5.31.2007

The International Tribunal for Lebanon


ALLELUIA

It is a new era in the Middle East; it is a new chapter in the Middle East's history.



Resolution 1757

30 May 2007

“The Security Council,

“Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions, in particular resolutions 1595 (2005) of 7 April 2005, 1636 (2005) of 31 October 2005, 1644 (2005) of 15 December 2005, 1664 (2006) of 29 March 2006 and 1748 (2007) of 27 March 2007,

“Reaffirming its strongest condemnation of the 14 February 2005 terrorist bombings as well as other attacks in Lebanon since October 2004,

“Reiterating its call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon,

“Recalling the letter of the Prime Minister of Lebanon to the Secretary-General of 13 December 2005 (S/2005/783) requesting inter alia the establishment of a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are found responsible for this terrorist crime, and the request by this Council for the Secretary-General to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Lebanon aimed at establishing such a Tribunal based on the highest international standards of criminal justice,

“Recalling further the report of the Secretary-General on the establishment of a special tribunal for Lebanon on 15 November 2006 (S/2006/893) reporting on the conclusion of negotiations and consultations that took place between January 2006 and September 2006 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, The Hague, and Beirut between the Legal Counsel of the United Nations and authorized representatives of the Government of Lebanon, and the letter of its President to the Secretary-General of 21 November 2006 (S/2006/911) reporting that the Members of the Security Council welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations and that they were satisfied with the Agreement annexed to the Report,

“Recalling that, as set out in its letter of 21 November 2006, should voluntary contributions be insufficient for the Tribunal to implement its mandate, the Secretary-General and the Security Council shall explore alternate means of financing the Tribunal,

“Recalling also that the Agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon was signed by the Government of Lebanon and the United Nations respectively on 23 January and 6 February 2007,

“Referring to the letter of the Prime Minister of Lebanon to the Secretary-General of the United Nations (S/2007/281), which recalled that the parliamentary majority has expressed its support for the Tribunal, and asked that his request that the Special Tribunal be put into effect be presented to the Council as a matter of urgency,

“Mindful of the demand of the Lebanese people that all those responsible for the terrorist bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others be identified and brought to justice,

“Commending the Secretary-General for his continuing efforts to proceed, together with the Government of Lebanon, with the final steps for the conclusion of the Agreement as requested in the letter of its President dated 21 November 2006 and referring in this regard to the briefing by the Legal Counsel on 2 May 2007, in which he noted that the establishment of the Tribunal through the Constitutional process is facing serious obstacles, but noting also that all parties concerned reaffirmed their agreement in principle to the establishment of the Tribunal,

“Commending also the recent efforts of parties in the region to overcome these obstacles,

“Willing to continue to assist Lebanon in the search for the truth and in holding all those involved in the terrorist attack accountable and reaffirming its determination to support Lebanon in its efforts to bring to justice perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of this and other assassinations,

“Reaffirming its determination that this terrorist act and its implications constitute a threat to international peace and security,

“1. Decides, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, that:

(a) The provisions of the annexed document, including its attachment, on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon shall enter into force on 10 June 2007, unless the Government of Lebanon has provided notification under Article 19 (1) of the annexed document before that date;

(b) If the Secretary-General reports that the Headquarters Agreement has not been concluded as envisioned under Article 8 of the annexed document, the location of the seat of the Tribunal shall be determined in consultation with the Government of Lebanon and be subject to the conclusion of a Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the State that hosts the Tribunal;

(c) If the Secretary-General reports that contributions from the Government of Lebanon are not sufficient to bear the expenses described in Article 5 (b) of the annexed document, he may accept or use voluntary contributions from States to cover any shortfall;

“2. Notes that, pursuant to Article 19 (2) of the annexed document, the Special Tribunal shall commence functioning on a date to be determined by the Secretary-General in consultation with the Government of Lebanon, taking into account the progress of the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission;

“3. Requests the Secretary-General, in coordination, when appropriate, with the Government of Lebanon, to undertake the steps and measures necessary to establish the Special Tribunal in a timely manner and to report to the Council within 90 days and thereafter periodically on the implementation of this resolution;

“4. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”


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-The Honor List:
(Sponsored the resolution)

United States
France

United Kingdom
Italy

Belgium
Slovakia


-The Shame List:
(Abstained)

Qatar
Russia
Indonesia
South Africa

China

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- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

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5.28.2007

Lebanon under Regional Totalitarian Attack Anew

Along with three recent explosions, the killers of former Prime Minister Hariri and other cadres of Lebanese Cedar Revolution are trying something new this time, Fatah al-Islam, exploiting apparently their excellent relations with many al-Qaeda personnel. They are obviously terrified of the upcoming International Tribunal for Lebanon, the truth time and justice time.

The Lebanese democratically elected independence government is staying, and the international tribunal is coming.

So, assassins get more terrified, and independent free democratic Lebanon go ahead.

These are some related materials by the Council on Foreign Relations:


Lebanon's Fires Burn Anew

cfr.org
May 22, 2007

Last summer the world watched in shock as Israel fought a month-long campaign against Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. With the aftershocks of that conflict still rippling throughout the region, it appears Lebanon could be in for another bloody summer. The latest outbreak of violence features a new cast of combatants, headlined by the recently coalesced terrorist group Fatah al-Islam, an offshoot of a Syrian-backed Palestinian group based in several refugee camps in Lebanon. On May 20, Lebanese security forces met stiff resistance when raiding a Fatah al-Islam building north of Tripoli. The ensuing violence (CNN) represents the worst internal fighting in Lebanon since the end of that country’s civil war in 1990. On May 21 Lebanese forces pounded (IHT) parts of the troublesome Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Violence soon spread to Beirut as two large bombs detonated (Daily Star) in the city’s center. Fatah al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Lebanese media quickly pointed an accusing finger (BBC) toward Syria. Most experts believe Syria’s hand was behind the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The timing did not go unnoticed, either: The latest outbreak of fighting comes just days after the United States and its allies circulated a UN Security Council resolution calling for a tribunal (Jurist) to try Hariri’s killers. Earlier this month Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote an editorial in an Arabic-language Lebanese paper calling for Lebanon to support such a tribunal. CFR Mideast expert Steven A. Cook says in this podcast that Syria continues to meddle in Lebanon’s affairs, though Syria denies all such charges.

Lebanon’s government could face an existential threat as it wrestles to contain the growing influence of radical Islam in its refugee camps. Beirut’s leadership has barely weathered massive protests by opposition parties clamoring for a stronger voice in the government. That opposition includes Hezbollah, a Syrian client which has developed of late into something of an Iranian proxy. But Fatah al-Islam appears to have ties to other notorious international figures, too. The group’s leader, Shaker al-Abssi (AP), was convicted alongside slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for the 2002 murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan. German officials accused Abssi’s group of plotting in 2006 to bomb German commuter trains: One of the suspects in that case was killed in a gun battle (Deutsche Welle) with Lebanese forces Sunday.

