3.28.2008

Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Ready ― UN Report


(Picture: the building of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague)

International tribunal for Lebanon killings reaches start-up phase – UN report

18 March 2008 – The international tribunal being set up to try those responsible for political killings in Lebanon, particularly the 2005 attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has moved into its start-up phase, according to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

All actions relating to the tribunal’s preparatory phase have been undertaken, including the signing an agreement with the Netherlands to host the proceedings and the identification of premises there, Mr. Ban says in his latest report to the Security Council, which details the steps taken since he was authorized to establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon by a Council resolution last year.

The selection of the judges, the prosecutor and the registrar has also been completed and a draft budget will be submitted soon to the tribunal’s management committee.

In regard to financing, the Secretary-General states that adequate funds for the start-up have been deposited into a trust fund made up of contributions of UN Member States.

“I am confident that the contributions received, together with other expected contributions, will meet the budgetary requirements for the establishment and the first 12 months of operations of the Tribunal,” he says.

As of 27 February, the trust fund held nearly $30 million, with additional firm pledges totalling over $16 million, he states.

The Security Council asked the Secretary-General to set up the court after Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked the 15-member body to put the tribunal into effect as a matter of urgency because all domestic options had been exhausted, due to the country’s ongoing political crisis.

The tribunal will follow on the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), which is charged with probing the murder of Mr. Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bombing in Beirut on 14 February 2005.

Once it is formally established, it will be up to the tribunal to determine whether other political killings in Lebanon since October 2004 were connected to Mr. Hariri's assassination and could therefore be dealt with by the tribunal.

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Following is the Second report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of SC resolution 1757 detailing the process of establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.


Second report of the Secretary-General submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007)

12 March 2008

I. Introduction

1. Under Security Council resolution 1757 (2007), I was mandated to take, in coordination, when appropriate, with the Government of Lebanon, the steps and measures necessary to establish the Special Tribunal in a timely manner, and to report to the Security Council within 90 days and thereafter periodically on the implementation of the resolution.

2. Since my first progress report, dated 4 September 2007 (S/2007/525), substantial progress has been made in a number of areas, including (a) the location of the seat of the Tribunal; (b) the appointment of the judges, the Prosecutor, the Deputy Prosecutor, the Registrar and the Head of the Defence Office; (c) the preparation of an estimate of the staffing and financial requirements; (d) the fulfilment of the Tribunal’s funding requirements; (e) the establishment of the Management Committee; (f) the transition from the International Independent Investigation Commission to the Tribunal; (g) security issues; and (h) the development of a communication and outreach programme.

3. The purpose of this report is to present the progress achieved since the last report and to provide an outline of the next steps.


II. Location of the seat

A. Headquarters agreement

4. On the basis of the statement of the Government of the Netherlands, described in my last report, that it was favourably disposed towards hosting the Tribunal, the Secretariat and the authorities of the Netherlands engaged in negotiations with a view to concluding an agreement concerning the headquarters of the Tribunal. Pursuant to article 8 of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007), a headquarters agreement was to be reached on a tripartite basis between the United Nations, Lebanon and the State hosting the Tribunal. However, paragraph 1 (b) of resolution 1757 (2007) provides that, if the Secretary-General reports that the headquarters agreement has not been concluded as envisioned under article 8 of the annex to the resolution, 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.

5. On 9 November 2007, I wrote to the Prime Minister of Lebanon seeking his views on the issue of concluding a headquarters agreement as envisioned under article 8 of the annex. On 12 November 2007, he responded, agreeing with my assessment that, under the prevailing circumstances, it would be difficult to pursue a tripartite headquarters agreement to be signed and ratified in a timely manner, as called for in paragraph 3 of resolution 1757 (2007). While expressing approval of the location of the seat of the Tribunal in the Netherlands, the Prime Minister asked that I continue to take all the necessary steps and measures to continue facilitating the process and finalizing a bilateral headquarters agreement.

6. On 14 December 2007, I informed the President of the Security Council of the agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon that the United Nations should pursue a bilateral headquarters agreement with the Government of the Netherlands, adding that negotiations between the United Nations and the authorities of the Netherlands had been successfully concluded. The agreement provides, inter alia, that the host State has no obligation to let persons convicted by the Special Tribunal serve their sentence of imprisonment in a prison facility on its territory. It also stipulates that the Registrar shall take all necessary measures to arrange the immediate relocation to third States of witnesses who for security reasons cannot return to their home countries after testifying before the Tribunal. On 21 December 2007, representatives of the United Nations and the Netherlands signed the Agreement between the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands concerning the Headquarters of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Agreement was subsequently submitted by the Government to Parliament for approval.


