Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 13, 2008

Viet Nam receives Vatican delegation

A delegation from the Vatican arrived in Viet Nam Monday for a week-long visit, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

Meetings were scheduled with government and religious officials, as well as the Hanoi People’s Committee, which has been involved in a dispute with the Vietnamese government over seized church lands.

The visit comes a little over a year after a landmark Vatican meeting between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Pope Benedict XVI.

As the article notes, “Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s largest Roman Catholic community after the Philippines – about six million out of a population of 86 million – but relations have long been strained between Catholics and the Communist Party.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian activists arrested on day of solidarity for women’s rights

Nine women’s rights activists were arrested Thursday in Iran as they planned to participate in an assembly denouncing attempts to silence Iranian women, Women’s Learning Partnership reported the same day.

June 12 has been chosen by activists as the National Day of Solidarity of Iranian women.

“Women’s rights activists are continually denied the right of freedom and association and assembly,” the article says of the situation in Iran. “Even meetings in private homes are often broken up by security forces.”

For the full article, click here.

Congressional computers breached by Chinese hackers, U.S. lawmakers say

The computers of two U.S. lawmakers have been hacked by perpetrators working from China, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), both vocal critics of China’s human rights record, have reported multiple office computers compromised. According to the article, the machines “contained information about political dissidents from around the world.”

Wolf said the first breach in his office occurred in 2006, while two of Smith’s computers were hacked during separate incidents in 2006 and 2007.

The article also notes that, according to Wolf, “following one of the attacks, a car with license plates belonging to Chinese officials went to the home of a dissident in Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington and photographed it.”

The computer of Wolf’s chief of staff was among the machines in the lawmaker’s office breached. “They knew which ones to get,” said Dan Scandling, who currently is on leave of absence from his job as Wolf’s chief of staff. “It was a very sophisticated operation. The FBI verified that it had been done.”

Wolf said he had long known about the attacks but was discouraged from disclosing them by government officials he refused to identify.

The article also reports that, during the period of the Wolf and Smith breaches, hackers from China compromised House Foreign Affairs Committee computers.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Iranian official orders stay of execution for two juvenile offenders

Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi has agreed to a one month suspension for Mohammad Fadaie and Behnoud Shojaie, two men who were convicted of murder while legally minors, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday, citing the Iranian Student’s News Agency.

The stays of execution came after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour asked Iran to refrain from executing four condemned convicts sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. However, it is not clear if Shahroudi’s order was in direct response to the U.N. request.

According to the article, the Iranian judiciary insists that minors are never executed in the Islamic republic. Yet human rights groups maintain that there have been several documented cases of the state executing convicted minors after reaching the age of 18.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian parliament criminalizes female circumcision despite mounting conservative criticism

The Egyptian parliament passed new legislation criminalizing female circumcision on June 7, despite fierce resistance from conservative theologians and members of parliament, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Even though female gentile mutilation was banned many years ago in Egypt, the practice is still considered to be widespread. According to the article, some 70 percent of Egyptian girls are believed to have undergone the procedure.

The new law, in addition to criminalizing female circumcision, also allows women for the first time to register their children without giving the father’s name. Under the old law, women could not register their out-of-wedlock children.

Members of parliament that belong to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and conservative religious scholars have strongly objected to the law. They point to Koranic scripture in defense of both the surgery and naming rights. According to the article, they maintain that the removal of a girl’s clitoris is necessary to tame her sexual desires and that a woman carrying a child out of wedlock is a prostitute.

For the full article, click here.

Armenian returnees see signs of economic progress in homeland

Large numbers of expatriate Armenians now returning to their homeland, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The large Armenian diaspora is partially a function of the murderous World War I-era campaigns of Ottoman Turkey, which left 1.5 million dead and displaced countless others in what many have labeled genocide. In more recent times, large-scale displacement has resulted from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The remittances of those living abroad today account for up to 10 percent of Armenia’s economy.

However, the last four years have seen the first positive trend in population inflow since the Soviet collapse, with Armenia gaining 33,200 residents. According to the article, many of the returnees are from the Russian diaspora, with some “lured back by economic improvements” and others “escaping growing xenophobia.”