Lebanon’s Daily Star declares the country cannot allow onslaught by such a “ marginal” group to destabilize the country. But instability is an end in itself for this type of insurgent group. As New York Times columnist David Brooks writes, “guerrilla insurgencies are increasingly able to take on and defeat nation-states.” Partly as a result, many experts, including CFR President Richard N. Haass, believe Washington’s ability to influence events in the Middle East is waning.

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Fatah al-Islam

cfr.org
May 22, 2007

What is Fatah al-Islam?

Fatah al-Islam is a militant Sunni Islamic group said to have Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian members among its ranks. Estimates of its size vary: According to Reuters it began with two hundred members and militants from other Palestinian groups have since joined. It is also suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda. Based in Lebanon, the group quickly gained notoriety in mid-2007 after violent clashes between its members and Lebanese security forces left scores dead.

How was Fatah al-Islam formed?

Fatah al-Islam emerged in November 2006 when it split from Fatah al-Intifada (Fatah Uprising), a Syrian-backed Palestinian group based in Lebanon, which itself was a splinter of Yasir Arafat’s mainstream organization Fatah. Lebanese security officers dispute that it was a real split and allege that Fatah al-Islam is a part of Syrian intelligence security forces. Syria denies any link to Fatah al-Islam.

Which terrorist acts are linked to Fatah al-Islam?

On May 20, 2007, a battle between Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese troops left at least forty-one dead, the country’s worst internal violence since the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990. The fighting began when Lebanese security forces investigating a bank robbery raided an apartment north of Tripoli. In response, members of Fatah al-Islam seized control of army posts at the entrance of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which Lebanese army tanks then proceeded to shell. The camp’s electricity, phone lines, and water were cut off. At least twenty-two soldiers were killed along with at least seventeen militants and two civilians. There was also fighting in the streets of Tripoli, where more Lebanese soldiers were killed. In the days that followed, multiple bombs exploded in Beirut, for which Fatah al-Islam claimed responsibility.

The Lebanese government has also linked Fatah al-Islam to deadly bus bombings in Ain Alaq, Lebanon, on February 13, 2007, that killed three people. Fatah al-Islam has denied any role in the bombings.

CFR Fellow Steven A. Cook says this group’s “actions could further destabilize the [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora government, lead to broader clashes between different ethnic and sectarian groups, and stir up further trouble within the Palestinian refugee camps, which could all provide a means for Syria to further its own ambition of reestablishing hegemony in Lebanon.”

Who is Fatah al-Islam’s leader?

Fatah al-Islam is led by Shaker Abssi, a notorious Palestinian militant who is said to be linked to the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who himself was killed in an American air strike in 2006. Abssi and Zarqawi were both sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for the 2002 killing of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley. Abssi was jailed by Syria for three years in 2003, after which he fled to Lebanon. He is based in Nahr al-Bared.

In his first interview with Western reporters, Abssi told the New York Times in March that his group has every right to undertake the violence that it has, given that Americans have come to the Middle East and incurred even more violence and destruction against his people.
What does Fatah al-Islam want?

Abssi has identified two primary goals: reforming the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon according to Islamic sharia law, and opposing Israel. Further, it aims to expel the United States from the Islamic world.

Fatah al-Islam has accused the Lebanese government of trying to pave the way for an offensive against Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The camps are widely seen as a breeding ground for radical Islam, but Beirut continues to adhere to a 1969 UN agreement allowing the camps to remain autonomous, provided they disarm their militias.

Is Fatah al-Islam connected to al-Qaeda?

The affiliation is unclear. Syria claims that Fatah al-Islam is affiliated with al-Qaeda, while Lebanon says the group was sent by Damascus to destabilize Lebanon and has no ties to al-Qaeda. For his part, Abssi has said that his group has no organizational or logistical links to al-Qaeda but subscribes to al-Qaeda’s ideology of war against non-Muslims—specifically the West—and its goal of replacing the governments of Muslim countries with fundamentalist Islamic regimes.


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Some related articles by Nassim Yaziji:

- Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

- The Struggle for the New Middle East

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


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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5.24.2007

Freedom in the World 2007

Freedom in the World 2007: Year Marked by Global "Freedom Stagnation," Setbacks for Democracy in Asia

January 17, 2007

The year 2006 saw little change in the global state of freedom in the world and the emergence of a series of worrisome trends that present potentially serious threats to the expansion of freedom in the future, Freedom House said in a major survey of global freedom released today.

Freedom in the World 2007, a survey of worldwide political rights and civil liberties, found that the percentage of countries designated as Free has remained flat for nearly a decade and suggests that a “freedom stagnation” may be developing.

The continued weakness of democratic institutions—even after holding democratic elections—in a number of countries continues to hamper further progress. “Although the past 30 years have seen significant gains for political freedom around the world, the number of Free countries has remained largely unchanged since the high point in 1998. Our assessment points to a freedom stagnation that has developed in the last decade,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, “and should lead to renewed policy attention to addressing the obstacles that are preventing further progress.”

Regionally, major findings include a setback for freedom in a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, a more modest decline in Africa, and a solidification of authoritarian rule in the majority of countries of the former Soviet Union. Three countries experienced positive status changes: Guyana moved from Partly Free to Free, and Haiti and Nepal moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Two countries experienced negative status changes: both Thailand and Congo (Brazzaville) moved from Partly Free to Not Free.

Freedom House also noted that the trends reflected the growing pushback against democracy driven by authoritarian regimes, including Russia, Venezuela, China, Iran, and Zimbabwe, threatening to further erode the gains made in the last thirty years. The pushback is targeted at organizations, movements, and media that advocate for the expansion of democratic freedoms.

Complete survey results reflect global events during 2006. A package of charts and graphs and an explanatory essay are available online.

On a global scale, the state of freedom in 2006 showed a modest decline from that of 2005. The number of countries that experienced negative changes in freedom without meriting a status change outweighed those that received positive changes: the scores for 33 countries declined, while only 18 improved.

According to the survey, the number of countries judged by Freedom in the World as Free in 2006 stood at 90, representing 47 percent of the global population. Fifty-eight countries qualified as Partly Free, with 30 percent of the world’s population. The survey finds that 45 countries are Not Free, representing 23 percent of the world’s inhabitants. About one-half of those living in Not Free conditions inhabit one country: China.

Several of the countries that showed declines during the year were already ranked among the world’s most repressive states: Burma, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Eritrea and Iran. Yet declines were also noted in a number of countries rated Free or Partly Free, but whose democratic institutions remain unformed or fragile, as well as in societies that had previously demonstrated a strong measure of democratic stability: South Africa, Kenya, Taiwan, Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Hungary.

“While the past year was not a good year for freedom, the trend over the past decade is even more disturbing,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “Not only have we failed to make significant breakthroughs, but we have seen the emergence of authoritarian regimes—Russia, Venezuela, and Iran are good examples—that are aggressively hostile to democracy, are determined to crush all domestic advocates for freedom, and stand as models for democracy’s adversaries everywhere.”

