Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Another Afghan summer brings with it renewed violence, chaos and disappointment

As another winter slowly recedes, giving way to what should be a green season of growth and plenty, many Afghans are filled only with despair and disappointment, the BBC News reported on June 13.

Doubt seems to plague every Afghan interviewed for the article. A Government official said he is confident of military victory, if only the Taliban were deprived of their strongholds in Pakistan. Without that significant change, he doubts he will see victory soon.

Urban residents readily welcome the changes promised to them after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. But nearly seven years on, it is impossible to ignore the new government’s inability to accomplish even the most basic of tasks.

“We are not asking for skyscrapers,” said Saqib Baghlani, a Kabul school teacher. “The demands of our people are simple.” Instead of clinics or roads, he points to the “millions of dollars going towards land cruisers and salaries,” adding “everyone is corrupt.”

Baghlani’s frustration and distrust are shared by many. Poor Afghans don’t understand why so many basic problems remain unsolved despite the billions of dollars of international aid flowing into the country.

Corruption is among the most pervasive problems in Afghanistan. Yet despite the promises from President Hamid Karzai, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians, corruption remains. It has come to the dangerous point where Afghans expect failure. “Every night I hear ministers and MPs talk about corruption,” laments Ajmal Haidary, a shopkeeper in West Kabul. “This is all talk.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian teenager executed in Tehran

Iranian authorities on Tuesday hanged 19-year-old convicted murderer Hamid Reza Q, Agence France-Presse reported the same day. According to the article, authorities have not said what Reza’s age at the time of his offense was. It is only known that he was either 17 or 18-years-old when tried.

The Iranian judiciary insists that no one under eighteen is executed in Iran. However, there have been reports to the contrary both from domestic media and international human rights organizations. An Iranian media outlet reported last month that authorities hanged a 17-year-old boy convicted of murder in the western city of Sanandaj.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and rights groups have called on Iran to halt the scheduled execution of four more individuals whose crimes were committed while they were still technically minors. According to the article, it is widely feared that over a dozen other young offenders face the same punishment in other cities across Iran.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

U.N. human rights commissioner steps down after four-year tenure

Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Lousie Arbour on Monday left her post as the United Nations’ human rights commissioner, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported the same day.

Citing personal reasons, Arbour announced her retirement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in March. She added that the criticisms on her office from nations like the U.S. have, as the article puts it, “undermine[d] the credibility of her office and the entire U.N.”

While she has been commended for her work by many human rights organizations, Arbour drew pointed criticism for her staunch objections to the many questionable tactics employed in the American-led war on terror. Israel and its supporters also objected to Arbour’s outspoken criticism of the Jewish state after its 34-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.

Before her position as U.N. human rights commissioner, Arbour was best known as a chief prosecutor for tribunals into the genocide in Rwanda and human rights abuses in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. official says humanitarian situation in Afghanistan ‘deteriorating’

According to John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, violence and natural disasters have caused the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan to “deteriorate,” necessitating increased efforts from the aid community to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people, the United Nations’ IRIN news agency reported Monday.

Holmes visited Afghanistan for four days in late June to examine the humanitarian process first-hand. As the article notes, efforts there are hamstrung by “intensifying conflict, drought, and large-scale refugee repatriation.” It adds that aid groups like Oxfam International have been critical of what they see as the inefficient use of aid dollars.

“We need to have more of a humanitarian strategy, an action plan, than we had before,” Holmes said, adding that donors “will respond generously” to a “right kind of strategy and a right kind of scaling up of our activities.”

Even with new strategies, development efforts face major obstacles. Direct attacks against aid groups have been on the rise, blocking access to large portions of Afghanistan. As the article notes, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) suffered 40 attacks on its aid trucks in the past 18 months, costing $800,000 dollars worth of food.

“There is not a magic solution, and while the conflict is going on we have to work around the conflict,” Holmes said. “We cannot solve the conflict as humanitarian. What we can do is to help the victims of it.”

For the full article, click here.

Hanoi officials ban street vendors, threatening livelihoods

The People’s Committee of Hanoi has banned the centuries-old street vending industry, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Vietnamese and the families they support, the United Nations IRIN news agency reported on June 23.

In an attempt to modernize and “beautify” the city, the government enacted a ban to go into effect July 1 that will prohibit vendors from selling their wares on Hanoi’s congested streets.

Opponents of the ban say no employment alternative program has been instituted for the estimated 5,000 vendors, mostly women, whose income depends on access to the street.

“We will all go hungry,” said Nguyen Thi Lan, a mother of school-age children who began vending after her family’s rice paddies were seized by the government and sold to developers. “We are poor people. We have no land. We are dependent on the street.”

For the full article, click here.

Former Abu Ghraib inmates sue U.S. firms

Four Iraqi men are suing two U.S. military contractors for torturing them during their detention in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, BBC News reported Tuesday.

The four men were all released without charge after being held in the notorious prison between two to four years. They have each brought separate lawsuits in four U.S. courts.

CACI International and L-3 Communications Corp, in addition to three civilian employees of the two contractors, have been accused of taking part in various abuses during interrogations of the four plaintiffs. The contractors have denied the charges.

According to the article, the suits claim that the four men were variously subjected to electric shocks and beatings, threatened with dogs, and “hung from a pole for seven days.”

While military personnel have already been tried and convicted for criminal acts of torture at Abu Ghraib, this is the first case involving civilians.

For the full article, click here.

Lawmakers urge Bush to boycott Olympics after Chinese officials prevent activist meeting

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday during a visit to Beijing, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) urged President Bush to forgo his trip to the Olympics unless China releases political prisoners and takes other measures to shore up its human rights record, The Associated Press reported the same day.