Still, Armenia is not without its problems. Over 25 percent of its residents are poor, post-election protests have erupted of late, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues.

Despite all this, returnees see signs of hope. “Today this country offers a lot of possibilities,” said Zorair Atabekian, who returned from Canada in 2005. “That is why many diaspora are returning here to start up businesses.”

For the full article, click here.

Investors promote growing flowers instead of poppies in Afghanistan

A group of Afghan and foreign businessmen have been trying to offer an alternative to Afghan farmers by urging them to grow flowers for perfume instead of poppies for drugs, National Public Radio reported on June 4.

In the face of record breaking poppy harvests and heroin production, the Gulestan Company was formed several years ago by American and Afghan businessmen who sought to help farmers transition from the narcotic crop into the business of growing flowers for perfume. The production process for perfume and heroin are both similar and simple, but according to the article, the new venture has been a frustrating and costly endeavor.

Barnett Rubin is an Afghanistan expert at New York University and one of the founders of the Gulestan Company. He said that despite its potential, the business faced daunting obstacles, both from local farmers and the government.

“After my experience trying to start a legal taxpaying company in Afghanistan, I understand very well why people prefer to go into illegal businesses,” Rubin said, blaming corrupt and inefficient Afghan government officials for many of Gulestan’s problems. “We kept trying to pay this tax, and every time we did, the officials in the local treasury department would ask us for bribes,” he added.

The mounting obstacles are forcing Gulestan’s owners to close the company. But local entrepreneurs like Abdullah Arsallah are not giving up. He hopes to resurrect Gulestan and redirect Afghanistan’s agricultural sector.

“It’s very easy to go into the drug business, but… that will not get us anywhere,” Arsallah said. “It’s a cycle that one has to break.”

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian government defies judiciary, keeps labor group shuttered

Human Rights Watch last week called on the Egyptian government to follow court orders and remove restrictions against the Center for Trade and Union Workers Services (CTUWS).

According to HRW, “In April 2007, the government forcibly shut down all three branches of [CTUWS], claiming that the organization was behind a wave of labor unrest and that it was not a recognized nongovernmental organization (NGO).” But in March 2008, the Giza Administrative Court ruled against the government, saying the closure was “without cause.”

Despite the court’s decision, which was “effective ‘immediately,’” the government has failed to comply with the order to reopen the organization and approve its NGO status.

“For more than two months, the Egyptian government has brazenly defied the country’s judiciary, and continues to suppress the peaceful activities of the workers’ group,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s claim that Egypt upholds the rule of law has lost whatever credibility it might have had.”

For the full article, click here.

Kurdish women seek greater rights in new personal status law

Kurdish women are up in arms over proposed legislation on marriage and inheritance that they fear could have too much of a basis in Islam, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting reported Tuesday.

The new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) personal status law would replace a 1959 Iraqi law lauded as progressive at the time for its restrictions on polygamy and child marriage.

According to the article, a government advisory committee said in April that it would be recommending that Islam “be the sole source of legislation for the [new] personal status law.” This prompted anger among women’s rights advocates who, while agreeing that the old law is outdated, want the new law to ban polygamy and child marriage and provide women with equal inheritance rights.

Over 40 Kurdish women’s rights activists have sent a memorandum to the region’s parliament “demanding that the new law promotes women’s rights,” the article notes. Activists have also successfully pressured the KRG into adding five women to the previously all-male advisory committee.

For the full article, click here.

Turkey to go before human rights court for PKK strikes

Turkey will soon face legal claims related to the destruction caused by recent air raids on PKK rebel bases in northern Iraq, The Guardian reported Monday.

According to the article, the charges were lodged at European court of human rights “by the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) on behalf of Muslim and Chaldean Christian villagers who say they lost their homes during Turkish air raids last October and December.” The claimants are seeking compensation for the deaths and damage that they say the attacks caused.

The attacks on PKK bases resumed this past weekend in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Zap region.