B. Premises

7. In paragraph 6 of my last report, I indicated that the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Nicolas Michel, had initiated discussions with the authorities of the Netherlands regarding the modalities of the establishment of the Tribunal and had visited possible sites to house the Tribunal. To determine which site was most suitable, a number of technical assessments of the sites were undertaken, all of which concluded that a building located in the urban area of The Hague was suitable for the purpose of housing the Tribunal. On that basis and after consulting with States that had made significant contributions or pledges to the funding of the Tribunal, on 6 December 2007 the Legal Counsel informed the authorities of the Netherlands that the building identified was the preferred site for the Tribunal, subject to an agreement on its cost. On 7 December 2007, the authorities of the Netherlands made an offer concerning the cost of the building, which was approved by the above-mentioned States on 12 December. Plans for the refurbishment and adaptation of the premises are currently being evaluated.


III. Appointment of the judges, the Prosecutor, the Deputy Prosecutor, the Registrar and the Head of the Defence Office

A. The judges

8. In paragraph 9 of my previous report, I indicated that, on 10 July 2007, the Government of Lebanon had forwarded to me, in a sealed envelope, a list of 12 candidates proposed for judicial appointments by the Lebanese Supreme Council of the Judiciary, as set forth in article 2, paragraph 5 (a), of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007). I also informed you that, with a view to my appointing Lebanese and international judges at the same time, on 1 August 2007 the Legal Counsel sent a letter to all Member States, on my behalf, inviting them to consider submitting candidates for appointment as judges of the Tribunal no later than 24 September 2007. The names of 37 international candidates were submitted.

9. In mid-October 2007, after indicating my intention to the Security Council in accordance with article 2, paragraph 5 (d), of the annex, I established a selection panel. The panel was composed of Judge Mohamed Amin El Mahdi (Egypt), who served as judge of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from 2001 to 2005, Judge Erik Møse (Norway), currently serving as judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where he was President of the Tribunal from 2003 to 2007, and the Legal Counsel.

10. In October and November 2007, the Secretariat held consultations with the Government of Lebanon in accordance with article 2, paragraph 5 (c), of the annex, which provides that the Government and the Secretary-General shall consult on the appointment of judges.

11. On 4 December 2007, having interviewed the short-listed candidates, the selection panel made its recommendations to me, which I subsequently accepted. Mindful of security considerations, I will proceed with the formal appointments of the judges and announce their names at an appropriate time in the future. The judges will assume their functions on a date to be determined by me, in consultation with the President of the Special Tribunal, as provided in article 17, paragraph (b), of the annex.


B. The Prosecutor and the Deputy Prosecutor

12. With a view to identifying candidates for consideration for the position of Prosecutor and taking into account the sensitivity of the matter, from June to September 2007, informal consultations were held with experts in the field. In October 2007, the selection panel (composed of the same members as that for the judges) interviewed candidates for this post. Early in November 2007, the Government of Lebanon was consulted on the appointment of the Prosecutor, pursuant to article 3, paragraph 1, of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007). On 8 November 2007, the selection panel recommended to me that Daniel Bellemare (Canada) be appointed as the Prosecutor. I subsequently accepted the recommendation.

13. On 14 November 2007, I appointed Mr. Bellemare as the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal pursuant to my authority under article 3 of the annex. He will, however, commence his official duties as the Prosecutor at a later date in keeping with the provisions of the annex. On the same day, after the Security Council took note of my intention, I also appointed Mr. Bellemare to succeed Serge Brammertz as Commissioner of the Investigation Commission. I am of the view that, as called for in article 17, paragraph (a), of the annex, this approach will ensure a coordinated transition from the activities of the Investigation Commission to those of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal.

14. With respect to the Deputy Prosecutor, as I noted in paragraph 13 of my last report, the Government of Lebanon forwarded to me, in a sealed envelope, a list of candidates for the position. In December 2007, pursuant to consultations held between the Government of Lebanon, the Prosecutor-designate of the Special Tribunal and myself, a Deputy Prosecutor was identified. The appointment of the Deputy Prosecutor falls within the authority of the Government of Lebanon, in accordance with article 3, paragraph 3, of the annex.


C. The Registrar

15. On 13 November 2007, the Legal Counsel sent a letter to Member States on my behalf inviting them to submit nominations for appointment as Registrar of the Special Tribunal by no later than 14 December 2007. Pursuant to that letter, a total of 14 nominations were submitted by States.

16. In accordance with article 4, paragraph 2, of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007), the Registrar will be a staff member of the United Nations. On the basis of the recommendation of the selection panel that I established, on 10 March 2008, I appointed Mr. Robin Vincent as Registrar of the Special Tribunal for a period of three years to commence at a later date, to be determined in the light of the progress achieved in establishing the Tribunal.


