Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wave of honor killings, suicides, leaves 14 Kurdish women dead

Iraqi Kurdistan has witnessed a spike in violence against women over the past week and a half, with 14 women left dead and 17 wounded in different parts of the region, KurdishMedia.com reported Thursday.

Half of the deaths have been deemed suicides – some by self-immolation – and six appear to be “honor killings,” with the women killed at the hands of their own relatives for sexual experiences out of wedlock and so-called social problems.

The article notes that in Sulaimaniyah governorate so far this year, “50 women have lost their lives by fire; 3 women have been shot dead; and, 8 women have been suffocated.”

For the full article, click here.

Newroz crackdowns in Syria highlight discrimination against Kurds

In a recent piece for Omedia, Nir Boms and Elliot Chodoff use the case of a Syrian journalist shot in the head as security forces cracked down on Kurdish New Year, or Newroz, celebrations in late March to illustrate the plight of the Kurds in the region.

Boms and Chodoff note that Syrian security forces used “water hoses and tear gas to disperse Kurdish celebrators” during Newroz. Underlying all of this, the article says, is the state’s persecution of the Kurds. Boms and Chodoff cite the findings of the most recent U.S. State Department human rights report, saying that, in Syria, “Kurds are restricted in speaking and teaching the Kurdish language, and security services subjected Kurdish citizens to mass arrests throughout the year.” The article also notes that some 300,000 of Syria’s 1.5 million Kurds “are considered stateless foreigners and are denied Syrian nationality along with the right to vote, own property, go to state schools, or attain government jobs.”

For the article, click here.

500 juveniles still detained as enemy combatants in Iraq

Since 2002, the United States has detained some 2,500 people younger than 18 as illegal enemy combatants in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq; 500 of these individuals remain detained in Iraq, according to a report filed by the Bush administration and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the report documents the fate of the hundreds of Iraqi juveniles captured while “engaging in anti-coalition activity.”

It also says that 2,400 of the 2,500 juveniles were captured in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

The ACLU denounced the “lack of safeguards” for youths detained as enemy combatants by the U.S. military, and said there is “no comprehensive policy in place” for handling juveniles.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

U.N. official says foreign agents involved in secret raids that have killed Afghan civilians

United Nations human rights envoy Philip Alston claimed Thursday that foreign intelligence agents have been responsible for some Afghan civilian deaths, The Associated Press reported the same day.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” Alston told reporters.

Alston, a special rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, recently returned from 12 days in Afghanistan. He said that over 500 civilians have died this year at the hands of various assailants including Taliban militants, Afghan and foreign security forces and Afghan militiamen.

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi MP says government has ‘no clear policy’ to deal with refugee crisis

Worries that the Iraqi refugee crisis will grow into an even greater regional and international burden were exacerbated Monday, when a member of the country’s parliament admitted that the government has no clear policy to tackle the situation, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Tuesday.

“The government’s obvious inability to solve the problem of IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees could lead to serious regional and international problems, as there is no clear and comprehensive policy to get them back to their homes,” said MP Abdul-Khaliq Zankana, head of parliament’s Displacement and Migration Committee.

Iraq’s IDP and refugee problem is the result of 25 years worth of conflict – the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, the Gulf War of 1991, and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq – as well as some of the policies of Saddam Hussein. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 4.2 million Iraqis fled their homes during the past quarter century, although most have left since 2003. Nearly half of the displaced have taken refuge in neighboring countries like Syria, and Jordan, while 2.7 million are IDPs.

For the full article, click here.

Media restrictions highlight larger culture war looming in Afghanistan

The ongoing controversy over the broadcasting of two Indian-made drama series is proving to be a key test for Afghanistan’s democratization process, EurasiaNet.org reported Monday.

Prominent religious conservatives have become bitterly outspoken against the dramas, contending that they are “un-Islamic” and offensive to Afghan culture. Yet these arguments seem to run contrary to the opinions of everyday Afghans. According to the article, 90 percent of all televisions are tuned into the two programs when they air. However, in spite of their popularity, the individuals opposed to the programs succeeded in getting the Afghanistan Ministry of Culture to call on the Moby Media Group to cut them.

Ignoring the ban and labeling it illegal, Moby media, which controls the broadcasting of the two series, is looking to frame the debate in terms of democratic freedoms versus religious extremism.

“What we are seeing is the re-Talibanization [of Afghanistan]… by stealth,” said Saad Mohseni, whose family controls Moby.

Believing that “a small group of individuals has hijacked the system,” Saad and his brother Jahid have been touring the United States hoping to garner attention to a fight they see as critical to the future of Afghanistan.