The survey detected a number of trends that affected many countries across regions. These included a decline in freedom of expression and freedom of the press, a weakness in the rule of law, and pervasive corruption and a lack of government transparency.

Regionally, Asia experienced the largest proportion of lowered scores in 2006. While the dominant development was the military-led coup that ousted Thailand’s democratically elected prime minister, other countries previously considered showcases of Asian freedom, including the Philippines and East Timor, also experienced setbacks. In addition, ethnic and religious divisions were a major problem in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Fiji. The region’s most important positive development was Nepal’s climb from Not Free to Partly Free due to the end of direct rule by the king and the return of parliament.

After several years of steady gains for democracy, Sub-Saharan Africa also suffered more setbacks than gains during the year. Congo (Brazzaville) saw its status decline from Partly Free to Not Free due principally to a lack of governmental transparency. Other countries, such as Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, and South Africa, suffered declines as well. On the positive side, the successful presidential elections in Congo (Kinshasa), the first in the country’s history, led to an improved political rights rating. Liberia, which showed progress in fighting corruption and expanding government transparency, also experienced a ratings increase.

There was little significant change in the state of freedom in the former Soviet Union in 2006. As was the case in the previous year, the only relatively bright spots were Ukraine, which enjoys a Free rating, and Georgia, a Partly Free country. On the negative side, Russia continued to serve as a model for authoritarian-minded leaders in the region and elsewhere, and the country experienced a modest decline as a result of its crackdown on non-governmental organizations. Modest declines were also noted in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

The number of electoral democracies in the world in 2006 remained unchanged at 123.

Regional Patterns

Of the 35 countries in the Americas, 25 are Free (71 percent), 9 are Partly Free (26 percent), and one—Cuba—is Not Free (3 percent). In Latin America in particular, the past year was marked by an impressive number of competitive and fair elections in relatively new democracies experiencing social turbulence. Haiti, meanwhile, joined the ranks of electoral democracies, and its score improved from Not Free to Partly Free.

At the same time, Freedom in the World noted several problems in the United States, including a series of political corruption cases and weakness in the enforcement of laws allowing workers to engage in collective bargaining. Additionally, counter-terrorism policies of the Bush administration led to continued concerns about the protection of civil liberties.

Of the 18 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, one country (Israel) is Free (6 percent), 6 are Partly Free (33 percent), and 11 are Not Free (61 percent). The region saw little change over the past year. The civil liberties ratings of both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates increased as a result of improvements in freedom of assembly, while Syria’s rating gained due to a small improvement in greater personal autonomy. Modest declines were registered in Egypt for repression of the political opposition and in Bahrain and Iran for the curtailment of freedom of assembly. Declines were also noted in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority. In Lebanon, the promising achievements of the Cedar Revolution were seriously jeopardized by the conflict with Israel that erupted in the summer of 2006 and by efforts of Hezbollah to bring down the elected government.

In Western Europe, 24 countries are Free (96 percent) and one country, Turkey, is Partly Free. The survey again took note of some European governments’ failure to integrate non-white immigrants into the fabric of European economic and cultural life.

Of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 11 are Free (23 percent), 22 are Partly Free (46 percent), and 15 are Not Free (31 percent).

Sixteen of Asia’s 39 countries are Free (41 percent), while 12 are Partly Free (31 percent) and 11 are Not Free (28 percent).

Of the 28 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, 13 are Free (46 percent), 8 are Partly Free (29 percent), and 7 are Not Free (25 percent).


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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5.19.2007

U.S. Human Rights and Democracy Strategy

I am posting the U.S. Human Rights and Democracy Strategy included in the "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006" report released by the Department of State on April 5, 2007.


U.S. Human Rights and Democracy Strategy

Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006 describes the wide range of diplomatic tools we applied last year to support indigenous reform efforts across the globe.

There is no single formula for advancing personal and democratic freedoms. Our efforts focused on the three core components of a working democracy that must be present if human rights are to be effectively exercised and protected: One -- a free and fair elections process, with a level playing field to ensure genuine competition; Two -- good governance, with representative, transparent and accountable institutions operating under the rule of law, including independent legislatures and judiciaries, and; Three -- a robust civil society and independent media that can keep government honest, keep citizens engaged, and keep reforms on track. Where these three essential elements of democracy were weak, we worked to strengthen them; where they were under siege, we sought to defend them, and where they were non-existent due to government repression, we spoke out for those who live in fear yet dream of freedom.

As these reports indicate, we tailored our support for human rights and democracy to the challenges particular to each country and region. In the Western Hemisphere, for example, the principal challenge is democratic development -- helping democracies improve their capacity to deliver on the demands of their citizens for a better life. For many countries in Africa, ending violence remains central to improving human rights conditions and advancing governmental reforms. The challenges for human rights and democracy across South, Central and East Asia and the Pacific are as diverse as the countries in that vast expanse. In many cases, we helped democracies better address issues of governance to deepen the progress that they have made. In other cases, where leaders maintain control at the expense of the rights of their citizens, we spotlighted abuses and worked to expose populations to the global flow of ideas and information. In Europe, we continued to cooperate with our European partners to fulfill the vision of a continent that finally is whole, free and at peace. And in the broader Middle East and North Africa region, we responded to the growing demand for political, economic and educational reform through innovative multilateral and bilateral efforts such as the Forum for the Future and the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

Also in 2006, Secretary of State Rice announced two important initiatives in support of human rights and democracy defenders: a Human Rights Defenders Fund; and 10 guiding NGO Principles regarding the treatment by governments of nongovernmental organizations.

The Human Rights Defenders Fund will enable the State Department to quickly disburse small grants to human rights defenders facing extraordinary needs as a result of government repression. This funding, which will begin at $1.5 million and will be replenished each year as needed, could go to cover legal defense or medical costs, or short-term support to meet the pressing needs of activists’ families.

The 10 guiding NGO Principles will guide our own 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, UN and other international documents addressing NGOs and other human rights defenders. We hope that our contribution of the 10 NGO Principles will help to rally worldwide support for embattled NGOs by serving as a handy resource for governments, international organizations, civil society groups and journalists.

Advances for human rights and democracy depend first and foremost on the courage and the commitment of men and women working for reform in their own countries. Progress also will require sustained and concerted efforts by the United States and fellow democracies in every region of the world. The path forward rarely will be linear. Fragile democracies can founder. Countries whose leaders are not fully committed to democracy can backslide. Those pressing for reform inevitably encounter push back from those who do not welcome change. These are sobering realities. At the same time, we believe that our work for freedom’s cause can help to create new, hopeful realities for men and women across the globe.

Released on April 5, 2007


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Some related articles by Nassim Yaziji:

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

- The Struggle for the New Middle East

- Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

- The U.S. Syria Democracy Program

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

-----------------------------------------------------------

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5.14.2007

Freedom of the Press 2007: Middle East Back to Stagnation

Press Freedom Declines in Asia, Ex-Soviet Region and Latin America, Study Finds; Warns of Growing Internet Restriction

Freedom House
May 1, 2007

Press freedom suffered continued global decline in 2006, with particularly troubling trends evident in Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America. A major study of the state of media freedom released today by Freedom House also warned of a growing effort to place restrictions on internet freedom by censoring, harassing, or shutting down sites that provide alternate sources of political commentary.