D. The Head of the Defence Office

17. I am in the process of recruiting a Head of the Defence Office. Since my last report, a vacancy announcement for this position has been prepared and is being advertised. In accordance with article 13, paragraph 1, of the statute, I will appoint the Head of the Defence Office in consultation with the President of the Special Tribunal as soon as the latter has been identified.


IV. Staffing and financial requirements

18. My previous report provided preliminary estimates of the staffing and financial requirements of the Tribunal for three years. In arriving at these global estimates, attention was paid to the experience of other international tribunals, in particular the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which shares characteristics with the Tribunal. A number of issues which may have significant budgetary consequences, such as those relating to the premises of the Tribunal, the terms and conditions of service for judges and staff, the number of accused persons, witnesses and trials, and the level of security required, have yet to be clarified.

19. The assumptions outlined in paragraph 20 of my previous report remain an important basis for the staffing and financial requirements. However, two additional considerations regarding the conditions of service for the judges and staff of the Tribunal have been raised:
(a) As stated in paragraph 20 (b) of my initial report, the terms and conditions of service for both judges and staff will be guided by those of the judges and staff of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, with appropriate modifications. Specific modifications to those conditions of service are currently under review with due consideration of host country social security requirements and of the Tribunal’s location at a family duty station;
(b) Article 17 (a) of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007) provides for appropriate arrangements to be made to ensure that there is a coordinated transition from the activities of the Investigation Commission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal. As noted by the Commission in its ninth report to the Security Council (S/2007/684, para. 98), transitional activities also rely on the institutional memory and experience gained by its staff. Whereas a principal aspect of the Tribunal’s capacity to attract staff of the highest standards depends on competitive compensation practices, consideration is being given to aligning the conditions of service of staff with those prevailing in the United Nations common system in order to maintain a degree of continuity between the staff of the Commission and the Tribunal.

20. Except for the Registrar, who is a United Nations staff member, the terms and conditions of service of staff as described above apply uniformly to all staff recruited by the Tribunal.

21. It was stated in paragraph 21 of my previous report that, at that time, no assumptions could be made concerning the costs involved in providing for a courtroom, detention facility or office accommodation for staff. As the premises of the Tribunal have now been identified, estimated costs in those areas may be integrated into overall financial requirements.

22. The annual rental cost for the building will amount to approximately $5 million and will be paid for the first years by the host State, whose generosity in this regard I applaud. Operating costs for the building are estimated at $1 million per year. Refurbishment packages are currently under review. The packages provide for basic or advanced adaptations of the building in respect of security, holding cells, courtroom and offices.


V. Funding

23. Pursuant to article 5, paragraph 1, of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007), 49 per cent of the expenses of the Special Tribunal shall be borne by the Government of Lebanon, while 51 per cent shall be borne by voluntary contributions from States. According to paragraph 2 of the aforementioned article, the Secretary-General will commence the process of establishing the Tribunal when he has sufficient contributions in hand to finance the establishment of the Tribunal and 12 months of its operations plus pledges equal to the anticipated expenses of the following 24 months of the Tribunal’s operation.

24. As mentioned in paragraph 27 of my previous report, on 26 July 2007 the Secretariat created a trust fund to receive contributions for the establishment and activities of the Tribunal. On 8 October 2007, I sent a letter to all Member States inviting them to contribute to the trust fund. As at 27 February 2008, the total amount deposited in the trust fund is $29,430,872.15, with firm pledges totalling $16,408,637.34. I am confident that the contributions received, together with other expected contributions, will meet the budgetary requirements for the establishment and the first 12 months of operations of the Tribunal. On 5 December 2007, the States that had made significant contributions or pledges to the funding of the Tribunal unanimously agreed that funds should be managed directly by the Tribunal, as is the case with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, rather than through a United Nations trust fund. I will continue to seek the necessary funds from Member States and urge all to support the Tribunal and assist in this effort.


VI. Management Committee

25. As stated in paragraph 29 of my previous report, on 9 July 2007 the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon agreed to establish a Management Committee. They further agreed that the United Nations would be entrusted with the establishment of the Management Committee, including the drafting of its terms of reference, in consultation with the Government of Lebanon.

26. Accordingly, in November 2007, the Secretariat prepared, in consultation with the Government, a draft of the terms of reference of the Management Committee and discussed the draft informally with the States that had made significant contributions or pledges to the funding of the Tribunal.

27. As agreed with the Government of Lebanon on 13 February 2008, I formally established the Management Committee and invited the Legal Counsel to facilitate its first meeting.