The Mohseni brothers are not alone in their concern over the issue. Karin Karlekar, a senior media analyst with Freedom House, agrees with the Mohsenis’ view of the dispute. “The ban is part of a larger attempt to undermine freedom of expression,” Karlekar said, adding, “Commentators have pointed out that some factions of the government may be trying to deal with the Taliban, and are catering to more conservative trends. I would definitely not rule out linking this to elections.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pro-democracy activists charged with terrorism in Viet Nam

Three pro-democracy activists – one American, one Thai and one Vietnamese citizen – who have been detained in Viet Nam since November 2007 have been charged with terrorism, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The American, Nguyen Quoc Quan, was sentenced to six months in jail, but he will be deported at the end of the week as he has already served his time, U.S. embassy officials said.

Nguyen was arrested along with several other activists and members of the Viet Tan (Viet Nam Reform Party) who were preparing to distribute leaflets opposed to one-party rule. Most have since been released.

The Vietnamese government describes the Viet Tan as a terrorist group, but the party says that it is working for peaceful democratic change.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese journalists arrested

Two journalists who reported on bribery, corruption and gambling among Vietnamese government officials have been arrested, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The arrested men were among the most prolific in reporting on a scandal which saw millions of dollars of official development money squandered on European soccer bets. The story rocked the ruling Communist Party in 2006, resulting in the resignation of the country’s transport minister.

According to the article, the journalists from Tuoi Tre (Youth) and Thanh Nien (Young People) were indicted on Monday for “abuse of power” by spreading “false information.”

A senior police officer, who was an apparent source for the reporters, was also indicted on Monday for “abuse of power,” an online newspaper quoted a police ministry spokesman as saying.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian government blocks opposition website

In a press release, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported Monday that the website of Kefaya, the prominent Egyptian opposition party, has been blocked by the government via its control of T-Data Company, the nation’s largest internet provider.

The website was first blocked from public access during the call for a nationwide strike on May 4. Its continued obstruction is prompting activists to fear that the government has begun to fall in line with the tactics of the world’s worst dictatorships.

In its press release, ANHRI noted with some irony that the site blockage coincides with Egypt’s hosting of the largest telecommunication conference in Africa.

For the full press release, click here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hundreds of Tibetan women arrested in Nepal protests

Several Buddhist nuns were among the 560 Tibetan women arrested by Nepalese police at demonstrations against China’s crackdown in Tibet, BBC News reported on May 11.

The three rallies in Kathmandu, which are the first examples of all-women protests against the crackdown, were quickly broken up by police. The arrests constituted the biggest round-up since Tibetan exiles began near daily demonstrations in March.

Nepal is home to more than 20,000 Tibetans. Authorities say they cannot allow the demonstrations because they recognize Tibet as an integral part of China.

For the full article, and to view video footage of the protests, click here.

‘Landmark ruling’ grants Malaysian woman right to leave Islam

A Sharia court in Penang, Malaysia, has ruled that a Muslim convert is free to leave the Islamic faith, BBC News reported on May 8. The woman, Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah, has been given permission to return to Buddhism after the collapse of her marriage to a Muslim man.

Malaysians, and Muslims in many countries around the world, are rarely allowed to renounce Islam. Some Malaysian states even allow the death penalty for apostasy, along with Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran.

According to the article, the judge in Siti’s case “used a very liberal interpretation of the law because in many countries converts are treated just like those who are born into Islam - and are prohibited from changing their faith.”

For the full article, click here.

Taliban orders Afghans to stop watching television

Masked men storming into mosques in Afghanistan’s Logar Province over the weekend ordered residents to stop watching television, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Claiming that networks were showing “un-Islamic” programs that promoted “anti-Afghan culture,” the armed militants threatened residents against watching television.

While in power, the Taliban government had banned television, music, and cinema, but since its downfall, dozens of private TV networks and radio stations have been launched throughout the country.

For the full article, click here.

More Afghan provinces poppy-free, but overall production unaffected

According to the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN), four new Afghan provinces have been declared poppy-free, bringing the total number from 16 provinces in 2007 to 20 provinces as of May 2008, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Monday.

Despite the advances against poppy cultivation, the illicit industry remains strong; the south and southwest provinces that produce the most opium account for 78 percent of the country’s total output.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned in a report earlier this year that Afghanistan’s production levels in 2008 would be similar to last year’s record harvest.

Over 60 counternarcotics officers have been killed by armed farmers or gunmen in the last two months alone, the MCN said.

For the full article, click here.

European Union urges dialogue between Armenian authorities and opposition

The EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, met with Armenia’s former President, Levon Ter-Petrossian, and Parliamentary Speaker Tigran Torosian, on May 7 to discuss mistreatment of opposition supporters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

The last few months have seen clashes between police and Ter-Petrossian supporters in which ten people died, as well as the detention of several supporters of the former President.

Semneby told Torosian that the EU considers it imperative that the Armenian authorities release the detainees and launch an investigation of the clashes in order to facilitate dialogue with the opposition.

