Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 23, 2008

Jailed Kurdish activist suffers stroke in captivity

The Iranian Minorities’ Human Right Organization (IMHRO) issued a press release Tuesday documenting the deteriorating condition of Mohammad Sadigh Kabodwand, jailed founder and chairman of the Kurdish Human Rights Organization, and urged the international community to pressure the Iranian government to responsibly care for him while in custody.

“He was denied access to medical help before and was held in very bad conditions in solitary confinement as well as being subject to torture,” IMHRO researcher Reza Washahi said.

The IMHRO release also noted the death of two Kurdish men while in government detention. It is suspected that both were beaten to death by government authorities. IMHRO again asks the international community to condemn these vicious acts.

There are approximately six million Kurds in Iran. All are denied important social and political rights. It is believed that hundreds of Kurdish men are currently in prison, and many say the government deliberately diverts investment from Kurdish areas.

The situation appears to be growing worse. Displays of Kurdish culture are now no longer tolerated, with the government closing down Kurdish newspapers and magazines.

IMHRO asks those who care about human rights in Iran to write to the United Nations and the Iranian government condemning these xenophobic actions.

Rights activists demand respect for Azerbaijanis

In commemorating the May 2006 protests against discriminatory cartoons degrading Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP) once again calls on Iranian authorities to respect all citizens’ constitutional rights and to cease all persecution of Azerbaijani activists, ADAPP said in a press release Tuesday.

On May 16, 2006 the state newspaper Iran Daily published a cartoon portraying Azerbaijanis as cockroaches and providing 10 ways to exterminate them. The ensuing protests against such discrimination were met with oppressive force by the Iranian government, leaving 27 demonstrators dead and over 100 injured.

ADAPP urges the international community to mark the anniversary of the May 2006 protests and send a message to the Iranian government that the persistent persecution of non-Persian and non-Muslim Iranians must end.

For more information contact ADAPP’s Fakhteh Zamani at 1-604-677-2524 or Fakhteh.zamani@gmail.com.

CHRC Chairman condemns arrests of Bahá’í leaders

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC), addressed Congress Wednesday to urge the House to condemn the Iranian government’s arrest of seven leaders of the Bahá’í community, his office said in a press release Friday.

Wolf decried the treatment of the Bahá’í minority at the hands of the repressive Iranian government, and cited a history of persecution against the group that culminated in the execution of 17 Bahá’í leaders in 1980. Wolf challenged the international community an Congress to not let such an incident happen again.

For Congressman Wolf’s website, click here

Human rights activist assaulted in Armenia

Human Rights Watch on Thursday called for a more thorough investigation into the case of Mikael Danielian, a prominent Armenian human rights activist who was verbally and physically accosted Wednesday in the streets of Yerevan, the country’s capital.

Danielian, the Chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Association, was assaulted by Tigran Urikhanian, the former leader of the Armenian Progressive Party, when Danielian’s taxi stopped at a red light. After first swearing at him, Urikanian reached into the car window to hit Danielian, and ultimately fired a compressed air gun at him at close range.

Danielian suffered bruises on his chest and neck from the attack, and was treated for a spike in his blood pressure when paramedics arrived on the scene.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges the Armenian authorities investigating the incident to take into account Danielian’s human rights work, believing it may have motivated the attack.

For HRW’s full piece, click here.

Condemned Afghan journalist insists confession was coerced through torture

Twenty-four-year-old Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, convicted in January and sentenced to death for blasphemy, has alleged in his appeal that he was unfairly arrested and tortured into giving a confession, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on May 18.

“As a human being, a Muslim, and a descendant of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, I will never allow myself to insult my ancestor or my religion,” Kambakhsh told the court, implicitly denying the validity of his confession. “These are things which I have been unfairly accused. This accusation is unlawful and I don’t know why they did this to me.”

Sources close to the Kambakhsh case have said it is a complicated one despite the international and domestic support for his acquittal, and the blatant corruption of justice in his January trial, at which he had no legal representation. Sources said that attorneys were nervous about even taking the case, possibly fearing the power of the mullahs.

Kevin Olivier of Reporters Without Borders told the media that authorities had still not provided Kambakhsh’s lawyer with access to all the cases files.

For the full article, click here.

Services slowly returning in Sadr City

With the tenuous ceasefire in effect in Sadr City, life is slowly beginning to return normalize for the 2.5 million inhabitants of the run-down east Baghdad borough, the United Nations’ IRIN new agency reported on Sunday.

Schools have opened, shops are selling their wares, and the government has begun clearing the many mines that were put down by militants.

While peace is greatly appreciated by the residents of Sadr City, the lull in violence has also led them to reflect on the host of other issues they must contend with.

