3.31.2007

Egypt's Constitutional Amendments

They are meant to pave the way to a dynastic transfer of power to Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal. This is the best insightful comment on Egypt's constitutional amendments.

Obviously, Mr. Mubarak would not believe that Egypt is not Syria, and he persistently refuses to show respect for his country and people. Moreover, he thinks that by imprisoning bloggers and tailoring laws and constitutional amendments legalizing the police state, his regime has made of Egypt, he can ensure the 'dynastic republic' and then, his boy's forged succession.

However, the Egyptians have proved in the referendum day to the entire world that they deserve freedom and democracy when they left voting offices empty. It was really a slap to Arab authoritarianism through the Egyptian regime.

I eventually hope that Egypt authoritarians stop after this showdown and public humiliation in front of the watching world made to them by the Egyptian people, and let bloggers and democratic and liberal activists out of prisons, and get the boy a job, and be totally aware that Egypt is not Syria.

Finally, I should remind of the importance of Egypt's democratization to the entire region. I think that setting up the democratization process in Egypt is a key to democratization in the Middle East. Egypt under democratization would have a certain effects on the regional system, which would definitely change against authoritarianism that constitutes a historical basis for this system.

For the new Middle East, besides fighting extremism and totalitarianism, Egypt is the portal.

Related posts:

Egypt Democracy Watch

December 2006

July 2006

October 2006


Here is a comprehensive file on Egypt's constitutional amendments I have arranged:


Egypt: Civil Society and the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Bahey Eldin Hassan

Arab Reform Bulletin
February 2007

On December 26, 2006 President Hosni Mubarak formally requested that the People's Assembly amend some 34 articles of the constitution, a move heralded by the government-controlled press as promising "a new era of democracy" and "the rise of the citizenry." Public interest in the amendments is low, however, as Egyptians are beginning to realize that the proposed amendments actually represent the constitutionalization of measures intended to undo the modest gains of the limited political opening of 2004-2005.

By the end of the autumn 2005 parliamentary elections, the erosion of such gains was already underway. The retrenchment was accomplished in 2005-2006 through administrative and security interference in the elections, the refusal to tolerate demonstrations, the imprisonment of Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, the renewal of the State of Emergency, the postponement of local elections, and the use of the Emergency Law against hundreds of peaceful demonstrators with no connection to terrorism. Member of Parliament Talat Al Sadat was stripped of his immunity and convicted in a military trial for criticizing the armed forces. A license for the independent liberal leftist newspaper Al Badil (The Alternative) was denied and the Political Parties Committee refused the licensing requests of twelve new parties, some of whose applications were over a decade old.

Although some of the new proposed constitutional amendments are meaningless, several are causing particular concern among civil society organizations. Amendment of Article 88, for example, would curtail judicial supervision of general elections, which in 2005 exposed fraud and lack of transparency in the electoral process. This will mean a return to regime control of election results. Other amendments include further interference with judicial independence via the creation of a new supervisory body headed by the President.

The proposed amendments would also weaken constitutional guarantees of human rights in order to pave the way for lifting the State of Emergency in favor of a counter-terrorism law. Such changes are likely to grant security forces unlimited authority to detain persons, raid residences, and monitor postal and telephone communications without court permission. A special judicial regime might be created to grant the necessary authorization and provide political cover for the security apparatus. And reimposition of the State of Emergency will remain a possibility even when there is a new counter-terrorism law.

Regarding political life, by prohibiting religious parties the amendments appear to foreclose any hope of coming to terms with political Islam. Meanwhile, the creation of new non-religious parties continues to be blocked and existing parties are beset by administrative, legislative, and security restrictions.

In response to these developments, opposition groups and civil society have been divided and on the defensive. Heads of the centrist Wafd and lefitist Tagammu, older parties that now command little support, agreed in principle to Mubarak's proposed amendments, provoking sharp criticism and allegations of deal-making with the regime from within the two parties and in the independent press. The Judges' Club, among the most active and respected advocates of reform, has expressed concern that these amendments target human rights, judicial independence, and electoral transparency. The judges have demanded that the government permit international monitoring of future elections. Human rights organizations have expressed similar concerns about elections and the limiting of public freedoms under the pretext of combating terrorism. Some public figures and the Kifaya protest movement have called for a public boycott of discussion of the amendments and the coming referendum, arguing that previous experiences have resulted in the passage of regime initiatives without any meaningful change, while the ruling parting has benefited from the appearance that the amendments were the result of free democratic dialogue.

Many in the opposition and civil society are insisting on the amendment of Article 77 in order to set a limit of two presidential terms, with the understanding that this stipulation will not be applied retroactively to President Mubarak. Some analysts expect that Mubarak will agree to such an amendment in the final moments as a sop to the opposition parties.

The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights has recommended to the government that such term limits be established and that judicial supervision of elections be maintained. But the Council has unfortunately ignored issues strongly connected to its original purview, despite the fact that constitutional human rights guarantees will be the main victim of the amendments.

With the required two-thirds majority in the People's Assembly, there is little question that the ruling party will pass the amendments handily and move on to the required public referendum. Then the next move in the game will be to pass a raft of laws stemming from the amendments, thereby completing the constitutional and legislative process of closing the political opening in Egypt.

Bahey Eldin Hassan is director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.

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Divisive Egypt reforms approved

BBC News
27 March 2007

Some polling centres saw just a trickle of voters

Controversial amendments to Egypt's constitution have been approved by 75.9% of those who voted in Monday's referendum, government officials say.

Turnout for the vote was 27%, the justice ministry said, although some independent groups put it at 5%.

The country's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the vote and criticised the amendments as paving the way for a police state.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official said the result was forged.

The 34 constitutional amendments include a ban on the creation of political parties based on religion, and sweeping security powers.

The government says the changes will deepen democracy, but opponents say it will be easier to rig future elections.

President Hosni Mubarak hailed the result on Monday.

"The people are the real winners in this referendum. What has been achieved does not represent the end of the road," he said.

Mr Mubarak promised further political, economic and social reforms but gave no specific details.

Mohamed Habib, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the government had made up the referendum result.

"It is 100% forged... They are lying," he told the Reuters news agency.

Sweeping powers

Under Egyptian election laws, a low turnout does not affect the outcome, as a simple majority of votes cast is required for victory.

Even before the official results were announced, the government papers were celebrating a successful referendum, BBC Cairo correspondent Heba Saleh says.

Their front pages gloat about what they describe as massive participation and the failure of the opposition boycott.

It is a different picture in the private and opposition papers which report a low turnout of 10% or under, our correspondent says.

Religious ban

Officials say the changes will allow the drafting of a new anti-terrorism law to replace the emergency legislation in place since 1981, giving police wide powers of arrest and surveillance.

In addition, the amendments ban all religious-based political activity and parties, a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamic party banned in Egypt which represents the strongest opposition force.

The Brotherhood ran in the legislative elections in 2005, with candidates standing as independents, and won 88 seats in parliament.

The amendments also allow the adoption of a new election law and do away with the need for judicial supervision of every ballot box.

Opposition groups have voiced fears about the wording of the articles on the new anti-terrorism law because it will be possible to bypass the constitutional guarantees protecting basic freedoms.

Human rights group Amnesty International has called the changes the greatest erosion of human rights since a state of emergency was declared after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat 26 years ago.

OFFICIAL RESULTS

9,701,833 people voted, 27.1 % of the country's 35,865,660 eligible voters
'Yes' vote 75.9%, 'no' vote 24.1%

KEY AMENDMENTS

Article 5:
Bans political activity/parties based on religion

Article 88:
Removes judicial supervision of elections

Article 179:
Invokes special powers to fight terrorism

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Egypt: A permanent emergency?

By Martin Asser
BBC News
27 March 2007

Opponents are calling the amendments the "death of Egypt"

For nearly two years, Egypt has been inching towards constitutional changes that could allow it to end one of the longest "emergencies" in history.

Emergency powers were implemented in 1981, after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and have been in force ever since.

But critics of Mr Sadat's enduring successor, Hosni Mubarak, say the amendments will enable a replacement of emergency laws with something just as authoritarian - but permanent.

The 34 new articles were approved by a vote in parliament - dominated by members of the ruling National Democratic Party on 19 March.

A week later they were put to a popular vote. Government officials said they were approved by more than three-quarters of voters, although the turnout was low - 27% according to official figures, much lower by other independent groups.

The opposition, led by independent supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, boycotted the vote, saying the lightening referendum did not give them a chance to mount a proper "No" campaign.

Demise of socialism

The government says the constitutional changes will enhance Egypt's democracy and allow it to fight terrorism more effectively.

Article One, for example, changes Egypt from a "democratic, socialist state" based on an alliance of workers to "a democratic system based on citizenship".

The socialist economic system previously enshrined in Article 4 becomes a system "based on freedom of economic action... safeguarding ownership and preserving workers rights".

The anachronistic Article 59 - "safeguarding socialist gains is a national duty" - becomes a much more fashionable "conserving the environment is a national duty".

One of the most controversial amendments, Article 179, gives the president new powers to refer terrorist cases to any judicial authority he chooses - including military tribunals whose verdicts are not subject to appeal.

