Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 20, 2008

Self immolation seen by some Iraqi women as the only escape

Darun Mohammed (a pseudonym) wishes she had set herself on fire at 15, when she was forced into an arranged marriage with an abusive man. In a poignant interview published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mohammed describes her tortured life as a victim of domestic abuse. Her jealous husband refused to let her continue her education or leave the house alone, and blamed her for having daughters instead of sons.

She recalls the moment when she could no longer bear the abuse.

“With tears pouring from my eyes, I grabbed a gallon of kerosene with my left hand and poured it over myself, from the top of my head to my toes. When all of my clothes and body were soaked, I put the container aside, closed my eyes, flicked the lighter and placed it on my chest. All of a sudden, my body was on fire. I rushed out of the bathroom, screaming for help. In a minute, everything went black.”

Mohammed woke up several days later in a hospital burn unit. She has moved to a shelter in Sulaimaniyah, and she laments, “There are hundreds of women who have similar stories to mine, and it is just sad that no one is coming to their defence.”

For the full story, click here.

OSCE High Commissioner stresses importance of language rights

At a conference Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of the Oslo Recommendations on the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, OSCE High Commissioner Knut Vollebaek called on states to protect language rights and said they were “a precondition for peace and stability.”

States should not promote one language at the expense of another, he said in a press release.

Vollebaek continued, “‘such thinking is harmful not just to minorities but also to majorities. When a majority demands mindless obedience and submission from a minority, this is usually regarded as subjugation and increases the chances of that majority not being respected.’”

The Leadership Council for Human Rights applauds Vollebaek for his efforts to protect this fundamental human right.

Click here for the full OSCE release.


Displaced Iraqis protest government inaction

Some 500 internally displaced Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad on June 14, calling on the government to take action so they can safely return to their homes, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported the next day.

“We have been displaced for nearly two years now and we don’t see any serious action being taken by the government to end our suffering,” said Emad Taha Ali, a 39-year-old father-of-two who took part in the demonstration.

Another displaced Baghdadi, Ajeel Khalil Yawar, said the government is unable to effectively address the displacement problem because it treats it as a “de facto” matter.

The head of parliament’s Displacement and Migration Committee echoed the claims of the protestors. “We made numerous calls to the government to help ease this problem but we feel the government pays no serious attention to address this problem, which could take eight to 10 years to be solved if it is left like this,” said Abdul-Khaliq Zankana.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. deems rape a war crime

The U.N. Security Council said Thursday that rape and sexual violence can be punished as war crimes, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

According to the article, the approved U.S.-sponsored resolution stipulates procedures for monitoring and reporting on sexual violence in armed conflicts, and “urges the U.N. to impose sanctions on violators” and hold accountable peacekeepers “who prey on vulnerable women and children instead of protecting them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chaired the session, rejected the stance explicated last year by China, Russia, and South Africa, who said sexual violence in conflicts should not be linked with international security. “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations,” Rice told the Security Council.

For the full article, click here.

Supporters of Burmese pro-democracy activist detained

A dozen members of the pro-democracy party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi have been detained by Burmese authorities after protesting Thursday against her continued house arrest, The Associated Press reported.

The 12 were part of a larger group of protestors who, on the occasion of Suu Kyi’s 63rd birthday, massed outside the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party, in Rangoon.

Over 100 supporters of the ruling military junta responded with force to the demonstrations, punching and beating some of the protestors.

Suu Kyi’s house arrest has been extended for another year despite international leaders’ repeated calls for her release.

As the article notes, she “has spent more than 12 of the last 18 years under detention.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Detained Baha’i leaders allowed brief phone calls to families

Seven Iranian minority leaders who had for weeks been held incommunicado have now been granted brief phone calls to their families, Baha’i World News Service reported Thursday.

The individuals are part of a committee that attends to the needs of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority. Six were arrested in pre-dawn raids on May 14. The seventh was arrested in March. No charges have been filed against any of the leaders.

It is believed that all seven are being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

As the article notes, “In 1980, all nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran were taken away and presumed killed as they were never heard from again. A year later, after the Assembly had been reconstituted, eight of the nine members were arrested or killed.”

For the full article, click here.

Rights group says 177 Iranian minors sentenced to death in past decade

Over the course of the past decade, Iran has sentenced to death 177 minors and executed 34 over them, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

The group, based in New York and Vienna, published a list of the accused on its Web site that it said was compiled by detained Iranian activist Emad Baghi.

According to the article, “many of the death sentences were based on confessions obtained from defendants under torture or interrogations in which they had no access to a lawyer.”

While Iranian judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi asserted last week that “there are no executions of individuals under the age of 18 in Iran,” he noted that the government does carry out “qisas,” or eye-for-eye retribution for murder, and said that minors have been executed under this law when a settlement with the family of the murder victim cannot be reached.