28. Pursuant to article IV of its terms of reference, the Management Committee will, inter alia: (a) receive and consider progress reports of the Special Tribunal and provide policy direction and advice on all non-judicial aspects of its operations, including questions of efficiency; (b) review and approve the Tribunal’s annual budget, take any other necessary financial decisions, and advise the Secretary-General on these matters; (c) ensure that all organs of the Tribunal are operating in as efficient, effective and accountable a manner as possible, and that optimum use is made of resources contributed by donor States, without prejudice to the principle of judicial independence; (d) assist the Secretary-General in ensuring that adequate funds are available for the operation of the Tribunal including the development of fund-raising strategies, in close consultation with the Registrar; (e) encourage all States to cooperate with the Tribunal; and (f) report on a regular basis to meetings of representatives of the Group of Interested States for the Special Tribunal.

29. Article VIII of the terms of reference also provides that the Management Committee will organize regular meetings of representatives of the Group of Interested States and may invite, when it deems appropriate, other interested parties to submit their views regarding the work of the Tribunal.


VII. Transition from the Investigation Commission to the Special Tribunal

30. Article 17 (a) of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007) calls for appropriate arrangements to be made to ensure a coordinated transition from the activities of the Investigation Commission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal. Since my last report, a series of measures have been taken and ongoing consultations held between the Secretariat and the Commission aimed at achieving this objective.

31. The possibility of ensuring a transition of personnel from the Investigation Commission to the Office of the Prosecutor has been considered with a view to preserving to the greatest extent possible institutional memory and experience gained by staff.


VIII. Security

32. The provision of appropriate security measures for personnel and property remains one of the key pillars of the successful establishment of the Tribunal. To that end, the Secretariat is working in close cooperation with the relevant authorities of the Netherlands and Lebanon.

33. In addition, the Secretariat, the Investigation Commission and experts from the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone have been working together on developing a strategy for the protection of witnesses. Consultations were recently held to discuss the practical implementation of such measures.


IX. Communication and outreach

34. The Secretariat has conducted extensive consultations with experts from other international tribunals and a comprehensive communication and outreach strategy was developed. A key objective of the strategy is to ensure that the Tribunal is correctly perceived as a truly independent and impartial judicial body, which functions in accordance with the highest standards of justice. Public documents that provide comprehensive information on the Tribunal are being finalized for the purposes of wide dissemination within Lebanon, the region and the public at large. In addition, work on the establishment of an initial communications capacity for the Tribunal is under way, including the creation of a website.


X. Next steps

35. In paragraph 34 of my previous report, I had identified three phases in the establishment of the Tribunal: a preparatory phase; a start-up phase; and the commencement of functioning.
A. Preparatory phase


36. As described above, all the actions relating to the preparatory phase have been undertaken, if not completed:
(a) The Headquarters Agreement has been signed;
(b) The premises for the Special Tribunal have been identified;
(c) The judges, the Prosecutor and the Registrar have been selected;
(d) The Management Committee has been established;
(e) The recruitment process for the Head of the Defence Office has begun;
(f) A draft budget, including a staffing table, has been developed and will be submitted soon to the Management Committee for consideration;
(g) Communication and outreach policies have been prepared.


B. Start-up and commencement of the Special Tribunal’s functioning

37. The start-up phase has now commenced. Work on the preparation of the premises and on the organization of a coordinated transition between the Independent Commission and the Tribunal is being conducted. Once the Registrar starts operating in that capacity, a core unit of Registry personnel will be established in The Hague to assist the Registrar in his functions.

38. The Tribunal will commence functioning in successive phases. I anticipate that early informal consultations among the judges will facilitate the drafting of the rules of procedure and evidence and other necessary documents (such as directives on the assignment of defence counsel, on the detention of persons awaiting trial or appeal, and the code of professional conduct for defence counsel). In addition to the Registrar, the Prosecutor, followed by the pre-trial judge, will start their duties earlier than the other senior officials in order to perform their tasks in an effective and coordinated manner. The President of the Tribunal will also take up his or her duties on a full-time basis at an earlier date to ensure the efficient management and functioning of the Tribunal. The judges of the Trial and Appeals Chambers, as stated in article 17, paragraph (b), of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007), will take office on a date to be determined by me, in consultation with the President of the Tribunal. Until they are called to work on a full-time basis, they will serve on an ad hoc basis to perform their duties.


XI. Final observations

39. I wish to assure you that the Secretariat is dedicated to continuing to make progress in the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in a timely manner as mandated by the Security Council. In this regard, we rely on the generosity and support of Member States. I trust that our common efforts will assist the Government and people of Lebanon towards this important common goal of restoring justice and the rule of law in Lebanon.