It also says the authorities may override three other articles protecting individual freedoms and privacy.

Dynastic transfer

Some amendments appear to be specifically written to perpetuate the rule of Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

In fact, his critics say they are meant to pave the way to a dynastic transfer of power to Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal, currently a high-flying official in the NDP.

Article Five, for example, gives a nod towards a "political regime based on the multi-party system".

But it also bans "any political activity or political party based on any religious background or foundation".

It seems hardly a coincidence that the strongest challenge to the NDP comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is already banned but tolerated by the authorities. Now it is actually unconstitutional.

Article 88, which previously stipulated supervision of elections by members of the judiciary, has also been rewritten to remove that control.

This seems connected to a high-profile struggle last year when two senior judges unsuccessfully pressed for an inquiry into alleged electoral fraud during the general election in 2005.

Meanwhile Article 7 requires presidential candidates to be nominated by parties with at least 3% of elected members of parliament - another insurmountable obstacle for the Brotherhood.

Constraints

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, warned that the amendments would "write into permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights" since 1981.

Article 179 seems particularly draconian, stating that Articles 41, 44 and 45 (paragraph two) of the constitution must not "hamper" investigations into terrorist crimes.

These articles prevent detention without judicial authorities' permission, police searches without a warrant and eavesdropping on personal communications.

It is unclear how fully the government will use the new powers enshrined in the amendments.

Critics like Amnesty expect more of the same, in a country where political opponents are already subjected to numerous constraints preventing them from competing on an equal footing with the ruling party.

But the Muslim Brotherhood may be facing an even greater crackdown under Article Five, given that its entire programme can be summed up with the maxim "Islam is the solution".

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Q&A: Egyptian referendum

BBC News
23 March 2007

Egypt is to hold a controversial referendum on constitutional amendments on Monday 26 March.

The opposition, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, plans to boycott the ballot.

What's the referendum about?

The Egyptian government wants to make changes to the country's constitution, especially those sections concerning the conduct of elections and anti-terror legislation.

What changes are being proposed?

The proposed amendments include changes to 34 articles of the constitution. The changes include a ban on the establishment of religious parties and allow for the adoption of a new election law. They would allow the president to dissolve parliament unilaterally and dispense with the need for judicial supervision of every ballot box.

They would also allow for a new anti-terrorism law to replace emergency legislation that has been in place since 1981, when Hosni Mubarak first became president after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar al-Sadat. The new law enshrines sweeping police powers of surveillance and arrest and allows for civilians to be tried by military courts in terrorism cases.

Why is the government so keen on the changes?

The government says that the proposed changes to the constitution are long overdue reforms that will strengthen democracy and the rule of law.

Why is the opposition boycotting the referendum?

The opposition says that the aim of the changes is to strengthen President Mubarak's grasp on power. It maintains that the watering down of the judicial supervision of elections will increase the likelihood of election abuses.

Parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood are likely to be hit hard by the proposed ban on political activity based on religion.

The opposition is also unhappy about the proposed new anti-terrorism law, which it says will turn Egypt into a police state.

It also objects to the bringing forward of the date of the referendum - which was originally set for 4 April - saying that this is indicative of the government's determination to ram through changes without taking into account any opposition.

What does the rest of the world say?

The human rights group Amnesty International is highly critical of the proposals, saying that they amount to the greatest erosion of human rights in Egypt since emergency laws were enacted in 1981 in the wake of the assassination of President Sadat.

The US has also expressed muted criticism of the proposed constitutional amendments.

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Egypt: Proposed constitutional amendments greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years

Amnesty International
Press release, 03/18/2007

Amnesty International today called on Egyptian members of parliament to reject proposed amendments to the country's constitution, which the organisation described as the most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt since the state of emergency was re-imposed in 1981.

The appeal came as the Egyptian Parliament prepared to approve this Sunday amendments to 34 articles of the constitution, including Article 179. The amendments to this Article would give sweeping powers of arrest to the police, grant broad authority to monitor private communications and allow the Egyptian president to bypass ordinary courts and refer people suspected of terrorism to military and special courts, in which they would be unlikely to receive fair trials.

"The proposed constitutional amendments would simply entrench the long-standing system of abuse under Egypt's state of emergency powers and give the misuse of those powers a bogus legitimacy. Instead of putting an end to the secret detentions, enforced "disappearances", torture and unfair trials before emergency and military courts, Egyptian MPs are now being asked to sign away even the constitutional protections against such human rights violations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.

The amendment of Article 179 would pave the way for the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that would undermine the principle of individual freedom [Article 41(1)], privacy of the home [Article 44] and privacy of correspondence, telephone calls and other communication [Article 45(2)]. The amendments would also grant the president the right to interfere in the judiciary by bypassing ordinary courts, including by referring people suspected of terrorism-related offences to military courts.

If approved by parliament, the amendments to Article 179 will be put to a popular referendum on 4 April along with amendments to 33 other articles of the Constitution. Egyptian NGOs and others have also expressed grave concerns about these other amendments including those which would ban the establishment of political parties based on religion and reduce the role of the judges in supervising elections and referendums. The first is seen as part of a government strategy to undermine the opposition Muslim Brotherhood following its improved showing in the 2005 elections. The second is seen as an attempt to prevent any repetition of events last year, when two leading judges denounced the government's failure to take action in response to evidence of electoral fraud during the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005.

The amendments are being presented to MPs as a package on which they must vote yes or no. They cannot accept some and reject others, nor can they open up any of the proposed amendments for further parliamentary review.

"Amnesty International recognises the threat posed to Egypt by terrorism, but respect for and protection of fundamental human rights cannot simply be swept away by a majority vote," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

"By pushing through these amendments, the government will write into the permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights over more than two decades, so that when it then bows at last to international criticism and lifts the state of emergency the impact will be no more than cosmetic. The parliament should not rubber stamp this. Instead, it should reject the amendments and insist that Egypt's national law adequately safeguards the universal rights enshrined under international law which Egypt has committed, but so conspicuously failed, to uphold."

Amnesty International firmly believes that the current constitutional reform must be seized as an opportunity to further strengthen human rights protection and to break with the practices of the past. None of the provisions of the emergency legislation should be entrenched in the new law or protected by the constitution.

Background
The proposed amendment of Article 179 stipulates the following:
“The State shall work to safeguard the general discipline and security in the face of the dangers of terror. The law shall regulate the provisions related to the measures of conclusion and investigation necessary for combating those dangers under the supervision of the Judiciary in a way that the measure stipulated in the first paragraph of Article 51 and Article 44 and the second paragraph of Article 45 of the Constitution not to hinder putting those provisions into effect.
The President of the Republic may submit any crime of terror crimes to any judicial body stipulated in the Constitution or the law.”

Demonstrators calling for rejection of the constitutional amendments were dispersed by police in Cairo on Friday. Scores were arrested and detained; most were quickly released but some 23 have been charged with public order offences.


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3.29.2007

Middle East's Nuclear Iranian regime and Resolution 1747

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution (1747) sanctioning Iran on its nuclear program. This question (the Iranian nuclear program) constitutes one of the two key battles in the context of the struggle for the new Middle East; the other is about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. These two battles are of key importance to the future of the Middle East and for the new Middle East, as I have said before.

This resolution is definitely a setback to the anti-democratic Middle East Totalitarian Axis led by the Iranian totalitarian regime. We should be clearly aware that the struggle for freedom and democracy in the Middle East from Iraq and beyond entails change at the geopolitical level in the Middle East. This required geopolitical change is achieved by breaking the Middle East Totalitarian Axis and weakening and containing its pressured components alongside defeating totalitarianism.

For an empirical insight into the post-Iraq Middle East, read my article, The Struggle for the New Middle East.

Here are the text of UNSCR 1747 and a related analysis by the CFR:


Resolution 1747 (2007)

S/RES/1747

Adopted by the Security Council at its 5647th meeting on 24 March 2007

The Security Council,

Recalling the Statement of its President, S/PRST/2006/15, of 29 March 2006, and its resolution 1696 (2006) of 31 July 2006, and its resolution 1737 (2006) of 23 December 2006, and reaffirming their provisions,

Reaffirming its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the need for all States Party to that Treaty to comply fully with all their obligations, and recalling the right of States Party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,

Recalling its serious concern over the reports of the IAEA Director General as set out in its resolutions 1696 (2006) and 1737 (2006),

Recalling the latest report by the IAEA Director General (GOV/2007/8) of 22 February 2007 and deploring that, as indicated therein, Iran has failed to comply with resolution 1696 (2006) and resolution 1737 (2006),

Emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution guaranteeing that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes, and noting that such a solution would benefit nuclear non-proliferation elsewhere, and welcoming the continuing commitment of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the support of the European Union’s High Representative to seek a negotiated solution,

Recalling the resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors (GOV/2006/14), which states that a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery,

Determined to give effect to its decisions by adopting appropriate measures to persuade Iran to comply with resolution 1696 (2006) and resolution 1737 (2006) and with the requirements of the IAEA, and also to constrain Iran’s development of sensitive technologies in support of its nuclear and missile programmes, until such time as the Security Council determines that the objectives of these resolutions have been met,

