Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Event: Meeting on genocide planned in London

Armenian, Assyrian and Kurdish groups will hold a panel on genocide on July 8 in London, according to Kurdish Media. The collaboration among these three groups, each of which has been the target of genocide throughout history, has led to three new motions in the UK Parliament, Kurdish Media reports. These include Genocide against the Assyrian and Armenian People, recognizing atrocities committed between 1915 and 1923 in Turkey as genocide; Genocide against the Kurdish People, regarding the Anfal Campaign; and Imperial War Museum Genocide Exhibition, welcoming an exhibition at the museum on Anfal, and urging the Government to declare as an act of genocide Saddam Hussein’s killing of the Kurdish people.

Meeting details are as follows.
Where: Room P of Portcullis House (on Victoria Embankment/Bridge Street corner next to Westminster tube station, facing Parliament)
When: 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Speakers include Kurdish historian Prof Kamal Mazhar Ahmad and Kurdish expert and writer Dr Rebwar Fatah.
If you are planning to attend, RSVP to eilian@nant.wanadoo.co.uk
Telephone Rizgar Kocher: 07709435998
For the full story, click here.


Turkey found guilty of human rights violations in case of slain Cypriots

Turkey has been found guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights in the cases of two Cypriots murdered during anti-occupation demonstrations in 1996, the Cyprus Embassy in Washington, D.C. said Thursday.

The European Court of Human Rights handed down the ruling, awarding monetary compensation to the families of Anastasios Isaak and Solomos Solomou, who were killed by Turkish nationals and Turkish Cypriots in the protests, which took place in eastern Cyprus.

Isaak was beaten to death by counter protestors, while Solomou was shot by Turkish snipers after entering a buffer zone near the spot of Isaak’s killing.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Poll on torture finds world opinion mixed

The results of a just released survey indicate that world opinion is mixed on the use of torture, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

A majority of respondents in 14 countries – including the United States, Egypt and Iran – favor a total ban on torture, while majorities in four other nations – India, Nigeria, Turkey and Thailand – said the practice was acceptable when dealing with terrorists.

The poll was conducted by WorldPublicOpinon.org, a research project at the University of Maryland.

Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International’s U.N. representative said it was “really shocking” that “only half of all those interviewed in the poll…agree that all torture should be prohibited.”

According to the article, “The poll also found an increase in the number of people favoring the use of torture for terrorists in Egypt, the United States and South Korea.”

For the full article, click here.

Bush praises Vietnamese PM for progress on religious freedom

Trade and religious freedom were both high on the agenda Tuesday as President Bush met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the White House, The Washington Post reported the next day.

In recent years, Washington’s efforts to push Hanoi on human rights have been tempered by a desire to open the communist country to U.S. trade.

While human rights groups have been critical of the Vietnamese government for its tight grip on religious expression, Bush took a different tone Tuesday. “I told the prime minister that I thought the strides the government is making towards religious freedom is noteworthy,” he said.

The article adds that the two leaders “agreed to launch negotiations for a bilateral investment agreement, to increase high-level talks on other issues, and to establish a task force to increase educational ties between the two countries.”

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi children face uncertainty in Lebanon

In Lebanon, displaced Iraqis are struggling to provide for their children, having fled conflict in their homeland only to encounter a new set of troubles, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported on June 19.

While children make up an estimated half of the Iraqi refugee population in Lebanon, only 38 percent of the Iraqi households polled in a recent study there sent their children to school.

Many refugee children have suffered through highly traumatic episodes, and as the article notes, their distress is “compounded in Lebanon by the constant fear of arrest or deportation.”

Fourteen-year-old Harin fled Baghdad with her family after witnessing the murder by immolation of her father, a Christian.

In Lebanon, displaced Iraqis also face an inhospitable legal environment. The country has no domestic refugee law and authorities treat Iraqis as illegal immigrants, detaining them with the threat of deportation if they lack residency or work permits.

For the full article, click here.

Turkey convicts publisher of Armenian genocide book

A Turkish judge has handed down a five-month prison sentence to the publisher of a book on the 1915 Armenian genocide, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on June 21.

Ragip Zarakolu was convicted for insulting the Turkish republic under the country’s notorious article 301. He has been freed on appeal and is not expected to serve time.

