi’s wife, Forozandeh Seylespour. “He hasn’t done anything to justify getting such a sentence. He was only involved in writing. He has acted – iin a totally peaceful manner – as a writer and human rights activist. He has voiced his views only through the pen and in speeches.”

For the full article from RFE/RL, click here.

For the full article from AFP, click here.

Secret executions carried out in China, Mongolia and Viet Nam

At least 1,200 people were executed during 2007 and it is thought that many more were killed in secret by the state, according to new figures in a report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday. Countries executing people in secret include China, Mongolia and Viet Nam.

China, called “the world’s top executioner” by the human rights organization, classifies the death penalty as a state secret, meaning that only the Chinese authorities know exactly how many people have been killed with state authorization.

Eighty-eight percent of all known executions during 2007 took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States.

Yet 2007 also saw the United Nations General Assembly vote – by 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions – to call on all countries to end the use of the death penalty.

To read the report, click here.

U.S. says Iraq must take more responsibility for its refugees

A top U.S. State Department official spoke out against Iraq’s government on Wednesday, April 9th saying it needs to do more to help the country’s refugees, Reuters reported the same day.

Ambassador James Foley, the State Department’s senior coordinator for Iraqi refugee issues, also said that European nations should provide more help.

“The government of Iraq has increasing resources, which we believe need to go to meet Iraqi needs and responsibilities. That most certainly includes assistance to citizens who have had to flee the country and are living in neighboring countries,” said Foley.

In addition, he said that Arab nations also believe that Iraq needs to do more for its refugees. Since March 2003, over 2 million Iraqi refugees have entered other countries, where Foley said things are getting worse.

“There is an emerging trend of impoverishment [of Iraqi refugees] in the neighboring countries,” he said.

Foley said Washington has contributed more to the crisis than is typical in U.S. assistance efforts. However, many have been critical of the U.S. for being too slow in its acceptance of Iraqi refugees. September 30 will mark the last day for the U.S. to reach its stated goal of accepting 12,000 Iraqi refugees during the current fiscal year.

“It will be challenging,” Foley said of the goal.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Brotherhood attempts to block landmark conference on religious discrimination in Egypt

Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (EARD) held its first national conference last week to address growing levels of religious discrimination and sectarian violence, Watani News reported Sunday.

The two-day event aimed to define religious discrimination and develop solutions to combat it. Additionally, EARD sought to expose the actual scale and scope of the problem to both the Egyptian general public and those in power, while emphasizing the importance of unifying the Egyptian populace through consolidated work by the NGO community. It also called on NGOs and the government to quell discrimination in public domains such as sports.

The conference was jeopardized as the result of a last minute venue change. Originally to be held at the downtown premises of the Journalists Syndicate, the event was moved to the Tagammu party headquarters when club-wielding Muslim Brotherhood members representing the group’s Syndicate current barred attendees from entering the Syndicate building. They said they objected to the conference’s defense of the Baha’i faith, which they deem counter to Islam. The Brotherhood hung banners outside the building expressing these anti-Baha’i sentiments, as well as others denouncing Coptic Christians.

According to the Coptic Assembly of America (CAA), the head of the Syndicate was beaten up when he tried to speak with Brotherhood members.

For the full article, click here.
For CAA’s report, click here.

Wife of Azerbaijani activist arrested in Iran

Ms Rugeyye Lisani, wife of the prominent Azerbaijani activist Mr Abbas Lisani, was arrested at her home on April 12, the Azeri Press Agency reported the same day.

Iranian sources told the news agency that Iran’s secret police searched Ms Lisani’s house, seized her computer and arrested her, all without a warrant.

Mr Lisani is currently serving a prison term in Yazd, in central Iran, and his wife regularly speaks out about the physical violence he has been subjected to.

For the full article, click here.

Student activists detained in Iran

Four student activists have been detained and subjected to both physical and psychological abuse in Iran, Human Rights Watch reported on April 10.

According to the press release, Iranian authorities accuse the four students of taking part in “armed activities” and “forming groups against the state.” Three of the activists – Behrooz Karimizadeh, Peyman Piran and Ali Kantouri – have been imprisoned since December, and the fourth – Majid Pourmajid – since March.

The detainees are members of the organization Students Seeking Freedom and Equality, which states that it seeks to peacefully resist various forms of inequality and exploitation. More than 40 students affiliated with the group have been arrested since December 2007. All but the four mentioned above have since been released, with some alleging that they were tortured.

For the full article, click here.

Nobel peace laureate Ebadi receives death threats

Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has received death threats warning her to “watch your tongue,” Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

The lawyer and activist has devoted her career to promoting human rights, particularly the rights of women, in Iran.

She is no stranger to death threats, but claims that the threats against both her and her family have intensified recently.

“Mrs Shirin Ebadi, we told you to give up your un-Islamic and Baha’i-based faith but you have continued serving the foreigners and the Baha’is and even your daughter is involved. So we will kill her, you understand,” said one handwritten letter, signed “The Association of anti-Baha’is.”