Recalling the requirement on States to join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council,

Concerned by the proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear programme and, in this context, by Iran’s continuing failure to meet the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors and to comply with the provisions of Security Council resolutions 1696 (2006) and 1737 (2006), mindful of its primary responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security,

Acting under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

1. Reaffirms that Iran shall without further delay take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors in its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear programme and to resolve outstanding questions, and, in this context, affirms its decision that Iran shall without further delay take the steps required in paragraph 2 of resolution 1737 (2006);

2. Calls upon all States also to exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals who are engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems, and decides in this regard that all States shall notify the Committee established pursuant to paragraph 18 of resolution 1737 (2006) (herein “the Committee”) of the entry into or transit through their territories of the persons designated in the Annex to resolution 1737 (2006) or Annex I to this resolution, as well as of additional persons designated by the Security Council or the Committee as being engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems, including through the involvement in procurement of the prohibited items, goods, equipment, materials and technology specified by and under the measures in paragraphs 3 and 4 of resolution 1737 (2006), except where such travel is for activities directly related to the items in subparagraphs 3 (b) (i) and (ii) of that resolution;

3. Underlines that nothing in the above paragraph requires a State to refuse its own nationals entry into its territory, and that all States shall, in the implementation of the above paragraph, take into account humanitarian considerations, including religious obligations, as well as the necessity to meet the objectives of this resolution and resolution 1737 (2006), including where Article XV of the IAEA Statute is engaged;

4. Decides that the measures specified in paragraphs 12, 13, 14 and 15 of resolution 1737 (2006) shall apply also to the persons and entities listed in Annex I to this resolution;

5. Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran;

6. Calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale or transfer directly or indirectly from their territories or by their nationals or using their flag vessels or aircraft of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms to Iran, and in the provision to Iran of any technical assistance or training, financial assistance, investment, brokering or other services, and the transfer of financial resources or services, related to the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture or use of such items in order to prevent a destabilizing accumulation of arms;

7. Calls upon all States and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes;

8. Calls upon all States to report to the Committee within 60 days of the adoption of this resolution on the steps they have taken with a view to implementing effectively paragraphs 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 above;

9. Expresses the conviction that the suspension set out in paragraph 2 of resolution 1737 (2006) as well as full, verified Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA Board of Governors would contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes, underlines the willingness of the international community to work positively for such a solution, encourages Iran, in conforming to the above provisions, to re-engage with the international community and with the IAEA, and stresses that such engagement will be beneficial to Iran;

10. Welcomes the continuous affirmation of the commitment of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the support of the European Union’s High Representative, to a negotiated solution to this issue and encourages Iran to engage with their June 2006 proposals (S/2006/521), attached in Annex II to this resolution, which were endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 1696 (2006), and acknowledges with appreciation that this offer to Iran remains on the table, for a long-term comprehensive agreement which would allow for the development of relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect and the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme;

11. Reiterates its determination to reinforce the authority of the IAEA, strongly supports the role of the IAEA Board of Governors, commends and encourages the Director General of the IAEA and its secretariat for their ongoing professional and impartial efforts to resolve all outstanding issues in Iran within the framework of the IAEA, underlines the necessity of the IAEA, which is internationally recognized as having authority for verifying compliance with safeguards agreements, including the non-diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful purposes, in accordance with its Statute, to continue its work to clarify all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme;

12. Requests within 60 days a further report from the Director General of the IAEA on whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all activities mentioned in resolution 1737 (2006), as well as on the process of Iranian compliance with all the steps required by the IAEABoard and with the other provisions of resolution 1737 (2006) and of this resolution, to the IAEA Board of Governors and in parallel to the Security Council for its consideration;

13. Affirms that it shall review Iran’s actions in light of the report referred to in paragraph 12 above, to be submitted within 60 days, and:

(a) that it shall suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by the IAEA, to allow for negotiations in good faith in order to reach an early and mutually acceptable outcome;

(b) that it shall terminate the measures specified in paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12 of resolution 1737 (2006) as well as in paragraphs 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 above as soon as it determines, following receipt of the report referred to in paragraph 12 above, that Iran has fully complied with its obligations under the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and met the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors, as confirmed by the IAEA Board;

(c) that it shall, in the event that the report in paragraph 12 above shows that Iran has not complied with resolution 1737 (2006) and this resolution, adopt further appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to persuade Iran to comply with these resolutions and the requirements of the IAEA, and underlines that further decisions will be required should such additional measures be necessary;

14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

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Iran Standoff Deepens

CFR.org
March 26, 2007

The tone of confrontation between Iran and predominantly Western states has intensified with the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions. The Council unanimously imposed a ban on all Iranian arms exports, as well as asset freezes of twenty-eight officials and entities. Though the measures were still more moderate than those proposed by Washington, they continue to ratchet up pressure on Iranian officials to suspend their uranium-enrichment program. As with previous warnings and measures, Iran met this one with defiance. The government plans to suspend (al-Jazeera) adherence to the codes requiring countries to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear agency, of decisions related to its nuclear program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reasserted claims that the UN move was illegal. He railed against “ spiteful and vicious movements of certain powers” against Iran. Adding to tensions was the Iranian seizure (FT) on March 23 of fifteen British military personnel charged with illegally entering Iranian waters.

The UN move was occurring on a parallel track with informal U.S.-led efforts to tighten economic screws on Iran. More than forty financial institutions have curtailed business with Iranian entities since the U.S. campaign began last fall, the Washington Post reports. Matthew Levitt, an expert on terrorism financing at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says in a new CFR.org Podcast that Iran is already feeling a financial squeeze and that the United States should consider applying further pressure against Iranian banks. As CFR Director of Studies Gary Samore said in a recent speech before the International Institute for Strategic Studies, since the first resolution's passage, “ the balance has begun to shift,” given Moscow and Beijing's support for graduated punitive measures.

The Security Council’s latest ban hits an Iranian defense industry that has grown significantly in recent years. Iran sells weaponry, not to mention technical know-how, to dozens of countries throughout the developing world, including countries accused of genocide (Daily Times) like Sudan. Tehran also supplies arms to non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas, considered terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union. Iran is not only a major arms exporter, but also a large importer, getting the bulk of its weapon systems from Russia, as this Backgrounder explains.

Experts disagree if the arms embargo against Iran will do the trick. A resolution would not affect Tehran’s alleged illicit transfers of weapons to terrorist groups or Iraqi militias. As Guy Ben-Ali of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes, “It is not the loss of this rather insignificant source of foreign currency—Iran exported an estimated $63 billion worth of commodities in 2006—that will cause Tehran to wince if [sanctions are imposed]. Rather, it is the loss of a key foreign and national security policy tool.” Another positive sign is Russia's recent threat to withhold nuclear fuel for a civilian reactor at Bushehr until Iran suspends its uranium-enrichment program (NYT).


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3.24.2007

Arabs Speak Out about Democracy

The Arab Center for the Development of the Rule of Law and Integrity and IFES published two surveys (January 12, 2007) showed that corruption and a lack of independence for journalists, parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, are key concerns identified by survey participants in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon.

This is a summary of the findings:


Arabs Speak Out about Democracy in New Reports

ifes.org
January 30, 2007

Two new reports reveal that an overwhelming majority of Arab citizens in four diverse countries support democratic reform and want to make their courts, media and parliaments more independent. In January, more than 200 Arab officials, judges, lawyers, parliamentarians, journalists, academics and community leaders discussed and debated the reports’ findings during back-to-back conferences in Cairo and Amman.

The Arab Center for the Development of the Rule of Law and Integrity, or ACRLI, and IFES sponsored the conferences and compiled the reports under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme. The reports examine, for the first time, the current state of the parliament, media and judiciary systems in major cities in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. The reports look at these institutions from multiple Arab perspectives, through a systematic, multi-tiered analytical framework based upon rule of law and democratic good governance principles.

Arab researchers randomly surveyed hundreds of lawyers, judges, journalists and parliamentarians, as well as members of the general public. They also reviewed existing Arab and international constitutions, laws and research, in addition to conducting targeted focus groups. The Beirut-based ACRLI conducted the research from April 2005-September 2006.

“These reports, written entirely by Arabs, debunk the myth that Arabs are not ready or supportive of good governance and the rule of law,” said Keith Henderson, IFES senior rule of law advisor. Henderson added that one of the “amazing” outcomes that has happened, after a series of workshops involving the preeminent legal reform network in the region, is that a consensus has emerged on how to define an independent judiciary, media and parliament within the Arab context, and that Arabs are now ready to assume a leadership role in making these reforms a reality.

The conferences in Amman and Cairo attracted widespread attention among regional media outlets. A former prime minister of Jordan, the first female member of Egypt’s Constitutional Court and governmental officials from Morocco were among the dignitaries in attendance.

“Culture of Fear”

A lack of independence for journalists, parliamentarians, judges and lawyers was one of the main issues identified by both Arab professionals and the general public.

In the judicial survey, experts from all four countries said that external pressures interfere with the independence and efficient enforcement of judicial decisions. Most of the experts surveyed also said that judges do not enjoy their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or freedom to associate. Egyptian experts were the most likely to voice these concerns.