“We went through very bad and hard days since the clashes began,” said Ammar Wathiq Yousif, a cab driver and father of two. Now, he adds, “we’ve only returned to our normal daily suffering, which is of course better than what we’ve been through the past few weeks. We lack basic services, electricity is available for about six hours a day at best, and some streets are frequently flooded with sewage.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

War complicates psychiatric treatment for traumatized Iraqis

In a nation that used to have some of the most sophisticated medical equipment and best-trained doctors in the Middle East, Iraqi physicians find themselves having to use antiquated techniques with outdated supplies to care for the increasing number of psychologically-scarred victims of the war, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Doctors like Amir Hussain, who works at the Ibn Rushid psychiatric hospital in central Baghdad, experience the frustration of not only having more patients than his facility can handle, but of also seeing patients whose conditions have relapsed and worsened because of the mayhem that continues to engulf the nation.

There is no time for people to recover, Dr. Hussain says. And once they do “there is a new stress, grief after grief, losses after losses, violence after violence.”

For the full article, click here.

5,000 workers go on strike in Viet Nam

Five-thousand workers staged a walk-out at a privately owned footwear company in northern Viet Nam, demanding better pay in light of nationwide inflation, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The shoe company had recently given the workers a raise, making the salary 38 percent higher than those paid at government owned firms.

Consumer prices in Vietnam are 21.3 percent higher than last year, according to the Vietnamese government. The article adds that, “A wave of strikes has hit companies across the country as the inflation rate has grown this year.”

For the full article, click here.

Oppression of Baha’is epitomizes Iran’s lack of respect for human rights

Last week’s arrest of seven leaders from the peaceful Baha’i minority in Iran accurately reflects the Iranian government’s complete intolerance for non-Islamic faiths and lack of respect for human rights, Payam Akhavan writes in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail.

Akhavan, co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and a former U.N. war-crimes prosecutor at The Hague, notes that due to Article 13 of the Iranian constitution, the Baha’i faith cannot be recognized as an official religion like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism. This lack of official recognition gives practicing Baha’is the status of “infidels,” placing them beyond the protection of the law. The government uses the Baha’is’ outsider status and associated stigma to incite unofficial repression of the religion through propaganda, and as an excuse for official repression by the state.

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan’s disabled left to fend for themselves

Three decades of war, millions of landmines and inadequate healthcare have contributed to a large population of disabled, crippled, and maimed Afghans forced to live on the streets and eke out an existence by scavenging for food and begging for change, Rosie Dimanno writes in Wednesday’s Toronto Star.

Disabled Afghans receive 400 Afghanis a month in benefits from the government – about 8 dollars Canadian. But they are required to go to an office to receive the money, which is impossible for many of the disabled who are completely immobile.

A 2005 survey carried out by Handicap International found that more than 2.7 percent of Afghanistan’s population is stricken with a “severe” disability, while more than 4.8 percent of the nation suffers from a “minor” disability. The study put the total number of severely disabled Afghans at 867,000.

For the full article, click here.

Community-led development program instills sense of ownership in Afghan reconstruction efforts

With a relatively small investment of $452 million, the National Solidarity Program (NSP) is successfully reaching Afghans that have been untouched by the efforts of other aid organizations, Mohammad Ehsan Zia, Afghanistan’s minister of rural rehabilitation and development, writes in The Christian Science Monitor on May 16.

Since its inception in 2003, the NSP has reached over 15.4 million Afghans through more than 35,000 projects. According to Zia, by ensuring that development projects are organized by locally elected councils, and built by the people standing to benefit from them, the NSP has made lasting improvements to stretches of rural Afghanistan.

Direct NSP funding for the local councils cuts out corrupt officials, Zia argues, adding that using local manpower instills the community with a sense of ownership in the projects. He also says that listening to the requests of those on the ground as opposed to those in the district capital ensures the money is well spent, accurately addressing local needs. The end result is that more is being built, more is being used, and more of it is being protected by Afghans.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Former finance minister rails against weak government and misguided aid efforts in Afghanistan

Ashraf Ghani, the former Finance Minister of Afghanistan, is the author of Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World. As reviewed by Canada’s National Post on May 17, the book clearly details his concerns with the state of his homeland. He sees Afghanistan sliding down a dangerous path, becoming, as the article puts it, “riddled with corruption, preyed on by terrorists, and incapable of providing good government for its citizens.” The Post adds that Ghani believes “the international community, well-intentioned as it may be, is unprepared to do much to help.”

According to Ghani, the keys to Afghanistan’s future – and statebuilding in general – lie in recognizing that legitimacy flows from citizens, agreeing on the role of the state from the citizens’ point of view, and searching for realistic ways to support those goals. He says that attempting to deal with developing states by “using mechanisms developed 50 years ago” will only result in “disenchantment and mutual recrimination without many significant breakthroughs in wealth creation.”