The Campaign said that Iran executes more minors than any other nation, adding that two-thirds of all such executions in the past three years have taken place in the Islamic Republic.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. human rights chief lashes out at Egypt for deportations of Eritrean asylum seekers

The large-scale deportation of Eritrean asylum-seekers from Egypt has “alarmed” the U.N. human rights chief, prompting her to call on Cairo to put an end to forced returns, the U.N. News Service reported Thursday.

“Egypt should respect its international obligations not to send home anyone who could face torture or other serious forms of ill treatment, as may well be the case with those who have apparently been deported in recent days,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in a statement.

Some 700 Eritreans have been deported in recent days, according to reports.

According to the article, “Egypt has seen a surge of Eritreans entering the country illegally in recent months by land from Sudan or directly from Eritrea via the Red Sea.”

For the full article, click here.

Rights group calls on Hanoi to free activist blogger

A media rights group on Thursday called for the release of an activist Vietnamese blogger arrested days before the Olympic torch relay passed through Ho Chi Minh City, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the April 19 arrest of Nguyen Hoang Hai – who blogs under the pseudonym of Dieu Cay – on charges of tax fraud was politically motivated. “Tax fraud was just a pretext to prevent Dieu Cay from demonstrating when the Olympic torch went through Ho Chi Minh City and from criticizing the communist party online,” RSF said in a statement.

“Dieu Cay had posted articles on his blog about protests worldwide during the Olympic torch’s progress through various cities, along with articles critical of China’s policy on Tibet and the [disputed] Parcel and Spratly archipelagos,” the group added, noting that Cay “had called for demonstrations as the torch passed through Ho Chi Minh City.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Global refugee total now at 11.4 million, U.N. says

The number of refugees worldwide increased to 11.4 million in 2007, 1.5 million more than the 2006 total, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a recently report, according to The Washington Post.

The report cites the war in Iraq and the conflicts in Columbia, Darfur, and Somalia as large factors in the spike, which follows a decade-long decline.

“For a number of years the number of refugees worldwide was decreasing due to the success of massive voluntary operations in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. “The number of refugees and internally displaced has started to rise again” during the past two years.

The article notes that, “Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Jordan shoulder the heaviest burden, together playing host to nearly 5 million refugees, mostly Afghans and Iraqis.”

For the full article, click here.

Rights group points to medical study as evidence of U.S. detainee torture

The most extensive medical study of former U.S. detainees to date found evidence of U.S. torture and war crimes, as well as complicity and denial of care by military health professionals, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Eleven former terrorism suspects – seven from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and four from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – were examined in the recently-published Physicians for Human Rights study.

According to the article, “Those examine alleged that they were tortured or abused, including sexually, and described being shocked with electrodes, beaten, shackled, stripped of their clothes, deprived of food and sleep, and spit and urinated on.” One Iraqi prisoner recounts being subjected to electric shocks and sodomized with a stick.

“Some of these men really are, several years later, very severely scarred,” said Barry Rosenfeld, a psychology professor at Fordham University who conducted psychological tests on six of the 11 detainees covered by the study. “It’s a testimony to how bad those conditions were and how personal the abuse was.”

For the full article, click here.

Taliban offensive displaces hundreds of Kandahar-area residents

Hundreds of Arghandab residents have been displaced by the Taliban’s recent incursion into the Kandahar-area district, BBC News reported Wednesday.

The offensive comes on the heels of last Friday’s Taliban-coordinated jailbreak in Kandahar, which set free some 350 militants.

Haji Lalai, the head of the local provincial council, said “2,000 families, numbering about 10,000 people” had already fled. “They need urgent help,” he added. “We have talked to U.N. agencies and other NGOs.”

According to the article, Arghandab residents have said that the Taliban has “blown up three bridges and planted bombs under others.” There have also been reports that the militant group has planted mines.

While U.S.-led coalition forces say they have not found evidence that would indicate Taliban control of the area, troops have begun to mass in Arghandab to meet potential threats.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Armenian students discuss rights at International Children’s Day forum

To mark International Children’s Day, 35 Armenian secondary school students took part in a forum on child rights in the city of Gyumri, Reuters AlertNet reported on June 12.

“For every one of us it is very important to know our rights, no matter if you are a child or an adult,” said 16-year-old Susanna Gasparyan. “My friends and I are eager to learn more about what rights we have, just as we know our responsibilities.”

Several human rights specialists were also involved with the forum, which was facilitated by the Christian relief group World Vision.

According to the article, one forum discussion compared “discussed rights with those included in the Armenian legislation, such as the right to health and education, free speech and religion, etc.”

For the full article, click here.

Expose on police brutality puts ex-state security official at risk

Ex-policeman Omar Affi has faced harsh repercussions for writing an expose on policy brutality in Egypt, according to the American Islamic Congress’s Civil Rights in the Middle East (C.R.I.M.E.) Report e-newsletter.