Likewise, almost 80 percent of media experts surveyed in Egypt agreed that government censorship significantly hinders their independence. Jordan was next with 65 percent. Only about a quarter of the public surveyed in Jordan and Egypt said the media can report openly “to a large extent.”

The findings were similar to those in the parliamentary survey in which two-thirds of Jordanian parliamentary experts and about a third of their counterparts in the other countries said parliament is pressured by government “to a large degree.”

Henderson said the surveys shed light on a culture in which Arab professionals routinely self-censor to avoid jeopardizing their careers, being fined, thrown in jail, and in some cases, suffering physical harm.

“Arab professionals across the region are struggling to work within a culture of fear,” said Henderson. He added that this hostile working environment ultimately leads to corruption in these democratic institutions and discourages Arab citizens from openly expressing their desires for reform.

Corruption Rampant

Experts in all four countries said that anti-corruption laws are not rigorously enforced. 83 percent of experts in Lebanon expressed this opinion, followed by Egypt at 61 percent. At the same time, almost 75 percent of the public surveyed in Morocco said parliamentarians do not care about issues pertaining to the public, with more than half of the Egyptians and Lebanese surveyed in agreement.

Bribery was another key concern identified by the general public. Large numbers of citizens in all countries who have dealt with the court system either paid bribes or were asked to pay bribes to court staff and judges. Bribery was the most common in Egypt and Morocco.

Overall, the data showed that the judiciary was strongest in Egypt, the media strongest in Lebanon and the parliament equally strong in Egypt and Jordan, although none of these institutions received high marks in any country. Henderson said those findings indicate that Arab governments can learn from each other when it comes to adopting democratic reforms that will work in the Arab context. Ultimately, Henderson said he hopes Arab governments will use the reports to address their citizens’ concerns.

“These reports are a unified call for reform from the Arab people themselves,” said Henderson. “The question is whether Arab leaders will listen.”

The reports and the conferences come amid a widely-reported backlash against democratic reform efforts in the Middle East, fueled in part by Arab concerns about the war in Iraq. However, the surveys show that despite recent setbacks to democracy efforts in the Middle East, support for democratic values such as media independence and government accountability to citizens remains strong.

A recent Gallup poll supports those findings. That poll found many Muslims support democratic values such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and believe those values can coexist with Islam. The poll sampled the opinions of more than 80 percent of the world's Muslim population in 10 countries.


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3.20.2007

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Middle East Wind of Change

In honor of this occasion, when the wind of change began blowing in the Middle East; when the freedom bell began ringing; when the long aspiration for freedom and dignity began its path into reality, this is an updated version of my article, Iraq Victory: Middle East Salvation, which had been well quoted in 2005 and 2006 and had been highlighted by the Philadelphia Inquirer in December 2005.

Some related articles of mine:

- The Neo-Internationalism After 9/11 and Middle East Democratization

- The Struggle for the New Middle East

- The End of International Isolationism

- Defining the Iraqi Question

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror



IRAQ VICTORY: MIDDLE EAST SALVATION

By Nassim Yaziji

The U.S. will not abandon Iraq. To me, it means that the U.S. will not abandon the Middle East. Some recent stances and statements in the U.S. urging to quit Iraq have shocked me. I find it, and I am sorry for this expression, extremely irresponsible, and definitely harming U.S. interests and the nascent Middle East democratization movement.

I definitely look positively at any deliberate prospective troops reduction, but setting a timetable of withdrawal, such as U.S. giving up, would blow up the reform movement and the liberal renaissance in the Middle East after Iraq and Lebanon. Furthermore, that would also blow up the American interests and credibility in the region.

We must clearly know that the Operation Iraqi Freedom is a requisite for ensuring international peace and security based on global democracy in the 21st century. The post-Cold War chaotic international order is dying because it is no more able to tackle world problems and the new dangers and serious threats endangering the entire world, especially since 9/11. Pre-empting those dangers and threats, adapting to the changing geopolitics of the world and reacting to it, and creating the foundations of a new consistent and competent international order are requisites for future international peace and stability through a new world order based on global democratic values.

What has been done after the world war ΙΙ is something alike, so what is happening now after 9/11. When Europe was geopolitically the heart of the world, America moved to Europe and fought there with ideas and forces to restore and maintain peace and stability. Europe is no longer the heart of the world; the strategic center is moving eastward to the Middle East. The Middle East now is a key region to security, energy and world geopolitics -– as a strategic location to approach the rising powers and future rivals, China and India.

Iraq has become the base of transforming the Middle East and eliminating the authoritarianism and totalitarianism with the democratic shine and the western back up. Furthermore, Iraq is becoming the real base of changing the geopolitics of the region and replacing the old Middle East regional system with a new one, more modern, transparent, democratic and integrated with the world, ending the Cold War era and the Soviet legacy in the region.

The consequent new Middle East is a key factor in the process of development of the new world order, which would cope with world stability, security and progress. We are facing a historic challenge and task, so we should apply a relevant and responsible approach.

The war in Iraq is the war of the Middle East. It is a war of ideas and powers. The fearful totalitarian terrorist regimes are fighting the United States in Iraq as a symbol of fighting and intimidating the spreading free world after the Cold War to destroy the democratic perspective and to surround freedom in their countries.

The freedom in the Middle East is worthy of all the sacrifices that have been made, and it will eventually prevail. So, let us get our freedom dream in the Middle East a reality, which is turning into international objective and necessity.


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3.17.2007

The U.S. Human Rights List 2006

The annual release of a report on human rights by the U.S. State Department is mandated by law. The report reviews progress and pitfalls around the world—not including the United States—and highlights major offenders.

The report chides many serial violators of human rights norms—China, Syria, Iran, and Cuba, among others. Like those nations, North Korea's violations are highlighted in the report's introduction, which condemns it as “one of the world's most isolated and repressive regimes.” Similar language is reserved for China, where “human rights record deteriorated” and Cuba, which “continued to violate virtually all the rights of its citizens.”

See also these related posts on Middle East Policy blog:

- Middle East Human Rights 2007

- Freedom in 2006, Worst of the Worst

- Freedom in the World 2006

- The 13 Internet Enemies 2006


Following is the main sections of the introduction of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006 released by the US:


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

Introduction

(....)

Hopeful Trends, Yet Sobering Realities

As a review of these reports shows, across the globe in 2006, men and women continued to press for their rights to be respected and their governments to be responsive, for their voices to be heard and their votes to count, for just laws and justice for all. There also was a growing recognition that democracy is the form of government that can best meet the demands of citizens for dignity, liberty, and equality. These are hopeful trends indeed, yet the reports also reflect sobering realities:

First, the advances made in human rights and democracy were hard won and challenging to sustain. While some countries made significant progress, some lagged and others regressed.

As the range of examples below demonstrates, the performance of countries varied greatly, depending on factors such as the degree of governmental commitment, institutional capacity, the extent of corruption, and the strength of civil society.

In January 2006 Liberia's democratically elected Unity Party government, led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa, replaced the National Transitional Government of Liberia, which had served as the interim government since the end of a ruinous 14-year civil war in 2003. The government took significant steps to correct past human rights deficiencies, including working with international partners to rehabilitate the country's justice sector and establishing a public defender's office in the capital. The president dismissed or suspended a number of corrupt government officials. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2005 to investigate human rights violations and war crimes committed during the civil war, began taking statements from witnesses. Despite this progress, Liberia continued to face serious human rights challenges, including a still weak judiciary, official corruption and impunity, gender-based violence, and extreme poverty that led to child labor.

Substantial reductions in killings by the armed forces and the police in politically sensitive areas of Indonesia continued during the year. Fifty-four generally free and fair elections were held at the provincial, regency, district, and municipal levels, most notably in December in Aceh, where a former rebel field commander won the governorship. Although inter-communal religious violence generally abated, it nonetheless persisted in some areas. The government and the courts were unable to confront past human rights abuses and atrocities both in Indonesia and in East Timor.

Morocco's human rights record showed notable progress, although problems remained. The government began to address past human rights abuses by providing compensation through the Consultative Council on Human Rights for specific cases of arrest, disappearance, and abuse during the period between 1956 and 1999. In March the government enacted an antitorture law, although reports of torture by various branches of the security forces persisted. There was extensive and largely open debate in public and in the press, despite continuing restrictions on freedom of the press and speech. During the year the government punished some journalists who violated limitations on free speech, and many journalists practiced self-censorship. Trafficking in persons, particularly for sexual exploitation, and child labor remained issues of concern; however, both the government and civil society were increasingly active in addressing them.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo held its first democratic presidential and legislative elections in more than 45 years, putting an end to a three-year post-civil war transitional period. A new constitution went into force. Yet, the human rights record remained poor. In addition to simmering conflict in the east, where government control remained weak and armed groups continued to commit serious abuses, government security forces across the country also committed serious abuses with impunity.