The call comes in the wake of an incident Sunday in which Chinese officials prevented a group of nine dissidents from dining with the congressmen.

“This type of situation is not uncommon, we often experience similar restraints on our freedoms,” said Fan Yafeng, a legal scholar and researcher at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who was among those barred from the dinner.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao seemed to imply that Smith and Wolf were to blame for the incident, which saw some invited activists detained or placed under house arrest. “We hope the U.S. congressman, while making a visit to China, while conducting relevant activities, respect Chinese laws and regulations and respect their commitments,” Liu told reporters.

The congressmen also used the occasion of the trip to present Li Zhaoxing, the head of the Chinese legislature’s Foreign Affairs Committee, with a list of 734 political prisoners and ask for their release.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. to address Egypt’s deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has objected to Egypt’s forced deportation of some 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers this June and is engaged in talks with Cairo to address the matter, Reuters reported Monday.

“We understand that countries have the right to protect their borders. . . But this is not incompatible with granting protection to those that are really in need,” said Commissioner Antonio Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency.

As the article notes, Egypt deported the asylum seekers “in its largest forced returns of probable refugees in decades, despite concern by Amnesty International that they might face torture.”

Egypt has housed tens of thousands of African migrants over the years, but recent pressure from Israel to halt African migration through the porous Egypt/Israel border has prompted a tougher stance on immigration.

Sixteen African migrants have been shot dead by Egyptian authorities at the Israeli border this year.

In addition to the Eritreans already deported, hundreds more are being held in detention centers and face imminent deportation, activists say.

Eritrean asylum seekers are often fleeing religious persecution and enlistment into the armed services. According to the article, “Many are not keen to stay in Egypt, where they face racism and economic marginalization.”

For the full article, click here.

Prison guards beat inmates to end hunger strike in Egyptian jail

Seventeen inmates in an Egyptian jail near the city of Alexandria were beaten by prison guards attempting to end the group’s hunger strike, Agence France-Presse reported Monday, citing the lawyer of the prisoners.

The group had been arrested in connection with the April 6 Mahalla labor riots. The inmates began their hunger strike on June 23 to protest the conditions of their detention.

The prisoners’ lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat, rejected security officials’ claims that no beating took place. “Authorities at the Borg al-Arab prison went into cell number 24 and beat up 17 prisoners to force them to end their hunger strike last Tuesday,” he said, adding: “Nine of them had been ordered released on June 2 but they are still in custody.”

For the full article, click here.

Iranian youth appeals death sentence, case under review

The case of an Iranian minor sentenced to death for murder is under review after the youth appealed the ruling, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing judiciary officials.

The conviction of Saleh Taseb, who was reportedly born in 1992, prompted an outcry from the European Union, which issued a statement last week calling on Tehran to halt his execution, as well as those of several other juveniles on death row.

Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi maintained that Iran does not execute juveniles. “As I have said before, ‘qisas’ [The Islamic code of punishment or fair retribution] is a religious decree and we do not have execution under the age of 18,” Jamshidi said. “We often try to resolve the case through reconciliation and the payment of ‘diya’ [the payment of blood money] to avoid the implementation of the sentence [for a minor].”

As the article notes, “Amnesty International listed Iran as the world’s second most prolific executioner last year, with at least 317 people put to death.”

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese leader’s visit sparks protest in Houston

Vietnamese refugees were among a group of nearly 500 people who on June 25 protested against Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to Houston, the Houston Chronicle reported the same day.

As Dung spent the day meeting with Texas business leaders in the hopes of securing new trade agreements, the demonstrators gathered outside a local mall chanting, “No freedom! No democracy! No trade!” They said the U.S. was compromising its democracy promotion efforts by doing business with the communist country.

“I don’t hurt anymore,” said 64-year-old Thu Tran Nguyen, a survivor of North Vietnamese concentration camps. “But my relatives, my countrymen need democracy.”

Tram Pham, 36, added: “We still have family living under this oppressive regime. If our voices aren’t heard in the United States, they’ll never see change.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Kurdish girl stoned to death by family for eloping

In a June 17 call to action, the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) reports on an “honor killing” that left a 16-year-old Kurdish girl dead at the hands of her own family.

Kurdistan Aziz recently eloped with her fiancé to Erbil, where, cognizant of the risk posed by her actions, she sought the protection of the government’s domestic violence department. According to WLUML, the department accepted a bribe from Aziz’s father, and returned her to him.

Between May 17 and 18, Aziz was stoned to death by her own family, WLUML says, adding that authorities refused to intervene, calling the matter a “tribal issue.”

WLUML urges concerned parties to write a letter to Kurdistan Regional Government officials demanding that Aziz’s killers be tried as murderers and calling a for a full investigation into evidence of government corruption and negligence.

For the full story, click here.

Exiled activist demands government assurances for return to Egypt

Egyptian rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim has written a letter to his country’s foreign minister expressing his intent to return to Egypt, but demanding assurances that we will not be arrested, the independent daily Al-Masri al-Yom reported on June 28.

Ibrahim, who has been charged with undermining the national interest and has spent several months in exile, says he has not received a formal response from the Egyptian government.

According to the article, Ibrahim’s letter also demanded “a declaration that the Presidency and the government were not a party in the legal disputes against him being considered by Egyptian courts.”

Ibrahim says Cairo has targeted him for his criticisms of the government of President Hosni Mubarak and his comments on the possibility that Mubarak’s son, Gamal, could succeed his father in office.

“Since I left Egypt, I have been verbally harassed by the Egyptian regime, especially in the international forums I have taken part in,” Ibrahim said. “Egyptian embassies, in fact, send their delegates to these forums specifically to attack me and deny what I say, which is often about the future of democracy in Egypt.”

For the full article, click here.