The study, Freedom of the Press 2007: A Global Survey of Media Independence, showed mixed trends in Africa, as well as a continuation of a longer-term pattern of decline in press freedom in Latin America and the former Soviet Union.

Among the most critical setbacks singled out by Freedom House this year were:

- Setbacks in Asia—notably Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines and Fiji—stemming from coups, political upheaval, insurgency or states of emergency;

- Setbacks in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries, in some cases due to state action, in others due to a deteriorating security environment;

- Aggressive efforts by the Russian government to further marginalize independent media voices, punctuated by plans to regulate the internet;

- Stagnation in the Middle East/North Africa region, bringing to a halt several years of modest progress.

Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s Executive Director, expressed serious concern at the study’s findings. “Press freedom is like the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “Assaults on the media are inevitably followed by assaults on other democratic institutions. The fact that press freedom is in retreat is a deeply troubling sign that democracy itself will come under further assault in critical parts of the world.”

The report also warned of expanded restriction of the internet. It highlighted China, Vietnam and Iran, which continue to convict and imprison large numbers of journalists and “cyberdissidents,” and indicated that this trend has spread to other countries with restrictive media environments, including Russia, where the administration of President Vladimir Putin has announced plans to establish a mechanism to regulate internet content, as well as several countries in Africa.

The report, released in advance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, pointed to improvements in several countries. Italy’s rating was raised to Free; it had been the only European Union member state in the Partly Free category. Several countries, notably Nepal, Colombia and Haiti, registered status improvements due largely to greater overall political openness and an improved security environment, Cambodia and the Central African Republic improved due to enhanced legal protections for journalists.

Available online are a complete package of charts and tables, including a global table giving scores for every country in the world; regional tables and graphs; an overview essay outlining global and regional trends; the survey methodology; and detailed draft country narratives.

The survey, launched in 1980, assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world. It assigns each country a numerical score from 0 to 100 which in turn determines a category rating of Free, Partly Free or Not Free. Ratings are determined by examining three broad categories: the legal environment in which media operate, political influences on reporting and access to information, and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news. The survey, which analyzes events during the 2006 calendar year, bases its ratings not just on government actions and policies but on the behavior of the press itself in testing boundaries, even in more restrictive environments.

Global Trends

Out of the 195 countries and territories examined, 74 (38 percent) were rated Free, while 58 (30 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 63 (32 percent) were rated Not Free.

In terms of population, 18 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 39 percent have a Partly Free press and 43 percent have a Not Free press.

The study also noted a longer-term trend of press freedom decline or stagnation in a number of crucial countries and regions, particularly the Americas and the former Soviet Union. In assessing country trends over the past five years, the survey found that Venezuela had suffered the largest single decline in media independence. Other important countries which registered major declines were Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, Argentina, Ethiopia and Uganda.

“The records of Venezuela and Russia are appalling, all the more so because of those countries’ impact on their regions,” said Karin Karlekar, managing editor of the press freedom survey. “But we are also disturbed by the level of press freedom decline in what we had assumed were established democracies.”

There is a complex series of reasons for the decline of global press freedom, some of which derive from broad political trends, while others are specific to the media environment:

1. Pushback against Democracy: A growing drive to neutralize or eliminate all potential sources of political opposition has materialized in a number of crucial countries, with the press as a principal target.

2. Political Upheaval: Coups and states of emergency brought on by political unrest or civil war have taken place in a growing number of formerly democratic settings, especially in Asia, with a damaging impact on press freedom.

3. Violence Targeting Journalists: The tragic murder of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya is but one of the latest examples of what has become a disturbing global trend. The killing and physical harassment of reporters is a particular problem in Latin America, where Mexico has recently replaced Colombia as the most dangerous environment, as well as in South and Southeast Asia, Russia, and Iraq.

4. Legislation Prohibiting Blasphemy, Hate Speech, Insult, and “Endangering National Security”: Governments have increasingly resorted to legal action in efforts to punish the press for critical reports on the political leadership, as well as for “inciting hatred,” commenting on sensitive topics such as religion or ethnicity, or “endangering national security.”

Regional Trends

Americas: In the Americas, 17 countries (48 percent) were rated Free, 16 (46 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 2 (6 percent) were rated Not Free in 2006. Countries of particular concern continue to be Cuba, which has one of the most repressive media environments worldwide, and Venezuela, where the government has further intensified its efforts to control the press.

The region did have some noteworthy positive developments in 2006, as both Haiti and Colombia moved into the Partly Free category. However, these moves were overshadowed by negative trends in a number of countries, including Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic. In Mexico, improvements in the legal sphere were outweighed by an appalling level of violence against journalists. Although the United States continues to be one of the better performers in the survey, there were continuing problems in the legal sphere, particularly concerning cases in which legal authorities tried to compel journalists to reveal confidential sources or provide access to research material in the course of criminal investigations.

Asia-Pacific: The Asia-Pacific region as a whole exhibited a relatively high level of freedom, with 16 countries (40 percent) rated Free, 10 (25 percent) rated Partly Free, and 14 (35 percent) rated Not Free. Nevertheless, Asia is home to two of the five worst-rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, which have extremely repressive media environments, as well as several other poor performers such as China, Laos and Vietnam, all of which use state or party control of the press as the primary tool to restrict media freedom.

Several bright spots worth noting include Nepal, where wide-ranging political change led to a dramatic opening in the media environment, and Cambodia and Indonesia, which also featured positive movement. Asia saw many negative developments in 2006, however, continuing the downward regional trajectory noted in last year’s survey. Coups and military intervention led to the suspension of legal protections for press freedom and new curbs imposed on media coverage in Fiji and Thailand. Intensified political and civil conflict during the year contributed to declines in Sri Lanka, East Timor and the Philippines. Heightened restrictions on coverage, as well as harassment of media outlets that overstepped official and unofficial boundaries, negatively impacted press freedom in Malaysia, China and Pakistan.

Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union: For the combined CEE/FSU region, 8 countries (28 percent)—out of a new total of 28 countries, after Montenegro’s independence—remain classified as Free, 10 (36 percent) are rated as Partly Free, and 10 (36 percent) as Not Free. While many countries in Central and Eastern Europe rank firmly in the Free category, the repressive media landscape in the former Soviet Union is illuminated by the fact that 10 of the 12 non-Baltic post-Soviet states are ranked Not Free.

Most trends in the region were negative. Kyrgyzstan saw backsliding in 2006 due to an increase in censorship and attacks against journalists. Russia’s worsening score reflected negative developments in the legal sphere coupled with heightened impunity, epitomized by the lack of prosecutions of increasingly frequent crimes and attacks against journalists.