In Haiti, citizens demonstrated their commitment to democracy by going to the polls three times in 2006. More than 3.5 million citizens registered to vote, and an impressive turnout estimated at more than 70 percent of registered voters participated in the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections in February. After a relatively stable and violence-free election process, voters selected President Rene Preval and filled 129 parliamentary seats. In December, Haiti held its first municipal elections in more than a decade. Yet much remains to be done to restore fully the rule of law, including an overhaul of Haiti's dysfunctional judicial system and the continued retraining and vetting of the Haitian National Police.

In Ukraine, notable post-Orange Revolution progress in human rights performance continued to be made. The March 2006 parliamentary elections were the freest in 15 years of independence. The country continued to make improvements in press freedom, freedom of association, and the development of civil society. Despite these gains, a number of serious problems remained, including corruption in all branches of government.

Although Kyrgyzstan's human rights record had improved considerably following the change to democratically elected leadership in 2005, during 2006 a week of mass yet peaceful protests culminated in the hasty adoption of an amended constitution that offered the possibility for genuine checks and balances. At the end of December, however, parliament passed another constitution negating many key checks and balances. The government also harassed foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Despite President Musharraf's stated commitment to democratic transition and "enlightened moderation," Pakistan's human rights record continued to be poor. Restrictions remained on freedom of movement, expression, association, and religion. Disappearances of provincial activists and political opponents continued, especially in provinces experiencing internal turmoil and insurgencies. The security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings. Arbitrary arrest and torture remained common. Corruption was pervasive throughout the government and police forces. On a positive note, in December the National Assembly passed and President Musharraf signed the Women's Protection Bill - marking the first time in three decades that a Pakistan government successfully rolled back laws detrimental to women's rights. The law amends the 1979 rape and adultery provision of the Hudood Ordinance by transferring the offense of rape from Pakistan Sharia law to the Pakistan Penal Code. The law also eliminates the requirement for rape victims to present four male witnesses to press charges.

Though Egypt held a first-ever, multi-party presidential election in 2005, in 2006 public calls for greater democratization and accountability sometimes met with strong government reaction. The continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour raised serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in the country. Continuing a trend begun in 2005, the government arrested and detained hundreds of activists affiliated with the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, generally for periods lasting several weeks. Two senior judges were brought in for questioning in February for publicly calling for an independent judiciary. Egyptian police arrested and detained over 500 activists for participating in demonstrations in support of judicial independence. In addition, severe cases of torture by authorities were documented. The government also arrested, detained, and abused several Internet bloggers.

In Kazakhstan, the government restricted the functioning of the political opposition by enforcing onerous registration requirements and hindering or denying political party registration. The merging of progovernment parties consolidated the firm leadership of President Nazarbayev's Otan Party and left less political space to express alternative views and advocate for reform. The government harassed the political opposition via politically motivated charges and restrictions on freedom of assembly, passed laws restricting press freedom, and harassed NGOs.

Russia experienced continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, including amendments to election laws and new legislation for political parties that grants the government broad powers to regulate, investigate, limit, and even close down parties. Taken together with a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in law enforcement, political pressure on the judiciary, and restrictions on the NGOs and the media, these trends resulted in the further erosion of government accountability. In Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus, serious human rights violations continued, including unlawful killings and abuses of civilians by both federal and Chechen Republic security forces. Rebel fighters committed terrorist bombings and politically motivated disappearances in the region. In a growing number of cases, the European Court of Human Rights held Russia responsible for these abuses.

In Venezuela, the Chavez government continued to consolidate power in the executive branch. The government continued to harass the opposition and NGOs and to weaken judicial independence. International observers judged generally free and fair the December presidential elections, in which President Chavez won re-election with 63 percent of the vote. In his inaugural address, President Chavez asked the National Assembly, in which his parties control 100 percent of the seats, to grant him power to rule by executive decree.

In Fiji and Thailand, militaries overthrew democratically elected governments.

A second sobering reality is that insecurity due to internal and/or cross-border conflict can threaten or thwart advancements in human rights and democratic government.

Despite the Iraqi government's continuing commitment to foster national reconciliation and reconstruction, keep to an electoral course, and establish the rule of law, both deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress during 2006. Although the Iraqi constitution and law provide a strong framework for the protection of human rights, armed groups attacked human rights from two different directions: those proclaiming their hostility to the government--Al-Qa'ida terrorists, irreconcilable remnants of the Ba'athist regime, and insurgents waging guerrilla warfare; and members of Shi'a militias and individual ministries' security forces--nominally allied with the government--who committed torture and other abuses.

Although Afghanistan made important human rights progress since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, its human rights record remained poor. This was mainly due to weak central institutions and a deadly insurgency: the Taliban, Al-Qa'ida, and other extremist groups stepped up attacks against government officials, security forces, NGOs and other aid personnel, and unarmed civilians; and the number of suicide bombings rose dramatically during the year, as did attacks on schools and teachers. There were continued reports of cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and poor prison conditions. In December President Karzai launched a Transitional Justice Action Plan designed to address past violations of human rights and improve the institutional capacity of the justice system.

Lebanon's significant steps toward reform following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops after nearly three decades of occupation have been hampered since the July-August 2006 conflict between Hizballah and Israel. Before the conflict, the Lebanese government had started to remove many of the obstacles that barred political associations and parties. After Hizballah entered Israel from Lebanese territory and kidnapped and killed several Israeli soldiers, Israeli military forces responded by entering Lebanese territory. The conflict ended with an UN-sponsored cessation of hostilities. Despite the cessation of hostilities and the deployment of the Lebanon Armed Forces and UN Interim Forces in the south, Lebanese militias and Hizballah retained significant influence over parts of the country.

In East Timor, a series of deadly clashes between the national defense force and a variety of dissident military, police, and civilian forces led to widespread mob and gang violence in the capital. At the request of the government, forces from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Portugal assumed responsibility for security in the capital. On August 25, the UN Integrated Mission for East Timor took over policing responsibilities. This internal conflict resulted in the displacement of approximately 150,000 people, more than 15 percent of the country's population.

Third, despite gains for human rights and democratic principles in every region of the world, much of humanity still lives in fear yet dreams of freedom.

Countries in which power remained concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers--whether totalitarian or authoritarian--continued to be the world's most systematic human rights violators.

In 2006 North Korea remained one of the world's most isolated and repressive regimes. The regime controls almost all aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricts freedom of movement and worker rights. The constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief," but genuine religious freedom does not exist. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people, including political prisoners, were held in detention camps, and many prisoners died from torture, starvation, disease, and exposure.

The military government in Burma extensively used executions, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and forced relocation of entire villages, particularly of ethnic minorities, to maintain its grip on power. Prisoners and detainees were subjected to abuse and held in harsh, life-threatening conditions. Surveillance, harassment, and imprisonment of political activists continued; Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained incommunicado under house arrest, and over 1,100 political prisoners languished in prison. The use of forced labor, trafficking in persons, conscription of child soldiers, and religious discrimination remained widespread. The government reconvened the sham National Convention, handpicking delegates and prohibiting free debate. Touted as part of a "democracy road map", the convention was designed to nullify the results of the 1990 election and adopt a new, regime-friendly constitution. The regime's cruel and destructive misrule also resulted in refugee outflows, the spread of infectious diseases, and the trafficking of drugs and human beings into neighboring countries.

The Iranian government flagrantly violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, and reformers - a crackdown characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, disappearances, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The government continued to detain and abuse Baha'is and other religious minorities and hosted a widely condemned conference denying the existence of the Holocaust. In the lead-up to the December 15 Assembly of Experts elections in Iran, more than two-thirds of those who had applied to run - including all female candidates - were disqualified, leaving many seats uncontested. Hundreds of candidates in nationwide municipal elections also were disqualified. The government continued to flout domestic and international calls for responsible government in 2006 by supporting terrorist movements in Syria and Lebanon as well as calling for the destruction of a UN member state.

In Zimbabwe, the Mugabe government continued across-the-board violations of human rights. Official corruption and impunity were widespread. The 2002 Official Secrets Act and Public Order and Security Act remained in effect, severely restricting civil liberties. In the 2006 parliamentary by-elections and rural district council elections, the government's manipulation of the electoral process disenfranchised voters and skewed elections in favor of ruling party candidates. The ruling party's dominance permitted constitutional changes without wide consultation. Security forces harassed, beat, and arbitrarily arrested critics and opposition supporters. Disruptions at farms and seizures of property continued and were sometimes violent. The campaign of forced evictions, which left 700,000 people homeless during Operation Restore Order in 2005, continued on a lesser scale. The government interfered with humanitarian organizations' efforts to provide assistance. In December Mugabe and his loyalists proposed extending his term for two years by deferring presidential elections to 2010.

In Cuba, the government, temporarily headed by Raul Castro due to Fidel Castro's illness, continued to violate virtually all the rights of its citizens, including the fundamental right to change their government peacefully or criticize the revolution or its leaders. In 2006 the government increased its harassment of dissidents and other citizens viewed as threats to the government, often through mob actions called "acts of repudiation" involving verbal abuse and physical attacks. Beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners also were carried out with impunity. Although token releases of prisoners occurred during the year, at least 283 political prisoners and detainees were held at year's end, including 59 of 75 prodemocracy and human rights activists imprisoned in a March 2003 crackdown.