A Turkish military official recently confirmed that intelligence sharing efforts are ongoing with Iran, home to the rebel group’s Pejak wing.

There are conflicting reports on the extent of the damages cited in the charges. A British lawyer involved with the case said he “witnessed some of [the] atrocities and also saw that civilians have been traumatized [and]…displaced,” adding that the “military operations have compromised the human rights of Iraqi civilians.” However a Turkish embassy spokesman in London said he was not aware of any civilian casualties, only loss of livestock.

For the full article, click here.

Would-be teen suicide bomber says religious teachers ‘forced’ him into planned attack

Fourteen-year-old Shakirullah was apprehended three months ago by Afghan troops in Khost Province, moments before he was to detonate his vest packed with explosives in a suicide bombing attempt. Now held in a detention center for minors, he admits it was his religious teachers who first encouraged and then forced him to attempt the attack, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on June 6.

Living with his family in Pakistan, Shakirullah was sent to the Salib madrasah for religious education. After six months of Koran instruction, the boy says his teachers gave him the suicide vest and took him across the border into Afghanistan.

Told he would “never die” if he sacrificed himself, and assured he would “come back” to see his family, the teachers gradually increased their pressure on Shakirullah to commit the suicide bombing. Finally he was told that he would not be allowed to see his family again until he carried out the attack.

According to the report, Shakirullah now believes that his religious instructors took advantage of his young age. He says he is happy to be alive and safe, but also that he “misses his mother and wants desperately to see her again.”

For the full article, click here.

Thousands riot against new flour rationing policies in Egypt

Thousands of demonstrators clashed with Egyptian police on June 7 in the coastal town of Burullus as they protested a new local policy that would give subsidized flour directly to bakeries instead of citizens, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram said that some 8,000 protesters took to the streets, blocking a major highway with burning tires. Police responded with force, firing tear gas into the crowds.

Eighty-seven demonstrators were taken in for questioning after the incident, a security official said.

According to the article, the protests were spurred in part by the town’s fishermen who rely on baking their own bread, which they say is heartier than the store-bought variety and can withstand long journeys to sea.

The government has made accusations of black market profiteering from subsidized flour sales.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian political prisoners in need of urgent medical care

Human Rights Watch last week called on Iranian authorities to grant three political prisoners access to much needed proper medical attention.

Held in the notorious Evin Prison, cleric Ayatollah Kazemi Boroujerdi, journalist and activist Mohammad-Sadiq Kaboudvand, and prominent human rights advocate Emad Baghi are all reported by HRW to be in poor health and in need of “specialist medical attention.”

“It’s outrageous that these men’s health is being comprised for no apparent reason,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “Iranian authorities have yet to produce evidence for why these men are in prison to begin with, and now they are refusing to provide them with adequate care.”

Boroujerdi, arrested in 2006, was allowed trips to the prison medical clinic until April of this year, but has consistently been denied access to a physician or clinic outside the prison system. HRW cited sources close to the case as saying that his mental and physical health were rapidly deteriorating.

Baghi has been in Evin Prison since 2007 and developed heart problems while in solitary confinement there. Released for a two-month period in early 2008 on medical leave, he was re-imprisoned and soon thereafter suffered a heart attack. After a brief period in the prison clinic, he was placed back in his cell.

Arrested in 2007, Kaboudvand also suffered a heart attack while in jail. According to his lawyer, frequent requests for treatment have gone ignored.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

International summit in Hanoi brings together nearly 1,000 women leaders

Nearly 1,000 participants from around the world descended on Hanoi last week for the 18th Global Summit of Women (GSW), an international forum to connect women leaders, China’s People’s Daily Online reported on June 5.

The GSW, organized by a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization of the same name, centered on women’s economic contributions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking at the opening ceremony before entrepreneurs, government officials and leaders in other spheres, GSW President Irene Natividad said the forum would “break the stereotype that Asian women work, but don’t lead.” She added: “Small business is the spine of every economy in the world, and women are driving small business everywhere.”

For the full article, click here.