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Related materials on Middle East policy:

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Ready ― UN Report

- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Registrar of Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Appointed, Tribunal Is Ready

- 'Management Committee' of Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Set Up

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Gets Base, Judges

- The International Tribunal for Lebanon (Resolution 1757)

- UN Report on the Establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Ninth report of Hariri International Investigation Commission

- Memo for International Tribunal for Lebanon

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Comes Into Force



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3.26.2008

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the March issue (latest issue) of Arab Reform Bulletin Published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delay; Sectarian Clashes
Palestine: Gaza Escalation; Population Growth; Villages Demolished
Arab States: Arab League Summit
Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Arrests; New Torture Cases; Re-conversion Decision
Iraq: Legislative Progress
Kuwait: Mughniyah Mourning; Segregation Controversy; Internet Law
UAE: Cabinet Reshuffle; Green City
Bahrain: Calls to Release Activists
Libya: Ministries Abolished
Tunisia: Comedian Jailed
Morocco: Islamist Party Banned; Moroccan Jailed for Impersonating Prince Online
Sudan: Cabinet Reshuffle
Upcoming Political Events


Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delay; Sectarian Clashes

On February 25, the Lebanese parliament postponed for the fifteenth time the session to elect a new president. It is now scheduled for March 11. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa left Lebanon on February 9 after failing to break the deadlock between the Western and Saudi-backed majority and the pro-Syria opposition. The two sides agreed on Army Commander General Michel Suleiman as president, but are now divided on the composition of a new government. Lebanon has been without a president since the expiration of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s term on November 23, 2007.

On February 14, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in two separate rallies: Hizbollah supporters lined the streets of Beirut to watch the funeral procession of Hizbollah militant Imad Mughniyah, killed February 12 in a car bombing in Damascus. During the funeral, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that the group is ready for “open war” with Israel. Supporters of the government meanwhile gathered in Martyrs Square to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Violent street clashes later erupted in several mixed Sunni-Shi’i areas of Beirut on February 16, leaving at least fourteen people injured. On February 12, Lebanese prosecutors charged nineteen soldiers, including three officers, in the case of the fatal shooting of seven Shi’i protestors in Beirut on January 27.


Palestine: Gaza Escalation; Population Growth; Villages Demolished

Israel launched a new incursion into Gaza on March 4 following renewed rocket attacks. Israel had pulled its ground troops out of northern Gaza on March 3 after days of coordinated operations in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed. Israel says that most of those killed were armed militants, but Palestinian officials say that more than half were civilians, including several children. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas initially cut off peace talks with Israel in response to the incursions, but in a March 4 joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is concluding a visit to the region, Abbas confirmed his intention to resume talks with Israel.

Nearly 4,500 Palestinians formed a human chain in the Gaza Strip on February 24 in protest of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Israel had put troops on alert along the frontier and threatened to open fire if protesters tried to surge across the border. The event, organized by Hamas and allied activists, ended peacefully two hours later. Click here for more details.

The Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem grew by about 30 percent in the last decade, according to data published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics on February 9. The census numbers for 2007 show a total of 2.345 million Palestinians in the West Bank, 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip, and 208,000 in East Jerusalem. Click here for more details and statistics.

The Israeli army continued on February 6 the demolition of two Palestinian villages in the West Bank. The Israeli army has declared most of the Jordan Valley, where the villages of Humsa and Hadidiya are situated, as a closed military area from which the local Palestinian population is barred. The evacuation of the villages began in April 2007 and has left dozens of Palestinians homeless and without access to running water or electricity. Click here for a statement by Amnesty International.

The Israeli cabinet approved on February 6 the construction of a reinforced fence along its border with Egypt to stop Palestinian militants reaching Israel from the Sinai desert. The measure was ratified in a security cabinet meeting following the temporary breach of the Gaza-Egypt border in January and a February 5 suicide bombing that killed one woman in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. Click here for more information.


Arab States: Arab League Summit

The Arab League plans to hold its twentieth annual summit in Syria on March 29-30. Syria is keen for high-level representation at the summit, but Arab divisions over Lebanon have cast a shadow over the meeting. Arab media sources report that Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may not attend if a Lebanese president is not elected. President Mubarak said in a statement to Bahrain Television on February 25 that Syria was part of the problem in Lebanon, and called on Damascus to help resolve the crisis before the summit. Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers started a series of meetings in Cairo on March 5 to prepare the summit agenda.


Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Arrests; New Torture Cases; Re-conversion Decision

An Egyptian military court adjourned on February 26 the trial of forty Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including second Deputy Guide Khairat al-Shatir, until March 25. The Brotherhood leaders face charges of membership in a banned organization; reports differ on whether previous charges of money laundering have been dropped. Egyptian authorities also arrested more than 120 Brotherhood members between February 14 and 28. Some 400 Brotherhood members are now in detention, most of them without charge. The Brotherhood says a continued crackdown by the authorities is aimed at preventing its members from running in local elections in April. Click here for more information.