Middle East and North Africa: The Middle East and North Africa region continued to show the lowest regionwide ratings, with just one country (5 percent) rated Free, two (11 percent) rated Partly Free, and 16 (84 percent) rated Not Free in 2006. Of particular and long-standing concern are Libya, Syria, Tunisia and the Israeli-Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority, where media freedom remained extremely restricted. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq made it highly dangerous for the media, with several dozen journalists and media workers, mostly Iraqis, killed during the year.

In 2006, improvements noted in the survey over the last several years reversed course, with several countries that had previously shown numerical improvement stagnating or moving in a negative trajectory. Conditions in Saudi Arabia and Iran deteriorated, while media in Egypt, Jordan and Algeria hampered constrained by legal restrictions. The use of legal harassment against independent journalists increased in Morocco, with a highly influential editor forced to leave the country due to the threat of crippling fines in a defamation case.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Overall, 8 countries (17 percent) were rated Free, 19 (39 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 21 (44 percent) remain rated Not Free. In 2006, Cape Verde was upgraded to Free as a result of a decrease in the legal harassment of and attacks on journalists. Changes in the legal sphere contributed to the Central African Republic’s upgrade to Partly Free, and to numerical improvements in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique.

Meanwhile, conditions in one of the world’s worst performers, Eritrea, deteriorated further to a numerical score of 94 as a result of tightened restrictions for foreign reporters traveling inside the country. Several countries which have registered a significant longer-term negative trend—The Gambia, Ethiopia, and Uganda—continued to move in the wrong direction in 2006.

Western Europe: Western Europe continued to boast the highest level of press freedom worldwide; in 2006, 24 countries (96 percent) were rated Free and one (4 percent) was rated Partly Free. However, increasing threats from far-right and Islamist groups during the year resulted in modest declines for a number of top-performing countries, particularly those in Scandinavia and northern Europe. A dramatic rise in legal harassment was noted in Turkey, where almost 300 journalists and writers were prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness.” However, in a major positive move, Italy was upgraded in 2006 to resume its Free status primarily as a result of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi’s exit as prime minister.

Worst of the Worst

The five worst-rated countries continue to be Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. In these states, which are scattered across the globe, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the ruling regime, and citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited. The numerical scores for these five countries have barely changed in relation to the previous year, reflecting a level of extreme repression and stagnation for the media. Rounding out the bottom 10 most repressive media environments are two countries in the former Soviet Union—Belarus and Uzbekistan—and three countries in Africa—Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, and Zimbabwe—where media are heavily restricted.

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5.09.2007

Syria under Totalitarianism

The Syrians are talking, are you listening?

The international community faces a challenge in the Middle East and in Syria particularly to choose democracy, peace and moderation over totalitarianism, violence and extremism. There is no other way or other choice.

Ignorance and prejudgments about the Middle East are not options anymore exactly as totalitarianism, extremism and terror.

So, the international community should listen to the Middle East's intellectuals and make its decision against totalitarianism and extremism and for democracy and moderation without delay.

The following is a letter from Syrian intellectuals, the prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus; it really explains so much the world has to know.


From the Syrian Prisoners of Conscience in Damascus Central Prison

We are prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus Central Prison, lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, writer Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal Labwani, activists Mahmoud Issa, and Faek Al Mir, and Professor Aref Dalila, who we couldn’t reach as he spends his sixth year in solitary confinement. After the sentencing of lawyer Anwar Al Bunni on 24 April 2007, we would like to thank you and greet our families, friends, and all the people, groups, committees, organizations, associations, parties and political assemblies of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in Syria and the Arab world. We thank and greet the official representatives, the countries, media and websites that have been supporting us by protesting our trials and arrests, and denying the accusations against our colleague Anwar Al Bunni.

We would also like to express our most heartfelt greetings and thanks to all of you and hope that your noble and brave attitude will not stop only with denying these accusations and supporting our cause. Our case as prisoners of conscience is part of the continuing crisis of basic freedoms and human rights in Syria that began with the implementation of the Emergency Law 44 years ago. This crisis reached its height in the 1980s and again today with the increase of tyranny, arrests and the suppression of fundamental freedoms.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have paid a terrible price; some have lost their lives, others their youth because of the inhumane prison conditions and the cruel torture. More of them have also suffered from being forced to escape the tyranny by choosing voluntary exile, while other Syrians had no choice but to conceal their grief to save themselves pain. Those who couldn’t live with their tongues tied faced a future in prison, homeless and alone. As for the few people who chose to climb to the top of the tyranny and to darken the Syrian society, they have contributed to corruption, theft and poverty that have strangled the necks of the Syrian population.

The violation of all fundamental human rights in Syria is our main struggle today and your support for prisoners of conscience is part of this fight. Fighting for the release of these prisoners is a duty, not only to spare them, and their families this great sufferance, but also to encourage others and show them they are not alone. We must give our society hope, making sure that its doors and streets are kept wide open. The power of hope is our sole arm against the crisis of freedom and human rights in Syria in a peaceful way.

Terrorism is the enemy of mankind and civilization itself. It flourishes in societies that violate the people’s freedoms and that close doors to peaceful expression, leaving violence as the only way of expressing oneself. Consequently, people who actually live in these pour societies would find no better solution but to turn to the heavens and become vulnerable to all extremist ideas that might be offered. The violation of basic freedoms and human rights coupled with poverty are the two faces of the same coin in the Third World. And Syria is unfortunately at the forefront of all totalitarian countries; the power is therein monopolized by one person and its citizens only have two choices; concealing their pains or being labeled as traitors.

The lack of freedom, of means of expression, of political participation and accountability leads to the spread of corruption, despotism, looting of public funds, extensive poverty and the collapse of moral values. The real fight against terrorism must not only be about combating extremist ideas. These ideas have existed throughout history, and they are condemned to remain on the periphery, isolated and shunned, unless they find a fertile soil to take root and grow. If they are allowed to develop in the soil of society, they will spread like toxic plants, poisoning communities and innocent people.

Addressing the root causes of terrorism requires opening up pathways to free expression and allowing the peaceful exchange of ideas. Through giving people unfettered freedom we can break the sword of injustice, oppression and domination and promote a full political participation in future decision-making, accountability, the preservation of equality and a life of dignity. This would make the world a safer place and will improve the international security.

Syrians have paid a high price during their struggle for their rights and freedom and we hope to be the last group forced to do the same for the sake of the great Syrian people. To do this we need more than your solidarity and denunciations. We need constant and tireless efforts to compel the Syrian authorities to respect human rights, international law and all treaties and agreements it has signed and which call for the respect of the freedom of expression and opinion. The release of political prisoners is a necessary first step, including the abolition of the State Emergency Law and other laws such as the Decree 49 signed in 1980 or the Hasakah Accountability Decree of 1962. Syria must close down the State Security Court, compensate those who that have suffered, create an independent judiciary, put an end to torture and sue all criminals for their deadly actions. The Syrian authorities must put an end to all political arrests and ensure the respect of the freedom of the press, allowing political participation and the formation of parties, organizations and civil society.