The Chinese government's human rights record deteriorated in some areas in 2006. There was an increased number of high-profile cases involving the monitoring, harassment, detention, and imprisonment of political and religious activists, journalists, and writers as well as defense lawyers seeking to exercise their rights under the law. Some of their family members also were harassed and detained. Large numbers of mass demonstrations and protests calling for redress of grievances continued and in some cases were violently suppressed. New government controls were imposed on: NGOs; the media, including the Internet; and courts and judges. Repression of unregistered religious groups and of minority groups, in particular Uighurs and Tibetans, remained a serious concern.

In Belarus, the Lukashenko government continued and intensified its repressive policies. The March presidential election was severely flawed. Up to 1,000 people were arrested in an ensuing crackdown on public protests against the results and many were sentenced to short jail terms. More activists and opposition members, including Aleksander Kozulin, who ran against Lukashenko in the presidential race, were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 2 to 5 ½ years.

The Eritrean government continued to be one of the most repressive in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its human rights record worsened in 2006. Government security forces committed extrajudicial killings; there were credible reports that security forces shot on sight individuals trying to cross the border into Ethiopia. The government escalated its campaign of arresting national service evaders as well as their relatives, and there also were credible reports indicating that some of those arrested were tortured. As it did in 2005, the government ordered several international humanitarian NGOs to leave the country, despite a severe drought in the Horn of Africa. There were continued severe restrictions on religious freedom.

The fourth sobering reality is that as the worldwide push for greater personal and political freedom grows stronger, it is being met with increasing resistance from those who feel threatened by political and societal change.

Human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations are essential to a nation's success. In today's world, the problems confronting states are too complex even for the most powerful to tackle alone. The contributions of civil society and the free flow of ideas and information are crucial in addressing a host of domestic and international challenges. Restricting the political space of NGOs and public debate only limits a society's own growth.

In every region of the globe in 2006, there were governments that responded to the growing demands for personal and political freedom not by accepting their obligations to their people but by oppressing those who advocated for human rights and who exposed abuses, such as nongovernmental organizations and independent media, including the Internet. A disturbing number of countries passed or selectively applied laws and regulations against NGOs and journalists. NGOs and journalists also were subjected to extralegal measures, often by unknown assailants. For example:

In Russia in 2006, a new NGO law entered into force in April imposing more stringent registration requirements for NGOs, strict monitoring of organizations, extensive and onerous reporting requirements on programming and activities, and empowering the Federal Registration Service to deny registration or to shut down an organization based on vague and subjective criteria. Freedom of expression and media independence declined due to government pressure and restrictions. In October unknown persons murdered human rights defender Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist known for her critical writing on human rights abuses in Chechnya. The government used its controlling ownership of all national television and radio stations, as well as of the majority of influential regional ones, to restrict access to information deemed sensitive.

In Belarus, onerous tax inspections and NGO registration requirements made it difficult for civil society organizations to operate, and attacks against members of the independent media continued. In November prodemocracy activist Dmitriy Dashkevich was sentenced to 18 months in prison for operating an unregistered NGO.

The government of Kazakhstan registered the opposition True Ak Zhol party after one of its co-chairmen, Sarsenbaiuly, was killed and restrictively interpreted Article 5 of the constitution to suspend foreign-funded, nonpartisan political party training activities, asserting that providing information is tantamount to financing political parties. In July President Nazarbayev signed into law restrictive media amendments deemed a step backward by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Freedom of Media Representative. The government continued to use restrictive libel laws to fine, convict, and suspend media outlets, journalists, and critics. In April a member of a suspended media outlet was brutally beaten.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly are tightly restricted in Turkmenistan, and the government sought to control all NGO activity. Foreign-origin satellite television is accessible throughout the country, but the government controlled all domestic media, and local journalists were prohibited from all contact with foreigners unless specifically permitted. Very limited Internet access was provided through government-owned Turkmen Telecom; no new accounts were allowed in the capital since September 2002. In August the government arrested journalists Ogulspapar Myradova, Annakurban Amanklichev, and Sapardurdy Hajiyev and sentenced them to six to seven years of imprisonment for weapons possession in a closed, summary trial. In September Myradova, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent, died in prison under suspicious circumstances. NGOs have reported that she and her two colleagues were tortured during detention in the summer to extract confessions of weapons possession. On December 21, President Saparmurat Niyazov died.

The Government of Uzbekistan sought to control most NGO activity and closed down over 200 civil society organizations, including international NGOs operating in the country, citing alleged violations of the law. Independent journalists and human rights activists continued to be persecuted.

The Syrian government strictly controlled the dissemination of information and prohibited criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian issues, including religious and minority rights. There were detentions and beatings for individual expressions of opinion that violated these restrictions, for example the February arrest of journalist Adel Mahfouz after he called for interfaith dialogue following the controversy surrounding the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in cartoons. The government relied on its press and publication laws, the penal code, and the Emergency Law to censor access to the Internet, and it restricted electronic media. Harassment of domestic human rights activists also occurred, including regular close surveillance and the imposition of travel bans when they sought to attend workshops and conferences outside the country.

Press freedom was at an all-time low in Iran, as the government closed independent newspapers Shargh and Iran, blocked access to Internet news sites--including the New York Times and BBC Farsi--and jailed journalists and bloggers. The authorities used bans against leaving the country as a weapon against journalists.

In Burundi, there was an increase in the arrest, detention, and intimidation of journalists and human rights activists by the government; among many other individuals, police arrested and detained for several months the president of the country's leading anticorruption NGO. A governor of one province reportedly called the country's leading human rights NGO, League Iteka, an enemy of peace, and in November a government official announced that 32 registered international NGOs in the country could face expulsion for failure to submit mandatory annual reports to the government.

In Rwanda, there was a restrictive atmosphere for the functioning of civil society. Domestic and international NGOs are required by law to register each year and to provide reports to the government on their activities. Authorities reportedly required some NGOs to obtain government authorization for some projects before being allowed to access international donor funds. In addition, all NGOs were expected to join a collective intended to manage their activities.

The Venezuelan government continued to harass and intimidate civil society groups, most notably the leaders of the electoral watchdog NGO Sumate, whose trial for conspiracy and treason for accepting a foreign grant was indefinitely postponed but continues to hang over their heads. At year's end a draft law was under consideration in the National Assembly which, if implemented, would increase government control over NGOs' financing and restrict NGOs from working in the areas of human rights or democracy promotion. Amendments to the penal code that impose prison sentences for insulting public officials and violent attacks on journalists contributed to a climate of self-censorship. The government stepped up its harassment of independent and opposition news outlets. In December President Chavez announced that the government would not renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, the country's oldest commercial television network. The government accused the network owners of being "coup-mongers" and of violating the public trust.

In China, NGOs, both domestic and international, continued to face increased scrutiny and restrictions. By the end of 2006, Reporters without Borders reported that 31 journalists and 52 Internet writers were in jail. While the government encouraged use of the Internet, it also took steps to monitor its use, control content, restrict information, and punish those who violated regulations. The government imposed stricter website registration requirements, enhanced official control of online content, and expanded the definition of illegal online content. The government consistently blocked access to sites it deemed controversial, and the authorities reportedly began to employ more sophisticated technology enabling the selective blocking of specific content rather than entire websites.

Vietnam continued to monitor and restrict the Internet, blocking international human rights and news websites. Laws allow citizens to complain openly about inefficient government and corruption, but the government continued to prohibit the press from drafting articles that questioned the role of the Communist Party, promoted pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned human rights policy. The government forbids direct access to the Internet through Independent Service Providers and requires cybercafé owners to register the personal information of their customers and the sites visited. The government released several high-profile political and religious dissidents, including Dr. Pham Hong Son, who was imprisoned for translating articles on democracy and disseminating them over the Internet.

Genocide was the most sobering reality of all.

Almost 60 years after the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights--an expression of the outraged conscience of mankind to the enormity of the Holocaust and the cataclysm of the Second World War--genocide continued to ravage the Darfur region of Sudan.

Despite the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending the 22-year civil war between the north and south, and the establishment of a unity government that year, ethnic conflict continued in Sudan, most catastrophically in Darfur. The Sudanese government andgovernment-backed janjaweed militia bear responsibility for the genocide in Darfur, and all parties to the conflagration committed serious abuses, including the widespread killing of civilians, rape as a tool of war, systematic torture, robbery, and recruitment of child soldiers. By the end of 2006, the Darfur conflict had resulted in at least 200,000 civilian deaths and two million displaced by the fighting. Over 234,000 refugees had fled to neighboring Chad, and both Chad and the Central African Republic experienced violent ethnic conflict along their borders with Sudan.

In spite of indicating its support for the Addis Ababa framework, the Sudanese government publicly rejected international forces for Darfur and renewed its military offensive during the latter half of 2006. The deteriorating security conditions forced some international NGOs and humanitarian organizations to scale back or suspend operations.

Defend the Defenders

If the great promise of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to be fulfilled, the international community--and especially the world's democracies--cannot accept that today's sobering realities are impervious to change. Indeed, they compel us to align ourselves with those who work for human dignity and political reform.