On February 25, an Egyptian Court appointed Egypt’s first female ma’zun (justice of the peace) to perform and register marriages. Egypt appointed its first female judge in 2003. Click here for more details.

The Ministry of Information banned the distribution of four foreign newspapers on February 19, the day on which the papers reprinted controversial Danish cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad. The four banned newspapers were Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt, the London-based Observer, and the New York-based Wall Street Journal. Click here for more information.

On February 11, an appeals court in Cairo upheld the conviction of al-Jazeera documentary producer Howayda Taha for “harming Egypt’s reputation” due to her work on a program about torture in Egyptian prisons, but overturned her conviction on the charge of “spreading false news.” The court struck down the six-month prison sentence she received in May, but upheld a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (U.S. $3,607). Click here for more details.

A Cairo Criminal Court postponed on February 11 the trial of four police officers charged with torture until April 13. The police officers are charged with torturing a prisoner to death in July 2002. In a separate case, Egyptian prosecutors charged on February 9 two policemen with murdering a man by throwing him off a balcony in Cairo in the latest high profile case of suspected police abuse. Five policemen have been convicted and sentenced to jail on torture charges since November 2007.

The Egypt Supreme Administrative Court ruled on February 10 in favor of allowing twelve Christian converts to Islam to reconvert to Christianity. The ruling overturned an April 2007 lower court decision that upheld the government policy of refusing to allow the converts to change mandatory national identification cards to reflect their reconversion. Click here for more details.

A February 5 Human Rights Watch statement called on the Egyptian government to overturn the convictions of four men for the “habitual practice of debauchery,” and to free four others who are currently detained on similar charges. The human rights organization also called on authorities to end arbitrary arrests based on HIV status and to take steps to end prejudice and misinformation about HIV/AIDS. A recent wave of arrests of homosexuals began in October 2007, when police stopped two men having an altercation on a street in central Cairo.


Iraq: Legislative Progress

On February 27, Iraq’s Presidency Council ratified two key draft laws, the General Amnesty Law and the 2008 Budget Law, but rejected the draft Provincial Powers Law and returned it to parliament for revisions. The Provincial Powers Law defines the relationship between Baghdad and provincial authorities, and is a key step before a date can be set for provincial elections. The General Amnesty Law grants amnesty to thousands of detainees in Iraqi and U.S. custody. Parliament approved all three bills on Feb. 14 in what was seen as a major legislative breakthrough and a boost for reconciliation among Iraq's divided communities. The main Sunni political party, the Accordance Front, said the amnesty law was an important step in bringing about its return to the central government. The party quit the government in August and made repeated demands for the release of prisoners as part of the condition for its return. Click here for the laws in Arabic.

President of the Iraqi Journalists Union Shihab al-Tamimi died on February 27 from injuries he sustained from a targeted shooting in Baghdad four days earlier. The attackers were not identified. In 2007, more than twenty-five journalists and media assistants were kidnapped in Iraq. A total of 208 have been killed in connection with their work since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Click here for more information.


Kuwait: Mughniyah Mourning; Segregation Controversy; Internet Law

Kuwait's Popular Action Parliamentary Bloc expelled on February 19 two of its members, Adnan Abdulsamad and Ahmed Lari, for publicly mourning Hizbollah militant Imad Mughniya as a martyr. The bloc condemned the two MPs for participation in the rally to mourn Mughniyah, “who brutally killed two Kuwaitis during the [1988] hijacking” of a Kuwaiti plane. The two MPs remain in the legislature but face prospective lawsuits by Kuwaiti citizens. Click here for more information.

Controversy over gender segregation returned to the forefront in Kuwait after liberal MPs submitted a draft bill on February 5 to allow coeducation. Kuwait’s first university segregation law, which required the public system to be segregated, was passed in 1996 and implemented in 2001. The second law, which requires private universities to be segregated, was passed in 2000 and has not yet been fully implemented due to the high cost of building separate facilities for men and women. Islamist MPs insist that gender segregation is required by Islamic law and are campaigning for a full implementation. A senior liberal MP, Ali al-Rashid, reportedly received death threats over the proposal. Click here for more information.

Reporters without Borders issued a statement on February 11 calling on the Emir of Kuwait to clarify a proposed draft law for regulating the internet. Minister of Communication and Islamic Affairs Abdulla al-Muhailbi announced on February 6 that the cabinet would soon propose a law that would allow the government to monitor and regulate websites and blogs. Click here for more information.


UAE: Cabinet Reshuffle; Green City

UAE Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum announced a new cabinet on February 17, appointing new economic, foreign trade, and labor ministers and doubling to four the number of female ministers. There was no change in the key ministries of energy, foreign affairs, or interior. The prime minister also holds the defense portfolio. Click here for the new cabinet line-up.