They must stop the looting of public funds and fight all policies of impoverishment and domination. However, these actions would just be the first steps necessary to put Syria on the path of security in order to move towards development, progress and the protection of our national unity that now suffers from division and tension. These rifts and divisions are now impossible to conceal, despite the illusive dancing, celebrations and empty rhetoric about a healthy society that in reality is sick and suffering. As prisoners of conscience and opinion we are apprehensive about the future of our homeland, our children and our very decision to shape Syria’s future. However, we will not be deterred by the threats, intimidation, and repression of these long years of imprisonment that we are facing to save our country and ourselves.

Adra Prison. 28-4-2007
Prisoners of Conscience in Damascus Central Prison

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Some related materials:

- Free Anwar al-Bunni

- Totalitarian Baath and Free Anwar al-Bunni

- Syria's Independence: Free Anwar al-Bunni

- Free Kamal Labawani

- Wave of Arrests of Syrian Intellectuals Following the Beirut-Damascus Declaration

- Middle East Human Rights 2007

- Freedom in 2006, Worst of the Worst

- The 13 Internet Enemies 2006

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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5.05.2007

The U.S. Record on Supporting Human Rights and Democracy 2006

The U.S. Department of State released the "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006" report on April 5, 2007, in which the Department report on actions taken by the U.S. Government to encourage respect for human rights. This fifth annual submission complements the longstanding Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006, and takes the next step, moving from highlighting abuses to publicizing the actions and programs the United States has employed to end those abuses.

Here are some excerpts on Egypt, Iran, and Lebanon from the Middle East report:


"The Lebanese people are determined to build a strong state: a state which can reclaim the position of Lebanon as a haven of moderation, where tolerance and enlightenment triumph over fanaticism, ignorance and oppression; where individual initiative and potential can be fulfilled; a state that rekindles the beacon of freedom and democracy in Lebanon where justice and the rule of law prevail."

--Fouad Siniora, Prime Minister of Lebanon


Egypt

The Arab Republic of Egypt has been governed by the National Democratic Party since 1978. In September 2005, President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth 6-year term, with 88 percent of the vote, in the country's first multi-party presidential election, a landmark event that was otherwise marred by low voter turnout and charges of fraud. The government’s respect for human rights and the overall human rights situation remained poor. Significant human rights problems included limitations on citizens’ ability to change the government and broad use of a decades-old Emergency Law, including the use of emergency courts and indefinite administrative detentions. Human rights organizations and independent observers questioned the government's commitment to protecting and expanding human rights as a result of several events, including the imprisonment of an opposition leader, Ayman Nour; persistent and credible reports of abuse and torture at police stations and in prisons; and police violence against protestors, including during May demonstrations in support of judicial independence. The government remained publicly committed to a program of political reform, but did not make significant progress during the year. Human rights groups and other independent observers criticized new laws restricting the press and the judiciary. A culture of impunity discouraged prosecution of security personnel who committed human rights abuses. There were arbitrary and sometimes mass arrests and detentions, poor prison conditions, executive influence over the judiciary, restrictions on religious freedom, corruption, a lack of transparency, and societal discrimination against women and religious minorities, including Christians and Baha’is.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy addressed human rights problems and supported efforts to build a more robust civil society, promote the rule of law, and encourage the growth of democratic institutions, including an independent media. On February 21 in Cairo, the secretary of state reiterated the U.S. position that "Egypt, which has so often led this region in times of decision, needed to be an important voice in leading this region again as it faces questions of democracy and reform." While noting positive changes in 2005 and "a president who has sought the consent of the governed," the secretary further remarked that, "There have been disappointments and setbacks as well, and we have talked candidly about those because the United States comes to discuss these issues as a friend, not as a judge...But this is a country of greatness and this region needs this country to be at the center of positive change." On May 21 in Sharm El Sheikh, the deputy secretary of state said the United States urged the government to "follow through" on its political reform plans and reiterated U.S. concerns about the conviction and imprisonment of opposition politician Ayman Nour in December 2005. He criticized the government’s use of security forces against the political opposition but also urged opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to make clear their commitment to following a democratic process and to nonviolent solutions. Other senior U.S. officials urged the government throughout the year to lift the Emergency Law and implement other critical political reforms. In official exchanges, senior officials raised U.S. concerns about civil society development, political participation (including electoral reform), and basic political rights, including the imprisonment of opposition leader Ayman Nour.

The United States promoted a democratic, open, and participatory political process through diplomacy and technical assistance. U.S. programs focused on promoting greater participation, accountability, and transparency for Egypt's elections. U.S. democracy programs supported international and local NGOs working to improve Egypt's electoral processes. Major U.S. nongovernmental democracy institutes continued their programs for the first six months of the year, assessing assistance needs of political parties, facilitating discussions on electoral administration, and assisting in the development of an alternative election law. In June, the government ordered the suspension of these activities—on the grounds that they had not yet received legal status in Egypt. As a result these groups were unable to continue their work in support of electoral reform and political party strengthening. With U.S. support, local NGOs worked to sustain the engagement of election monitors trained in 2005 by using them to document inaccuracies in voter registers and to advocate for an effective voter registration system.

The United States promoted freedom of speech and of the press. Local media, opposition figures, and civil society were able to voice strong public criticism of the government and its policies. However, these freedoms were challenged during the year by several defamation lawsuits against outspoken independent journalists, as well as the passage of a new press law, which allows for imprisonment of journalists who "vilify" heads of state and for levying harsh penalties against journalists and bloggers whose writings are judged by the government to have spread false news or disturbed public order. The United States continued its efforts to promote greater independence and professionalism in the media and to assist Egyptian television, radio, print, and electronic media to improve professionalism, sustainability, and diversity. Several grants to local NGOs complemented these activities by documenting and countering instances of intolerance and hate speech in the print media, providing legal support to journalists, supporting freedom of expression, and using the media to promote civic participation.

To strengthen civil society, the United States supported local organizations working on human rights, religious tolerance, and women's and children's issues. Several dozen small grants supported local, grassroots initiatives, including training for youth activists, support for both model parliamentary workshops and a model U.S. Congress program at Cairo University, legal systems training and exchanges for lawyers and judges, civic education summer camps, and programs focused on women's and children's rights. The International Visitors Leadership Program supported exchanges on civil society, as well as human rights, good governance, the media, elections, and women's rights. Other grants supported advocacy by domestic NGOs in support of judicial independence and anti-corruption. The United States provided two grants to the NGO Support Center to build the capacity of local democracy NGOs in proposal development and project implementation and to promote business social responsibility and collaboration between NGOs and the business community at the community level.

The United States supported lawyers and civil society advocates to improve the legal and political environment for civil society and facilitate NGO registration. Other significant grants promoted the efforts of NGOs to increase citizen awareness and political participation throughout Egypt. These programs focused particularly on women and youth. They helped citizens seek accountability from elected and appointed government officials at the national and local levels.