In 2006 the courageous efforts of human rights defenders were highlighted by democratic governments:

Country resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 emphasized the need to protect human rights defenders in Iran, Belarus, North Korea, and Burma.

The UN Democracy Fund, growing out of an idea presented to the General Assembly by President Bush in 2004 and established in 2005, completed its first year successfully. Its board agreed to fund 125 projects out of more than 1,300 proposals submitted by over 100 countries--a disbursal of more than $35 million in grants mostly to prodemocracy civil society organizations.

At the regional level, in June 2006 the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the Declaration of Santo Domingo, a groundbreaking multilateral commitment by the countries of the region to "guarantee the liberty of every person to enjoy freedom of expression, including access to uncensored political debate and the free exchange of ideas through all forms of mass media, including the Internet." The Foreign Ministers also declared their resolve to develop and encourage strategies and best practices to that effect.

The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Unit for Human Rights Defenders issued a report on the serious problems they face in some countries, emphasizing the need for governments to support their work.

In advance of the July African Union Assembly of the Heads of State, civil society organizations from 19 African countries met in Banjul, The Gambia, to develop recommendations for summit leaders regarding civil society's role in the African Peer Review Mechanism on countries' compliance with treaty obligations, ways to improve access to information by civil society, and citizenship laws that entrench discrimination. These recommendations were adopted at the summit.

In the Broader Middle East and North Africa region the Forum for the Future brought together government officials and civil society representatives from the region, along with G-8 partners, at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Nearly 50 civil society leaders representing hundreds of organizations from 16 countries of the region participated in discussions on the rule of law, transparency, women's and youth empowerment, and the legal environment for civil society organizations. They also discussed how to strengthen reform by establishing mechanisms to follow up on recommendations. Though the hardest part lies ahead--adoption and implementation of recommendations put forward by civil society--the Forum helped to open political space that did not before exist for civil society organizations to form and interact with governments in the region.

Marking International Human Rights Day in December 2006, Secretary Rice launched two important U.S. initiatives in support of human rights and democracy defenders:

She announced the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Fund to be administered by the State Department that will quickly disburse small grants to help human rights defenders facing extraordinary needs as a result of government repression. This funding could go to cover legal defense, medical costs, or the pressing needs of activists' families.

Secretary Rice also issued ten guiding NGO Principles regarding the treatment by governments of nongovernmental organizations. These core principles will guide U.S. treatment of NGOs, and we also will use them to assess the actions of other governments. The principles are meant to complement lengthier, more detailed United Nations and other international documents addressing human rights defenders and can help to rally worldwide support for embattled NGOs by serving as a handy resource for governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and journalists.

When democracies support the work of human rights advocates and civil society organizations, we are helping men and women in countries across the globe shape their own destinies in freedom. And by so doing, we are helping to build a safer, better world for all.

We must defend the defenders, for they are the agents of peaceful, democratic change.


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3.12.2007

Middle East Human Rights 2007

Human Rights Watch launched its 2007 World Report on January 11. The report evaluates human rights development in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Here are two reports concerning the only Middle East totalitarian regimes occupying Iran and Syria:


Iran

Events of 2006

Respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and assembly, deteriorated in 2006. The government routinely tortures and mistreats detained dissidents, including through prolonged solitary confinement. The Judiciary, which is accountable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is responsible for many serious human rights violations.

World Report 2007
Report, January 11, 2007

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet is dominated by former intelligence and security officials, some of whom have been implicated in serious human rights violations, such as the assassination of dissident intellectuals. Under his administration, the Ministry of Information, which essentially performs intelligence functions, has substantially increased its surveillance of dissidents, civil society activists, and journalists.

Freedom of Expression
Iranian authorities systematically suppress freedom of expression and opinion by closing newspapers and imprisoning journalists and editors. The few independent dailies that remain heavily self-censor. Many writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to be critical. In September 2006 the Ministry of Culture and Guidance closed the reformist daily, Shargh, and shut down two reformist journals, Nameh and Hafez. In October the Ministry shut down a new reformist daily, Roozgar, only three days after it started publication. During the year the Ministry of Information summoned and interrogated dozens of journalists critical of the government.

In 2006 the authorities also targeted websites and internet journalists in an effort to prevent online dissemination of news and information. The government systematically blocks websites inside Iran and abroad that carry political news and analysis. In September 2006 Esmail Radkani, director-general of the government-controlled Information Technology Company, announced that his company is blocking access to 10 million “unauthorized” websites on orders from the Judiciary and other authorities.

Freedom of Assembly
The Ahmadinejad government, in a pronounced shift from the policy under former president Mohammed Khatami, has shown no tolerance for peaceful protests and gatherings. In January 2006 security forces attacked striking bus drivers in Tehran and detained hundreds. The government refused to recognize the drivers’ independent union or engage in collective bargaining with them. In February government forces attacked a peaceful gathering of Sufi devotees in front of their religious building in Qum to prevent its destruction by the authorities, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. In March police and plainclothes agents charged a peaceful assembly of women’s rights activists in Tehran and beat hundreds of women and men who had gathered to commemorate International Women’s Day. In June as women’s rights defenders assembled again in Tehran, security forces beat them with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked the demonstrators with sprayed dye, and took 70 people into custody.

Torture and Ill-Treatment in Detention
Since President Ahmadinejad came to power, treatment of detainees has worsened in Evin prison as well as in detention centers operated clandestinely by the Judiciary, the Ministry of Information, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The authorities have subjected those imprisoned for peaceful expression of political views to torture and ill-treatment, including beatings, sleep depravation, and mock executions. Judges often accept coerced confessions. The authorities use prolonged solitary confinement, often in small basement cells, to coerce confessions (which are videotaped) and gain information regarding associates.

In 2006 two prisoners held for their political beliefs, Akbar Mohammadi and Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, died in suspicious circumstances in prison. The authorities prevented their families from conducting independent autopsies. The government has taken no action to investigate the cause of the deaths.

Impunity
There is no mechanism for monitoring and investigating human rights violations perpetrated by agents of the government. The closure of independent media in Iran has helped to perpetuate an atmosphere of impunity.

In recent years public testimonies by numerous former prisoners and detainees have implicated Tehran’s public prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi and his office in some of the worst cases of human rights violations. Despite extensive evidence, Mortazavi has not been held responsible for his role in illegal detentions, torture of detainees, and coercing false confessions. The case of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in the custody of judiciary and security agents led by Mortazavi in June 2003, remains unresolved. Mustapha Pour-Mohammadi, the current interior minister, is implicated in extrajudicial massacres of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Human Rights Defenders
In 2006 the authorities intensified their harassment of independent human rights defenders and lawyers in an attempt to prevent them from publicizing and pursuing human rights violations. In August the Interior Ministry declared illegal the Center for Defense of Human Rights, led by Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ebadi and her colleagues provide pro-bono legal counsel to hundreds of dissidents, journalists, and students facing prosecution for exercising fundamental freedoms, such as peacefully protesting or criticizing government policies. The authorities threatened Ebadi and her colleagues with arrest should they continue their activities in defense of human rights. Following international protests, the government has not carried out its threat, but Ebadi and her colleagues remain vulnerable.

In June 2006 government agents arrested Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, a former member of parliament and outspoken critic of the government’s human rights record. The authorities held him in solitary confinement without access to his lawyers for more than four months. The Judiciary released him on October 21, only after he posted $300,000 bail. During a brief release to attend his father’s funeral in September, he publicly alleged that he was being tortured and forced to “repent” for his activities.

Juvenile Death Penalty
Iran has executed at least 13 juvenile offenders in the last five years, more than any other nation. On May 11, 2006, Iran executed Majid Segound and Masoud Naghi Biranvand, both 17 years old at the time of execution. Two youths scheduled to be executed on September 20, 2006, for murders committed while under 18 had their executions suspended when the victims’ families agreed to accept blood money in lieu of execution. About 30 juvenile offenders are on death row.

Minorities
Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities are subject to discrimination and, in some cases, persecution. In May Iranian Azeris in the northwestern provinces of East and West Azerbaijan and Ardebil demonstrated against government restrictions on Azeri language and cultural and political activities. Security services forcibly disrupted public protests that engulfed the region. In some protests demonstrators attacked government offices. Four people died in clashes in the city of Naghadeh on May 25.

In the southwestern province of Khuzistan, unrest among Iran’s Arab population intensified in 2006. Revolutionary Courts, following secret proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, condemned at least 16 Iranians of Arab origin to death on charges of armed activity against the state.

The government continues to deny Iran’s Baha’i community permission to publicly worship or pursue religious activities. In a letter dated October 29, 2005, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed several government organs, including the Ministry of Information and the armed forces, “to acquire a comprehensive and complete report of all the activities of Baha’is for the purpose of identifying all the individuals of these misguided sects.” In May the authorities arrested 54 Baha’i youth who were teaching English, math, and other non-religious subjects to underprivileged children in the southern city of Shiraz. None of the Baha’i youth were charged with a crime. All but three were released after a week of detention and the remaining three were released on June 14, 2006.