On February 10, Abu Dhabi announced the beginning of a $22 billion project to build what it called “the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, and car-free city.” Masdar city, which will take an estimated eight years to build, is planned to be home to 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. The ambitious plans include powering the city by solar energy and establishing a transportation system consisting of travel pods running on magnetic tracks. Abu Dhabi also plans to become home to the world's largest hydrogen power plant. Click here for more information.


Bahrain: Calls to Release Activists

On February 25, fifty-five local, regional, and international human rights organizations issued a call to Bahraini King Hamad to release demonstrators and human rights activists and to refrain from torturing detainees. Bahrain is currently detaining some fifty activists arrested after December 2007 demonstrations in which one protestor was killed. Human Rights Watch issued a statement on February 16 calling on the Bahraini government to investigate allegations of torture and abuse of political detainees.


Libya: Ministries Abolished

On March 4, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi announced his intention to dissolve the country's existing administrative structure and disburse oil revenue directly to the people. The plan includes abolishing all ministries, except those of defense, internal security, and foreign affairs, and departments implementing strategic projects. Qadhafi has made at least three similar announcements in the past, the most recent of which was in March 2000, when he declared the elimination of twelve government ministries. Click here for more information.


Tunisia: Comedian Jailed

A Tunisian court sentenced comedian Hedia Ould Baballah on February 4 to one year in prison and a fine of 1000 dinars (U.S. $800) for possession of narcotics. At the hearing, Baballah denied any knowledge of the drugs and alleged that there was a police conspiracy against him in connection with his controversial political satire. Baballah had been performing a skit in which he imitated President Ben Ali. Click here for more information.


Morocco: Islamist Party Banned; Moroccan Jailed for Impersonating Prince Online

The Moroccan government issued a decision on February 20 to ban the al-Badil al-Hadari (Civilized Alternative) Islamist Party over allegations of terrorism. The Party’s President, Mustafa Mutassim, was among thirty-two people arrested on February 19 and accused of planning to assassinate several top army officers, government ministers, and Moroccan Jews. Click here for more details.

A Casablanca court convicted on February 22 an IT engineer for “modifying and falsifying information technology data and usurping an official’s identity,” because he posted a fictitious profile of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid on Facebook. He was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (U.S. $1,320). Click here for more information.


Sudan: Cabinet Reshuffle

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced on February 14 a cabinet reshuffle that replaced twelve ministers, mostly from the National Congress Party, which rules the country jointly with the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Analysts considered the shuffle an attempt to appease SPLM officials who objected to certain ministers. Minister of Justice Muhammad al-Mardhi lost his post in the wake of heavy criticism for his handling of an alleged coup attempt involving former presidential assistant Mubarak al-Fadil. Controversial Minister of Interior al-Zuhair Bahir Tara was demoted to the post of Agriculture Minister. Click here for more details.


Upcoming Political Events


  • Egypt: Arab League foreign ministers meeting, March 5, 2008
  • Lebanon: Parliament will attempt again to elect a president , March 11, 2008
  • Syria: Arab League Summit, March 29-30, 2008
  • Egypt: Local elections, April 8, 2008
  • Qatar: Parliamentary elections, June 2008

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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3.20.2008

Operation Iraqi Freedom and the New Middle East

In honor of this occasion, when the wind of change began blowing in the Middle East and when the long aspiration for freedom and dignity started its path into reality despite all huge sacrifices and costs in Iraq, I am reposting excerpts from my previous article, "Iraq Victory: Middle East Salvation, International necessity", which tries to change the approach of perceiving the Operation Iraqi Freedom through a realistic perspective based on international and regional facts and goals.



IRAQ VICTORY: MIDDLE EAST SALVATION, INTERNATIONAL NECESSITY

By
Nassim Yaziji


The U.S. will not abandon Iraq. To me, it means that the U.S. will not abandon the Middle East. Abandoning Iraq means abandoning the new Middle East, a moderate, stable, civilized, modern and prosperous Middle East, and the nascent Middle East democratization movement, for Iranian regime's Islamic Middle East dominated by the Middle East totalitarian axis consisting of Syria's Baath, Hezbullah, Hamas and led by the Iranian regime. And this would be a disastrous blow to the U.S., Europe, the Middle East itself and the post-Cold War international order.

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's liberation. Furthermore, that would also blow up the American interests and credibility in the region and would open the door to the Iranian extremist regional project.

Furthermore, we must clearly know that the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom is a requisite for ensuring international peace and security based on global democracy in the 21st century through a post-9/11 international order. 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, the U.S. 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 support. 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 late legacy in the region.