Affi’s book, “How Not to Get Smacked on Your Neck,” was banned by the Egyptian government soon after its March release on the grounds that it constituted a “disturbance to public order.” According to the article, “the book featured questions and answers informing Egyptians of their rights and how to deal with abusive police officers accordingly.”

In spite of the ban, the book is available for free upload on the Internet.

Affi and his family recently fled Egypt after former colleagues warned that they were being targeted.

For the full article, click here.

Thousands of Iranian students stage sit-in over sexual harassment case

Some 3,000 Iranian university students in the northwestern city of Zanjan staged a sit-in over the weekend to protest against an attempt at sexual harassment by their university vice chancellor, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

The students called on the board of directors to resign over the incident, which involved a young female staff member, and handed the vice chancellor over to security after breaking into his office.

University officials have been on the defensive. “We have asked the students to keep calm and present relevant evidence because this issue needs further examination,” said Zanjan university director Ali Reza Naddaf. “Unfortunately some hardline students today forcefully prevented entry of the staff and academics and did not allow exams to be held,” he added.

Reports indicate that the official in question has been suspended until investigations are complete.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan government doing little to combat child sexual abuse, rights groups say

Child sexual abuse is a pervasive, yet underreported problem in Afghanistan, with children who work at public places especially at risk, according to the United Nations’ IRIN news agency.

While the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) last year documented just 31 cases of abuse, the actual number per year is thought to be in the hundreds. “Some parents think by reporting sex offenses against their children they will bring dishonor on their families,” said AIHRC’s Hangama Anwary.

When cases are reported, measures to bring justice and assistance to victims are often severely lacking. Seven men who last year gang raped and tortured a 13-year-old girl were released after two days, with a government official citing a lack of evidence. In general, rights groups say that corruption and the weak rule of law have marred efforts to prosecute offenders. To compound the problem, state-funded victim support is nonexistent, as only offenders – and not the government – are required to provide compensation to victims.

The AIHRC says there are strong ties between child sexual abuse and human trafficking, but the group criticizes the dearth of available legal and judicial mechanisms to combat the latter. “Human trafficking has not been defined in our legal system so far,” Anwary said. “We also do not have legal clarity on issues related to child sexual abuse.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Activist bloggers face heightened crackdowns worldwide

Bloggers are under increasing attack from governments around the world for posting material critical of the state, BBC News reported Monday, citing the annual World Information Access (WIA) report.

The University of Washington report says 64 individuals have been arrested since 2003 for expressing their opinions on a blog. More than half of these cases were in China, Egypt and Iran.

According to the article, the report says that “arrests tended to increase during times of ‘political uncertainty,’ such as around general elections or during large scale protests.”

The total number of blogger arrests increased threefold between 2006 and 2007, the report notes, adding that bloggers face an average prison sentence of 15 months.

The WIA says the actual number of bloggers arrested could be significantly higher than its estimate, noting unverified reports of hundreds of suspected bloggers arrested in Burma.

For the full article, click here.

Iran’s dress code enforcement sweeps now targeting shops, hairdressers

Iran has stepped up its crackdown on ‘un-Islamic’ Western fashions, shuttering scores of shops and hairdressers as part of an annual dress code enforcement sweep that has traditionally only targeted pedestrians, The Associated Press reported Monday.

According to the article, Iranian authorities have acknowledged the closure of 32 shops and hairdressers in Tehran and “said 21 vehicles had been stopped because passengers were breaking dress rules.” No reports of arrests have been disclosed.

Police official Nader Sarkari defended the campaign. “Why should some individuals take it upon themselves to commit an act society has deemed a violation?” he told the official news agency IRNA.

For the full article, click here.

Iraq gives UNHCR Jordan $8 million for refugee assistance

Fulfilling a pledge made last year, Iraq has given $8 million to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) office in Jordan to address the education and health needs of Iraqi refugees there, Agence France-Presse reported Sunday.

UNHCR announced the donation Sunday.

Jordan is home to between 500,000 and 750,000 displaced Iraqis and has put the cost of sheltering them over the past three years at more than $2 billion. According to the article, the kingdom “has said up to 50,000 Iraqi pupils were expected to enroll in already overcrowded state schools for the 2007-2008 academic year.”

For the full article, click here.

Egypt blocks marriage of elderly man, 17-year-old girl

The Egyptian government has prevented a 17-year-old Egyptian girl from marrying a 92-year-old foreign man from the Gulf, BBC News reported on June 13, citing Egypt’s al-Akhbar newspaper.

The marriage was blocked under a national law that limits the age gap between spouses to 25 years.

According to the article, the law was enacted during the Gulf oil boom in “an effort to prevent wealthy men from the Gulf states seeking young poor prides from the Egyptian countryside.”

Egypt does grant exemptions for foreign men who deposit large sums of money in their wife’s name at the Egyptian National Bank. The article notes that: “According to the al-Akhbar newspaper, 173 such marriages were allowed in the past year after the foreign husband deposited a sum equivalent to about US $8,000 and was screened.”

For the full article, click here.