Key International Actors
In 2006 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program dominated the policy of the European Union towards Iran, with human rights concerns a secondary matter. The EU pledged to tie Iranian respect for human rights to progress in co-operation on other issues, but the pledge had little impact. Iran refused to resume its “human rights dialogue” with the EU that it had suspended in 2005, despite the EU’s repeated calls to do so.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2005 noting serious violations and the worsening human rights situation in Iran. Under a standing invitation that Tehran issued in 2002 to the thematic mechanisms of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Ertürk, visited Iran in February 2005. In a January 2006 report she highlighted “discriminatory provisions in both the Civil and Penal Codes, and flaws in the administration of justice,” resulting in disempowerment of women. The special rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, visited Iran in August 2005 and issued a report in March 2006. In his March 2006 report he raised several concerns about discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and nomadic groups, among other things.

Iran has not responded to requests by the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions and torture, made in 2004 and 2005 respectively, to visit the country.

The Bush Administration remains divided on its Iran policy, and relations between the United States and Iran remain poor. The State Department frequently invoked Iran’s human rights record as a matter of concern. In February the State Department budgeted US$75 million “to support democracy promotion activities in Iran,” but a vast majority of Iranian dissidents, human rights defenders, and civil society activists inside Iran publicly dissociated themselves from the initiative, making clear they do not seek any financial help form the American government. The administration did not utilize multilateral international institutions to address human rights violations in Iran, in contrast to its vigorous efforts to build international coalitions in response to Iran’s alleged drive to acquire nuclear weapons and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and armed groups in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

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Syria

Events of 2006

Syria’s poor human rights situation deteriorated further in 2006. The government strictly limits freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Emergency rule, imposed in 1963, remains in effect, despite public calls by Syrian reformers for its repeal. The authorities continue to harass and imprison human rights defenders and non-violent critics of government policies.

World Report 2007
Report, January 11, 2007

Following the May 2006 Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for improved relations between Lebanon and Syria, security forces apprehended some dozen activists who had signed the petition, including prominent writer Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni. On August 15, 2006, a military court sentenced Habib Saleh, a regular contributor to online forums, to three years for “spreading false and exaggerated information.” Saleh had earlier served a three-year sentence for his involvement in the Damascus Spring initiatives of 2001.

Thousands of political prisoners, many of them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, remain in detention. Syrian Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority, continue to protest their treatment as second-class citizens. Women face legal as well as societal discrimination and have little means for redress against sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and “Disappearances”
In January 2006 the government released five of the eight remaining Damascus Spring prisoners, including former members of parliament Ma'mun al-Humsi and Riad Seif, as well as Fawaz Tello, Walid al-Bunni, and Habib Issa, but all five continue to face harassment. The authorities briefly detained Riad Seif twice following his release. Rights activist Ali al-Abdullah, who was released after six months in prison in November 2005, was detained again in March 2006 along with two of his sons. Syrian authorities disavowed any knowledge of their whereabouts for over a month. Al-Abdullah and one son were convicted in October 2006 for spreading false news and undermining the state but were released as they had already served their six-month sentences.

The authorities brought additional charges against activist Kamal al-Labwani, who has been detained since November 2005 after meeting abroad with European and US officials. He now stands accused of "communicating with a foreign country and prompting it to direct confrontation," which carries a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

Dr. `Arif Dalila, a prominent economics professor and a proponent of political liberalization, continues to serve a 10-year prison term imposed in July 2002 for his non-violent criticism of government policies. His health deteriorated sharply in 2006; reports indicate that he suffered a stroke.

The London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) estimates that about 4,000 political prisoners remain in detention in Syria. The authorities refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of people in detention on political or security-related charges.

The government also targets university students and other youths who exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. In early 2006 Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested eight young men who tried to establish a youth movement. The authorities referred all eight—Husam Melhem, Ali Nazir al-Ali, Tariq al-Ghourani, Ayham Saqr, ‘Ulam Fakhour, Maher Ibrahim Asbar, Omar al-Abdullah, and Diab Siriya—to the Supreme State Security Court, but as of mid-November 2006 the charges against them were still unknown.

Torture remains a serious problem in Syria, especially during interrogation. The September 2006 report of the official Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the 2002 US deportation to Syria of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, concluded that “the SMI [Syrian Military Intelligence] tortured Mr. Arar while interrogating him during the period he was held incommunicado at the SMI’s Palestine Branch facility.” The report also concluded that Arar had come under Canadian and US suspicion on the basis of information the SMI extracted by torture from two other Canadian nationals of Arab origin, Abdullah al-Malki and Ahmad El Maati.

Syrian human rights organizations reported a number of cases of torture in 2006. One such case involved 26-year-old Mohammad Shaher Haysa, who reportedly died in a Damascus interrogation center as a result of severe torture.

2006 passed without any government acknowledgement that its security forces had “disappeared” an estimated 17,000 persons. The “disappeared” were mostly Muslim Brotherhood members and other Syrian activists who were detained in the late 1970s and early 1980s as well as hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians who were detained in Syria or abducted from Lebanon by Syrian forces or Lebanese and Palestinian militias.

Human Rights Defenders
Human rights activists continue to be targets of government harassment and arrest. Among those arrested in 2006 and still in detention is human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, arrested May 17 on charges of “belonging to a secret organization intending to topple President Bashar al-Assad.” Fatih Jamus, arrested May 1, was released on October 12, 2006, but awaits trial for “spreading false information.”

The government continues to prevent human rights activists from traveling and in 2006 expanded its list of those banned from leaving the country. The Syria-based Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights has published a list of over 110 activists banned from traveling; the actual number is considerably higher. Among those banned from traveling in 2006 are Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies; Suheir Atassi, head of the Jamal al-Atassi Forum for Democratic Dialogue, which Syrian authorities shut down in 2005; and Walid al-Bunni, a physician who helped found the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society.

Syrian officials consistently have denied registration requests by human rights organizations. For instance, in August 2006 the Ministry of Social Affairs refused the request of the Syria-based National Organization for Human Rights to register, without providing any explanation.

Discrimination and Violence against Kurds
Kurds are the largest non-Arab ethnic minority in Syria, comprising about 10 percent of the population of 18.5 million. They remain subject to systematic discrimination, including the arbitrary denial of citizenship to an estimated 300,000 Syria-born Kurds.

Tensions have remained high since serious clashes between Kurdish demonstrators and security forces in Qamishli in 2004 that left more than 30 dead and 400 injured. Despite a general presidential pardon for those involved in the March 2004 clashes, dozens of Kurds still face trials in the criminal court of Al-Hasake, reportedly on charges of inciting disturbances and damaging public property.

Syrian authorities also suppress expressions of Kurdish identity. On March 20, 2006, security services arrested dozens of Kurds for participating in a candle-lit night procession in celebration of the Kurdish new year, Nowruz, and used tear gas and batons to break up the march.

Discrimination against Women
Syria’s constitution guarantees gender equality, and many women are active in public life, but personal status laws as well as the penal code contain provisions that discriminate against women and girls. The penal code allows a judge to suspend punishment for a rapist if the rapist chooses to marry his victim, and provides leniency for so-called “honor” crimes, such as assault or killing of women and girls by male relatives for alleged sexual misconduct. Wives require the permission of their husbands to travel abroad, and divorce laws remain discriminatory.

Situation of Refugees Fleeing Iraq
An estimated 450,000 Iraqis are now living in Syria. While Syria initially welcomed Iraqi refugees and provided them with access to public hospitals and schools, Syrian attitudes and policies towards these refugees hardened in 2006 with the implementation of increasingly restrictive national immigration rules. Access to public hospitals has also become more limited. This has created difficulties for an increasing number of Iraqis, some of whom have started to leave the country seeking asylum elsewhere.

Syria has also hardened its position towards Palestinians fleeing Iraq. Since May 2006 Syria closed its border to Iraqi Palestinians and several hundred remain now at a makeshift camp in the no-man’s land between the Iraqi and Syrian border checkpoints.

Key International Actors
Syria’s relationship with the United States, United Kingdom, and France remained strained in 2006 over Syria’s role in Lebanon and its ties to Iran. On May 17, 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1680, which called on Syria to cooperate in the implementation of Resolution 1559 requiring the complete withdrawal of all foreign—that is, Syrian—troops from Lebanon. Following the war between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2006, a number of European countries began to question the policy of ostracizing Syria and started thinking about how best to reengage dialogue with al-Assad’s regime.

Syria remains under pressure to cooperate with the ongoing international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In his September 2006 interim report, Serge Brammertz, the head of the UN International Independent Investigation Committee, wrote that Syria’s cooperation “remained generally satisfactory, and the Commission continues to require its full support in providing information and facilitating interviews with individuals located on Syrian territory.” At this writing, four senior pro-Syrian Lebanese intelligence and security officers remained in detention in Lebanon on suspicion of involvement in the Hariri assassination.

Iran continued to be Syria’s main regional ally and in June 2006 the two countries signed an agreement for military cooperation aiming at consolidating their defense efforts.

The Association Agreement between Syria and the European Union, initialed in October 2004, contains a clause requiring respect for human rights. At this writing, the agreement remained suspended at the final approval stage as European countries remained divided over how to engage with Syria.


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