U.S. programs continued to support nationwide reform of the judicial system, with a pilot program streamlining court procedures and enhancing judicial transparency. The bilateral assistance agreement also initiated a program to provide more effective counsel to criminal defendants and improve administration of criminal justice through development of a public defense system and a human rights curriculum for prosecutors and judges as well as automation of selected areas of the prosecutor general’s office. Under an ongoing criminal justice project with the prosecutor general's office, Egyptian judges and prosecutors visited the United States to study best practices and network with U.S. federal judges. The United States expanded its involvement in the rule of law by initiating a program to build the capacity of the Council of State, which oversees the Administrative Courts. The program will strengthen the competency of State Council members and administrative officers in several legal areas and share international experience in comparable areas of administrative justice.

In support of an Egyptian government initiative, the United States provided support for improved public accountability, in order to improve the quality, transparency, and scope of dissemination of government budgets; strengthen the government’s capacity to promote public accountability and transparency; increase public understanding and exposure to transparent budgets; and improve public awareness and understanding of corruption.

The United States funded a number of human rights initiatives, including reaching an agreement with the National Council for Human Rights to undertake a media campaign to build a culture of human rights. With U.S. support, two other councils will strengthen legislation and regulations that protect the rights of women and children. U.S.-funded civil society organizations responded to acts of violence against women and children. Local NGOs produced human rights books for children and integrated human rights education into university programs.

The United States promoted religious freedom for all and raised specific concerns about the issue of the government requiring notation of religious affiliation on national identity cards, a practice that discriminates against citizens who wish to convert away from Islam and members of religions not recognized by the Government. U.S. officials also raised concerns about discrimination against the country's Christians, Baha’is, and other religious minorities. U.S. officials maintained excellent relations with representatives of the country's various religious communities.

There were reports that Egypt was used as a transit country into Israel for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Embassy also worked to support media attention to the issue of trafficking in persons.


Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic, constitutional republic dominated by Shi'a religious leaders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dominates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, directly controls the armed forces, and controls internal security forces. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a four-year term after a flawed election in 2005 and heads the executive branch. The unelected 12-member Guardian Council and parliamentary electoral committees screened candidates for the December 15 Assembly of Experts and Municipal Council elections respectively, disqualifying hundreds of reformist candidates as well as some hardliners. The election of a conservative and ideologically driven president in 2005, following the seating of a hardline conservative parliament in 2004, negatively impacted the human rights of Iranian citizens. Hardliners opposed to change closed down many reformist newspapers, and continued to pressure and intimidate the media and control the flow of information by other means as well.

During the past year, the government committed a number of serious human rights abuses. Summary executions, denial of fair trials, discrimination based on ethnicity and religion, harassment and arrest of journalists and bloggers, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread use of torture, and other degrading treatment remained problems. The government continued to detain and torture dissidents and individuals exercising freedom of expression, including scores of political prisoners. Bloggers continued to endure arrest and stiff penalties for expressing their ideas on the Internet. There were also reports of executions based on charges of homosexuality, but details remained difficult to verify.

Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, it continued a multi-faceted effort to support the Iranian people's aspirations to live in a democratic country with an accountable, transparent government that respects the human rights of its citizens. For instance, the United States publicly condemned specific human rights abuses and funded programs to support the efforts of the Iranian people to promote democracy and the respect of human rights. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy included urging friends and allies to condition improvement in bilateral and trade relations on positive changes in the country's human rights policies. Furthermore, the United States actively supported the UN and other international scrutiny and other resolutions condemning the government's human rights record and practices and publicly highlighted the government's abuse of its citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms. The United States also supported in various ways the continuing efforts of the Iranian people to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms.

For the fourth year in a row, the United States cosponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 61st Plenary Committee condemning the human rights situation in the country. This sent an important signal to the people and their government that serious concerns regarding the government's overall behavior would not be overshadowed by other concerns regarding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and support of terrorism.

The United States also regularly raised concerns about the government's poor human rights record in consultations with allies, urging them to raise these concerns during any formal human rights dialogue or other bilateral contact with the government. U.S. policy consistently called for the government to respect the human rights of its citizens, and public statements reflected this core issue. In the run-up to the December Assembly of Experts and Municipal Council elections, the United States issued a statement condemning the disqualification of hundreds of aspiring candidates on purely ideological grounds and the continued crackdown on media outlets. The statement expressed continued support for the Iranian people in their efforts to exercise their basic rights including the freedom of expression and participation in electoral competition. President Bush and senior U.S. officials repeatedly expressed support for the population in its quest for freedom, democracy, and a more transparent and accountable government. U.S. officials reached out to the Iranian people to convey the U.S. message and gave interviews to U.S. and European Persian language media highlighting the Iranian public's aspirations for increased respect for human rights and civil liberties and a more democratic and open government.

Under current law, the country is ineligible for most assistance from the U.S. Government. However, the United States continued to obligate funds for democracy and human rights promotion programs through an Iran-specific appropriation from Congress to promote democracy and human rights. These funds allowed the United States to initiate a wide range of democracy, human rights, educational, and cultural programs, as well as to significantly expand efforts to improve the free flow of information.

Under the limited special authority granted by Congress, the United States renewed a grant to document the abuses of citizens. This program provided subgrants to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, NGOs, and individuals to support the advancement of democracy and human rights. The project sought to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as an important component of democratization. This program produced and disseminated a case report illustrating chronic, systemic problems in law enforcement and justice systems. The report examined specific violations of Iranian and international law that occurred and identified numerous structural impediments to accountability for human rights violations, concluding that significant reform of the judicial system is needed to counter ongoing impunity for violators.

In addition to this program, other U.S.-funded programs promoted respect for human rights and advocacy for freedom of assembly, free speech, political participation, independent labor activities, and rule of law. During the past three years, the United States directed funds to projects that promoted respect for human rights, empowered citizens in their call for more representative political participation, and supported NGOs to conduct capacity-building training and to provide technical assistance to domestic NGOs.

In addition, the United States continued to support the advancement of democracy and human rights standards inside the country via Voice of America radio and television broadcasts, a Web site in Persian carrying stories promoting democracy and human rights issues, and Persian-language Radio Farda, which operated 24 hours a day.

U.S. officials regularly met with individuals and members of various groups suffering human rights abuses, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and for inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices and the Report on International Religious Freedom. The secretary of state also redesignated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. At the end of the year, a U.S.-funded program documenting abuses inside the country sent to publication a report on the persecution of the Baha'is, exploring how Baha'i religious practice has effectively been criminalized. The report found rising levels of persecution since the 2005 election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of other conservative political figures.

Iran was believed to be a source, transit, and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation and labor-related trafficking in persons. Although lack of access prohibited a full assessment of official anti-trafficking efforts, the government took measures to sign memoranda of understanding with source countries and international NGOs to prevent human trafficking. Victims of trafficking in the country reportedly have access to counseling, legal, and health services; however, victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation were vulnerable to arrest, prosecution and sometimes execution for prostitution and adultery. The United States encouraged the government to improve screening of trafficking victims to distinguish them from illegal immigrants and to pursue cooperation with neighboring countries to monitor borders.