The ruling brings to a close a case that lasted more than three years and sparked an international campaign on Zarakolu’s behalf.

The central figure of the book in question is the author’s Armenian grandmother, who survived the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of 1.5 million Armenians. As The Herald notes, “Turkey disputes allegations that the Armenians’ deaths were a result of genocide.”

Sixty writers and journalists have been prosecuted under article 301 since its introduction in 2005.

Zarakolu served prison time in the 1970s for his human rights activism.

For the full article, click here.

Rising inflation continues to haunt Viet Nam’s poor

With 1.2 million people entering the workforce every year and an inflation rate of 25.2 percent, Viet Nam’s poor are hard pressed to earn enough money to keep their families alive, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported on June 11.

Rising fuel and food prices – up 30 and 42 percent from last year, respectively – are making it more difficult for workers to feed their families on typical salaries.

“No matter how careful I am,” said Dinh To Trinh, a worker at a Japanese rubber factory, “at the end of the month, I have nothing left.”

All of these factors seem to be undermining the gains Viet Nam has made towards combating poverty.

Tens of thousands of workers across the country have been staging strikes – over 300 this year alone – to press for higher wages. According to the article, “the government opposes higher wages because salary increases fuel inflation and make Viet Nam less attractive to foreign investors, who generate employment.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

HRW calls on Iran to ensure transparent hearings for Kurdish activists

Human Rights Watch issued a statement Monday urging the Iranian government to ensure that Kurdish women’s rights activists Hana Abdi and Ronak Safarzadeh receive fair and open trials when their cases come up for a hearing.

Abdi, a member of the Change for Equality campaign, is waiting to appeal her June 19 conviction. Safarzadeh volunteered with the same campaign. Abdi faces a five-year sentence, while Safarzadeh, if convicted, faces a possible death sentence.

Human Rights Watch maintains that the government’s treatment of these two activists is in line with its well-documented pattern of using broadly defined “security laws” to justify large-scale repression. In the last two years, authorities have arrested over 35 activists involved in women’s rights campaigns.

“It’s become routine for the Iranian government to use vague security charges to detain and intimidate peaceful activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, they’re going further by handing down outrageous sentences.”

According to the article, Abdi’s official offence is “gathering and colluding to commit a crime against national security,” while Safarzadeh may be convicted of the more serious charge of “enmity with God.”

For the full article, click here.

Afghan journalists face mounting death threats, intimidation

As Afghan journalists become increasingly aggressive in their reporting of the drug mafia, warlordism, and corrupt officials, they must deal with more formidable intimidation and frequent death threats, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on June 10.

The recent kidnapping and murder of BBC reporter Abdul Samad Rohani is considered to be a reflection of the escalating hostility investigative journalists face in Afghanistan. The fact that the Taliban denied any involvement in his death brings to light the new dangers of reporting in Afghanistan. Increasingly, those risks stem not from war reporting, but attention given to criminal organizations and powerful corrupt politicians.

“Our reporters are working in some very risky areas and are taking on some very edgy topics,” said Jean MacKenzie, the Afghan country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). “That brings them into conflict with various members of Afghan society. Certainly, our reporters in the south are under constant threat from a variety of sources. And as the murder of Abdul Samad Rohani is testament to, it is not necessarily the Taliban or the insurgents who are the major source of risk.”

For the full article, click here.

Rape still a constant for Darfur’s women and children

United Nations peacekeepers say the systematic rape of women and children is the now the biggest issue affecting Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, CNN reported on June 19.

Women and girls as young as four make up the thousands of rape victims caught in the fighting between rebel forces and government-backed militias.

“This is one of the biggest issues in Darfur: the rapes and crimes against women and children,” said Michael Fryer, police commissioner of UNAMID, the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed in Darfur.

According to the article, simple errands such as collecting firewood put teenagers at risk of rape by marauding militiamen. It adds: “Some relief workers say that almost every woman living in aid camps has been raped or become a victim of gender-based violence.”

Cases of rape are so widespread that some aid groups say the practice is being used as a weapon of ethnic cleansing. A report by Refugees International last year said rape was “an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur.”