Technical assistance wasted to corruption, uncoordinated aid, and a lack of political ownership all perpetuates the instability that racks Afghanistan, Ghazni suggests. To effectively address Afghanistan’s problems, and to stave off failed state status, Ghani recommends investment, not charity. Give us the tools to help ourselves, Ghani seems to be saying, and we will ultimately help you.

For the full article, click here

Gender imbalance threatens Viet Nam

The widespread practice of aborting female fetuses, is fueling a growing gender gap in Viet Nam, Viet Nam News reported on April 23.

A survey carried out by the Institute for Social Development Studies shows that in the last decade, the gender ratio in Viet Nam has changed considerably. In many regions of the country, the number of boys has exceeded that of girls by 20 to 25 percent.

The study also indicates that the heightened gender disparity can be attributed to a national preference for boys. “Many couples will attempt to find out their babies’ gender before a final decision on whether or not to carry on with the birth,” said Khuat Thu Hong, the director of the Institute.

While ultrasound scans are banned in public hospitals, the technology is widely used at private clinics to determine the sex of the fetus. According to the article, upon discovering that their child will be a girl, many Vietnamese fathers express great disappointment and encourage their wives to undergo an abortion.

Population experts believe that the prevalence of sex-selective abortions is a major reason why Viet Nam has one of the highest overall abortion rates in the world. On average, a Vietnamese woman has 2.5 abortions during her lifetime.

“I have witnessed many women who have had to give birth 12 times, in an attempt to have a boy,” said Le Thi Quy, the director of Gender and Development Center. “This can be considered a kind of domestic violence.”

For the full article, click here.

Iran again cracking down on human rights websites

Iranian authorities have blocked access to several feminist websites critical of the government, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday, citing the reformist newspaper Etarnad Melli.

According to the article, the recent push is part of a new government initiative to identify illegal websites to Internet service providers in Iran, who are then tasked with blocking access to the hundreds of political, and human and women’s rights websites and blogs which are said to express dissent or anti-Islamic sentiments.

The most recent victims of the crackdown include feminist websites such as Meydaan-e Zanan (Women’s Field), Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center), Shir Zanan (a women’s sporting events site), and the Change for Equality campaign.

For the full article, click here.

Religious zeal on rise in Egypt

Increasing poverty and political oppression have left religion as one of the only venues of personal expression for many Egyptians, according to UAE’s The National.

All across Egypt signs exist of rising Islamic devotion, including women wearing veils and men growing beards, and the popularity of public broadcasts of the Quran,

While the state does not encourage public displays of religiosity, and has begun legislation to bar it from some places like universities and hospitals, some analysts say it is responsible for the increase.

“The phenomenon of the new religiosity started during late president Anwars Sadat’s time and deepened during President Hosni Mubarak’s era [starting in 1981] as both presidents left religion as the only sphere open for expression,” said Amr Chobaki, an analyst of religion in Egypt, adding, “If real opportunities emerged in Egypt to be able to express oneself without dangers, like political parties and civil society, this would start to reduce the tension and gradually defuse this superficial religiosity phenomenon. But this will take time, as the current regime has no political project [to coax people to leave] this religious sphere, which people have played havoc with it like everything else in Egypt.”

For the full article, click here.

Gay Iranian teenager granted asylum in UK

Nineteen -year-old Mehdi Kazemi, a gay teenager who said he could be executed if returned to his home country of Iran, has been granted asylum in Britain, BBC News reported Wednesday.

Kazemi had come to London to study English in 2005 and later discovered his boyfriend had been charged with sodomy and executed in Iran.

Kazemi’s first bid for asylum was denied late last year, prompting him to flee to the Netherlands. After being denied entry by Dutch courts, his case was reviewed again in the UK. It won the backing of Democrat MP Simon Hughes, who led a campaign in support of Kazemi.

Iranian human rights groups believe that over 4,000 homosexual men and women have been executed in Iran since the Islamic regime took power in 1979.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian court rules Nour no longer able to send letters to wife

Ayman Nour, the imprisoned political dissident and leader of the Tomorrow Party, has been barred by court order from sending letters to his wife, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The Egyptian court’s ruling appears to have been motivated by official anger over the flow of essays critical of the government Nour mails home, as some of these are published in independent newspapers.

This latest ruling is another in a long line of attempts to silence Nour, a lawyer who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in 2005 and was later sentenced to prison on dubious charges of political documents.

“The decision shows a determination to deny him every right as a prisoner,” Nour’s wife, Gameela Ismail told reporters.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt looks to increase funding for security forces in anticipation of more food riots

As the price of food continues to soar without respite, the Egyptian government is planning to increase funding for security forces to quell any resultant civil unrest, World Tribune.com reported Tuesday.

Unsatisfied with the $220 million already allocated to the Interior Ministry for security purposes, Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Jihad Yusuf requested more, citing increased labor unrest and bread shortages. He also noted that Egypt purchases its security equipment in the euro, which has risen substantially over the dollar in the last year.

For the full article, click here.