For the full article, click here.

Migrants desperate to escape Myanmar

Thailand is implementing stronger border checks in an attempt to stop the flow of immigrants from Myanmar, Reuters reported Sunday.

Economic migrants are desperate to escape the repressive military government and crippled economy of Myanmar, and will go to extreme lengths to do so. Just last week, 54 people suffocated in a stiflingly hot container truck while crossing the border.

Those who make it take on mundane, dirty and dangerous work – jobs shunned by most Thais – in order to support their families. Those who are not registered face exploitation and sometimes deportation.

Yet the alternative – staying in Myanmar – is prompting more and more people to attempt the journey.

“As long as people are struggling to find a better life, we cannot stop them from entering Thailand,” said Kanchanapa Keemun, governor of the border town Ranong.

For the full article, click here.

Open letter calls for release of Iranian rights activist

An open letter calling for the release of women’s rights activist Khadijeh Moghaddam, and signed by hundreds of civil society activists, has been sent to newspapers and websites across Iran, BBC News reported on April 12.

Moghaddam was arrested at her home on April 8. She is a prominent member of the Change for Equality campaign, which aims to collect one million signatures in support of greater women’s rights in Iran.

More than 50 activists associated with the campaign have been arrested or threatened over the past 18 months.

For the full article, click here.

Detained journalists in Egypt released

Nine local photojournalists and one American freelance journalist, James Buck, were released from custody Friday, a day after they were arrested for documenting last week’s wage and bread riots, The Media Line reported Sunday.

Workers at a state-owned textile factory began the strike, demanding better wages. Soon the strike erupted into riots as police clashed with protestors. Twp people ultimately were killed and more than 100 wounded with 300 demonstrators arrested.

Last week’s detentions underscore the difficulties faced by the Egyptian media in documenting large, public demonstrations. In addition, even non-journalists were prevented from viewing or attending the demonstrations: 25 academics were detained for several hours and prevented from making the trip to Al-Mahalla Al-Kubra to show their solidarity with the workers.

“These events exposed the police-dominated and suppressive nature of the Mubarak regime,” said Gamal Fahmy, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Arabi. “They don’t want the pictures of what’s happening there to be shown. Often journalists face problems from parties that don’t want the truth to come to light.”

For the full article, click here.

CBS photographer rescued by Iraqi military

Richard Butler, a British journalist working for CBS, was freed by Iraqi military forces on Monday, Reuters reported the same day.

Butler and his interpreter were kidnapped by unknown militants in mid-February while in their Basra hotel. The interpreter was released in a matter of days, while Butler was held captive for over two months.

Butler, always forced to remain hooded while in the presence of his captors, was rescued on Monday when Iraqi military forces overtook his guards.

“The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards and then burst through the door,” he said.

After his rescue, Butler appeared to be in good health and is looking forward to reuniting with his family.

For the full article, click here.

Divorce in Iraq on the rise as violence continues

Once considered a taboo, divorce among Iraqi couples has doubled since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Iraqi couples cite many reasons for their stressed relationships. According to the article, “Waves of killing and displacement, not to mention sectarian pressures, have ripped families apart. And soaring unemployment is adding unbearable strain.”

Sayid Rafid Husseini, a cleric who is sought after for marriage certificates, has seen a large increase in couples seeking divorce. “I try to convince them not to do it,” Husseini says. Sharia law, which frowns upon divorce, encourages couples to work things out.

Anam Salman, works at the Baghdad civil affairs court, attempting to reunite families who are considering the path to divorce. According to the article, Salman “scolds and cajoles, teases and sympathizes with the tearful couples who come to her office.” If there is any sign of hope, she pushes the couple even harder to resolve their issues.

Many divorces are caused by sectarian issues, where one spouse is from a different sect than the other. Family pressure encourages the dissolution of the marriage for safety issues, as these couples are often the targets of violence.

For the full article, click here.

Afghans released from Guantanamo re-imprisoned upon return home

Upon their return to Afghanistan from Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, detainees often have their due process rights denied, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

In an effort to reduce the prison population at Guantanamo, 50 detainees have been returned to Afghanistan and put in custody of the Afghan government there since October 2006. At least 32 of the detainees transferred are being held in a high-security prison, many without being formally charged or tried.

“These people have been thrown in to a deeply flawed process that convicts people on inadequate evidence and breaks numerous procedural rules of Afghan law and human rights standards,” said Jonathan Horowitz, and investigator at One World Research, a public interest and human rights advocacy firm.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese gang members arrested for baby-smuggling

New arrests have been made in an effort to break up a baby-trafficking ring in Viet Nam that may have sold as many as 30 Vietnamese infants in China in six months, BBC News reported on April 9.

According to the article, “Police in Hanoi arrested four suspects in February while they were trying to take two babies out of the country.” Since then, authorities have detained three more baby-smugglers.

It is believed the smugglers troll the countryside for babies and poor pregnant women, whom they entice with offers of 7m dong ($440) to 20m dong, depending on the sex of the baby.

For the full article, click here.