However, the statements of Sudanese officials have presented a troublingly stark contrast to reports from aid groups. “There is no rape in Darfur,” said Mohammad Hassan Awad, a Humanitarian Commissioner for West Darfur, who accuses foreign aid workers of inciting false claims from women in refugee camps.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese activist urges U.S. to push Hanoi on reforms

In an op-ed in the New York Post on Tuesday, Vietnamese democracy advocate Nguyen Dan Que makes a compelling argument for reform in his home country and urges American interests to use their influence to push the government of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to further liberalize both the economic and political arenas.

Dan Que believes Viet Nam’s current troubles owe more to mismanagement and corruption than intrinsic problems with the Vietnamese economy. Citing rising inflation, soaring food prices, and increasing unemployment, Dan Que strongly condemns the communist government, labeling it an “oppressive state bureaucracy that is now the chief obstacle to progress.”

American influence, Dan Que writes, is the only agent strong enough to create the real liberalizing change Viet Nam needs to revive its failing economy and allow greater democratic participation. He suggests that a commitment from American industry and American politicians to pressure Hanoi could be the push Vietnamese people have been waiting for.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Activist calls on U.N. to help fellow Burmese women

Nilar Thein, a leading Burmese human rights activist, recently wrote an op-ed for the Bangkok newspaper The Nation. In it, she describes the personal trauma she has endured since August 21, 2007, when junta authorities seized her husband, a prominent dissident.

Other members of the 88 Generation Students activist group her husband leads were also taken from their homes in the raids. Fearing the same fate, Thein decided to flee, asking her parents to care for her then three-month-old daughter so as not to put her at risk.

Now, still on the run, Nilar writes of the inspirational “strength and determination” of detained Burmese Nobel laureate and human rights activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She also calls attention to a U.N. Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. The resolution was debated on the day Thein’s op-ed was published, and she urges world leaders to use the opportunity of the debate to take “urgent action…to help the women in Burma.”

Burma, Thein writes, is mired in both a civil war – with the military fighting ethnic minority resistance forces – and a war “against its own unarmed citizens, who are calling freedom, justice and democracy.” In the former, Thein notes that innocent women have been murdered, raped, and forced to be “sex slaves.” In the latter, “women activists are beaten, arrested, tortured and then put in prison for many years,” she writes, adding that the ravages of Cyclone Nargis and subsequent government neglect have left 35,000 pregnant women “at extreme risk of death.”

For the full op-ed, click here.

Iran sentences woman activist to five years in prison

A member of a prominent Iranian women’s rights campaign has been sentenced to five years in prison, Reuters reported on June 21.

The activist, Hana Abdi, was charged with attempting to commit a crime against national security, according to her lawyer.

Abdi is a member of the Change for Equality campaign, which aims to collect one million signatures in support of women’s rights. Some 50 women have been detained for their involvement with the campaign, with most held no longer than a few weeks.

Iranian Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi recently said that gathering signatures was not a crime, but “making propaganda against the system and disturbing public opinion.”

Late last year, an unidentified Iranian judge said the Iranian government was charging Abdi, a resident of Iran’s Kurdistan province, with carrying out bombings along with the Kurdish PJAK rebel group – an Iranian counterpart to the separatist PKK group that operates from northern Iraq.

For the full article, click here.

20 arrested after attack on Coptic property

Egyptian police said on June 22 that they arrested 20 people in a recent attack on Coptic Christian property in the village of Al-Nazla, some 60 miles south of Cairo, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

The incident was apparently sparked by rumors that a local woman who had converted to Islam was kidnapped by her Christian family. The woman had in reality been on a three-day visit to relatives in Cairo and would later return home.

Police used tear gas to disperse the hundreds of Egyptian Muslims who took part in the attack.

“Al-Nazla residents threw stones at houses and shops owned by Copts…because the villagers believed that the woman had been kidnapped by Christian members of her family,” a security official said on the condition of anonymity, adding, “Some 50 Coptic homes and businesses, including pharmacies, grocers and electrical appliance shops were sacked.”

Coptic resident Sayyed Ghattas said, “I was surprised at this attack by people with whom we were on good neighborly terms and who, all of a sudden, turned on us. This matter had nothing to do with us.”

For the full article, click here.