Lebanon

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic in which the president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the chamber of deputies a Shi'a Muslim. In 2005, the country made significant progress with respect to human rights under a democratically elected parliament and a reform-oriented government. With the end of the Syrian occupation, press and media self-censorship decreased, and government attempts to restrict freedom of assembly during mass demonstrations dissipated. On July 12, Hizballah killed three and abducted two Israeli Defense Force soldiers during a cross-border attack from southern Lebanon, resulting in a conflict that lasted until August 14. According to the UN, Israel's air and ground operations in Lebanon killed 1,191 persons and injured 4,409 persons. Approximately 900,000 Lebanese were internally displaced, and sectarian tensions were heightened. Following the conflict, political tensions between the democratically-elected government and the antigovernment opposition, led by Hizballah, rose significantly. Sectarian demonstrations further increased tensions, particularly after the November 23 assassination of Maronite leader Pierre Gemayel.

There are still areas in the government's human rights record that require improvement to meet international standards, specifically poor prison conditions; insufficient legal protections for certain segments of society, particularly the poor; migrant workers and child laborers; and lack of judicial independence, especially when dealing with politically sensitive cases. During the year, before the conflict broke out, the government took significant steps to increase freedom of assembly and association at mass demonstrations and by facilitating the formation of new political associations and parties. The government also took concrete measures to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping on private citizens.

The United States continued to help Lebanon rebuild as a sovereign and independent country founded on respect for human rights and democratic principles after decades of Syrian occupation and civil conflict. The United States worked with the government and international allies to support the goals outlined in UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 and worked with a coalition of international partners, known as the Core Group, to support Lebanese plans for economic, fiscal, and political transparency and reform.

Governance programs funded by the United States further enhanced the government's efforts to promote transparency and accountability, strengthened civil society, built greater independence of the judiciary, promoted respect for the rule of law, and supported the conduct of free and fair elections. U.S. diplomatic engagement also promoted freedom of the press, women's rights, and universal education.

U.S. assistance programs promoted the development of independent political parties with members from all religious groups represented in the country. The United States identified a diverse representation of young political leaders for local, regional, and U.S.-based training programs and seminars that included discussions of independent platform-based electoral politics. The United States also continued to support a municipal reform program that has been credited with successfully rebuilding essential local government foundations. This assistance focused on enhancing administrative and financial capabilities, expanding social services, encouraging public participation, and increasing accountability.

The domestic press is generally independent and free. In the wake of the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, journalists were emboldened to speak out, but some of the country's most courageous voices for democracy were killed. U.S. officials emphasized the importance of protections for freedoms of speech and press and noted the critical role of journalists in advancing democracy and human rights protections. The press benefited from a number of U.S.-funded programs to strengthen press freedom and independence of the media, which included training for the media and civil society in the role of the press and on the importance of free expression in promoting democracy and human rights.

Because the role of civil society continued to grow in the country, the United States expanded its support of local advocacy groups, NGOs promoting transparency in government, and civil society organizations. U.S. programs continued to support building effective civil society networks in isolated and underserved municipalities in the north and the eastern Bekaa valley. Numerous street demonstrations throughout the year emphasized the high value citizens place on freedom of assembly and their willingness to play a role in effecting changes in their government and society.

The law provides for equality among all citizens, but in practice, some aspects of the law and traditional customs continue to discriminate against women and other disadvantaged groups. The United States supported a wide range of programs to promote rule of law and improve legal rights without bias, as well as wider access to education and health care for women. With U.S. funding, an international NGO incorporated substantive and practical human rights within the legal education framework. The United States worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities through grants that assisted persons with disabilities to earn a dignified wage. The United States continued to advocate on behalf of the refugees in the country and supported numerous unilateral programs in training and education. It remained the largest contributor to UN Relief and Works Agency and UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

To promote religious freedom, which is provided for under the Constitution, U.S. officials met regularly with religious leaders and members of the Council on Religious Understanding and facilitated an International Visitors Leadership Program, including an Islamic-Christian interfaith dialogue. The United States maintained contact with a variety of faith-based organizations and documented incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

The United States continued to press the government to acknowledge trafficking in persons as a serious issue and take immediate steps to eliminate it. In March the United States sponsored an International Migration Organization training course for law enforcement officers and supervisors on the most advanced techniques for combating human trafficking activities. A U.S. program continued to fund a local NGO to protect trafficking victims, a first for the region. NGO officials interviewed victims with the support of social workers, as well as screened and referred trafficking cases to the country's judiciary so that abusive employers could be prosecuted. The United States continued its support of the only safe house in Beirut for victims under governmental protection.

U.S. officials met regularly with labor leaders to reiterate U.S. support for labor rights and for economic liberalization and reform. U.S. officials encouraged labor leaders to engage in dialogue with the private sector and government to promote reforms, and U.S.-funded programs provided the country's labor unions the opportunity to train with American unions on labor organization, labor law, and workers' rights.

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Some related articles by Nassim Yaziji:

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

- The Struggle for the New Middle East

- Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

- The U.S. Syria Democracy Program

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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5.03.2007

U.S. Foreign Assistance and Human Rights 2008

Human Rights and Civil Society Shortchanged in Bush Administration's Foreign Assistance Budget Request

Freedom House
April 19, 2007

In a report released today analyzing the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget request for foreign operations, Freedom House calls on the Congress to reverse proposed reductions in support to human rights defenders and civil society activists worldwide.

The report, “Supporting Freedom’s Advocates?” analyzes the 2008 foreign assistance budget request for “Governing Justly and Democratically” and makes specific funding recommendations based on urgent needs and opportunities.

“The Bush Administration’s request for an overall 17 percent increase in funding for foreign assistance programs that promote democratic governance is a reflection of its stated dedication to the promotion of freedom, and should be congratulated,” said Jenifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

“However, there appears to be a greater focus on working with state institutions than in previous years, and accordingly less attention to the bravest individuals and groups who are often the drivers of constructive democratic change,” Ms. Windsor continued. “At a time when human rights defenders and democracy activists face enormous pressure and growing harassment around the world, the proposed nine percent decrease in human rights funding sends precisely the wrong message.”

The report draws on Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual evaluation of the state of political rights an civil liberties around the world, which shows stagnation in the advancement of freedom over the past decade. The 2007 edition in particular highlights a systematic effort to weaken or eliminate pro-democracy forces in a number of countries, including Russia, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and China.

Rather than decreasing funding overall for human rights, and specifically in critical countries like Russia and Zimbabwe, Freedom House calls for sustained and enhanced levels of support to frontline defenders in these societies.

“The President and his Secretary of State have said repeatedly that the work of fostering democratic reform, in the Middle East and beyond, requires a ‘generational commitment.’ Freedom House agrees, and would observe that a generational commitment requires annual commitments of resources and effort,” states the report.

The report also urges sustained funding for global programming managed by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department and the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID.


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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