For the full article, click here.

Rappers highlight Iranian feminist movement

A rap group based in Germany is drawing attention to the plight of women in Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Sunday. Their latest song, “Ma Mard Nistim” (We Are Not Men), is a critique of Iran’s traditional male-dominated society and the harsh conditions many Iranian women face.

The group, Tapesh 2012 (Pulse 2012), has been banned in Iran, but is gaining a considerable following from its base in Germany. “We Are Not Men” has already had over 38,000 hits on YouTube since it was posted a little over a week ago.

According to the band’s founder, Omid Pur-Yusofi, patriarchy is deeply ingrained in Iranian culture. “My parents are educated, but I can feel patriarchy in my family,” he said. “After all these years [living in Germany] there is still a sense of patriarchy in my father’s heart. It’s been a problem for my mother even after more than 50 years of living with him.”

The group’s lyricist, Shahin Najafi, says he expects some negative reaction from Iranian men about the song.

For the full article, click here.

Effects of Viet Nam War still being felt by Hmong

Laos’s ethnic minority Hmong are still feeling the bitter legacy of their decision to fight alongside the Americans during the Viet Nam War. In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Tim Weiner describes their struggle.

Thousands are living in Thai refugee camps and hundreds are still on the run in the jungles. They claim that they are being slaughtered by Lao military units who hunt them with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, exacting vengeance for their role in the wars of the 1960s and ’70s.

This ongoing conflict has caught up with a high profile former general, Vang Pao, who played a significant role in organizing and leading the Hmong in their efforts. He now lives in California and the U.S. government has recently indicted him as a terrorist, accusing him of plotting to overthrow the Communist government of Laos.

As a result, the Lao government has increased pressure on Thailand to forcibly repatriate Hmong refugees who could provide them with information on the few remaining within the country. According to Lionel Rosenblatt of Refugees International, the likelihood that they will be questioned harshly – or worse – is very real. The Viet Nam War, for the Hmong, is far from over.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Egyptian human rights groups critical of EU report on Egypt

A coalition of Egyptian human rights organizations have objected to a recent European Union report on Egypt that they say ignored major abuses, Almasry Alyoum reported Monday.

The groups cited rights violations in, among other areas, elections, combating terrorism, and torture.

The coalition, which includes groups such as the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, also said the report lacked any diagnosis of the human rights problems in Egypt.

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan hit hard by mounting food crisis

The global food crisis has continued to slam Afghanistan hard, with rising prices pushing more Afghans into poverty, the Toronto Star reported on May 9.

Despite a good grain harvest last year, the nation’s wheat prices have skyrocketed in 2008 by as much 300 percent. This, on the heels of a 60 percent jump in 2007.

With a poor harvest expected this year and fewer countries exporting grains, the situation may deteriorate further.

“I have eight children to feed,” said Gulam Farouk, a 45-year-old civil servant who earns 3,000 Afghanis (about $63) a month, when he’s paid. “How can I keep them from going hungry?”

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian online activist, strike organizer beaten by police

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 27-year-old online activist Ahmed Maher Ibrahim was arrested, stripped, beaten, and threatened with rape by police after using Facebook to call for a nation-wide strike in Egypt, Agence France- Presse reported Sunday.

Ibrahim was arrested on May 7 after using the social networking site to promote the planned May 4 strike. In custody he was “blindfolded… taken to a police station where they striped him naked and beat him intermittently for 12 hours,” HRW said. Ibrahim was released on May 8 with a warning that another detention would bring harsher treatment.

Egyptian officials deny the incident ever took place.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. closes Afghan refugee camp

Citing security concerns, the United Nations temporarily closed its large repatriation center in eastern Afghanistan, BBC News reported Monday.

The closure of the center, which has seen over 60,000 refugees from Pakistan pass through it this year, comes as aid agencies say it is increasingly difficult to operate in parts of the country. The U.N. made the decision after protests closed the main road from Kabul to the Pakistan border.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt opens Gaza border for sick and wounded

The Egyptian government opened the Rafah border crossing Saturday to allow hundreds of Palestinians to leave Gaza for much-needed medical treatment, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

Five-hundred fifty patients, including 200 wounded in Israeli military operations and 70 children under the age of 16, were set to be transported across the border by Palestinian ambulances, and in some instances trucks.

The brief border opening comes as a great respite for many Palestinians. Since Hamas seized control of Gaza nearly a year ago, Israel has let very little humanitarian aid make it inside the beleaguered area, preventing many ill Palestinians from receiving any treatment.

“We hope Rafah will stay open like before. The health situation in Gaza is very serious. There is no medicine, nothing,” said Mufid Habush, a man waiting at the crossing with his five-year-old daughter, who is due to have an operation in Egypt.

For the full article, click here.