The war in Iraq is the war of the Middle East. It is a war of ideas and powers. The fearful Middle East totalitarian axis is fighting the United States and the world 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 and democracy in the Middle East is worthy of all the sacrifices that have been made, and it would eventually prevail. And the consequent new Middle East is a key factor in the process of development of the new world order, which would cope with the issues of world stability, security and progress. Then, we are facing a historic challenge and task, so we should apply a relevant and responsible approach. 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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Some related articles of mine:

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

- The Conflict over the New Middle East

- Defining the Iraqi Question

- Totalitarianism, Violence and Terror

- The End of International Isolationism


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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's
Articles

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3.18.2008

The U.S. Human Rights List 2007

The annual release of the 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 world’s most systematic human rights violators according to the report are ten countries including Syria for the first time.

Following are some excerpts from the introduction of this report concerning the world’s most systematic human rights violators and Middle East's countries highlighted in the introduction:


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008

Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world’s most systematic human rights violators.

The repressive North Korean regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers’ rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continued to emerge from the insular country. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions also continued to emerge.

Burma’s abysmal human rights record continued to worsen. Throughout the year, the regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture. In September, security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators and detained over 3,000 others during a brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including monks and pro-democracy protesters. Despite promises of dialogue, the regime did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups. Defying calls from the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the early release of all political prisoners, the regime continued to hold opposition leaders under incarceration, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remained under house arrest.

The Iranian regime violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, women’s rights activists, labor activists, and those who disagreed with it through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, abductions, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The regime continued to detain and abuse religious and ethnic minorities. Authorities used stoning as a method of execution and as a sentence for alleged adultery cases despite a government moratorium in 2002 banning the practice. The regime continued to support terrorist movements and violent extremists in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon and called for the destruction of a UN member state.

Syria’s human rights record worsened this year, and the regime continued to commit serious abuses such as detaining an increasing number of activists, civil society organizers, and other regime critics. The regime sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights community, including a number of leaders of the National Council for the Damascus Declaration in December. The regime continued to try some political prisoners in criminal courts. For example, in April and May, respectively, authorities convicted human rights activists Anwar al-Bunni and Michel Kilo in criminal courts on charges of “weakening the national sentiment during the time of war.” The Syrian regime continues to support international terrorist groups and violent extremists, enabling their destabilizing activities and human rights abuses in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere.

The year 2007 was the worst year yet for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. Despite recent efforts by regional leaders to resolve the ongoing crisis, the assault against human rights and democracy by the government significantly increased. The Mugabe regime accelerated its campaign to limit political opposition. Official corruption and impunity remained widespread. Security forces harassed, beat, and arbitrarily arrested opposition supporters and critics within human rights NGOs, the media, and organized labor, as well as ordinary citizens. Recent reporting from independent organizations operating in Zimbabwe cite over 8,000 instances of human rights abuse in 2007, including some 1,400 attacks against students alone and at least 1,600 cases of unlawful arrest and detention.Human rights groups reported that physical and psychological torture perpetrated by security agents and government supporters increased during the year. Victims reported beatings with whips and cables, suspension, and electric shock.

Cuba remained under totalitarian control under Acting President Raul Castro and Communist Party First Secretary Fidel Castro. The regime continued to deny citizens basic rights and democratic freedoms, including the right to change their government, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and the right of association. Although the estimated number of political prisoners decreased to 240 from the 283 reported the previous year, prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening, and authorities beat, harassed, and made death threats against dissidents both inside and outside prison. Of the 75 peaceful activists, journalists, union organizers, and opposition figures arrested and convicted in 2003, 59 remained in prison. Government-directed mob attacks against high-profile dissidents decreased in number and intensity compared to previous years, but the rate of short-term arrests and detentions of ordinary citizens expressing dissent from the regime appeared to rise.

In Belarus,the authoritarian Lukashenko government restricted freedom of press, speech, assembly, association, and religion. Scores of activists and pro-democracy supporters were arrested and convicted on politically motivated charges. One of Lukashenko’s opponents in the 2006 presidential election, Alexander Kozulin, remained a political prisoner. In January, Lukashenko further consolidated his rule through local elections that failed to meet international standards. The United Nations General Assembly for the second year adopted a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Belarus and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and other individuals detained for exercising or promoting human rights.

Authoritarian President Karimov and the executive branch of government dominated Uzbekistan’s political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches. Security forces routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees under interrogation to obtain confessions or incriminating information, and there were several deaths in custody of prisoners who were allegedly members of organizations viewed by the regime as threatening. In November, the UN Committee Against Torture concluded that torture and abuse were systemic throughout the investigative process. The government sought to control completely all NGO and religious activity.

The Eritrean government’s human rights record remained poor. There were severe restrictions of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion, particularly for religious groups not approved by the government. Authorities continued to commit numerous serious abuses, including the abridgement of citizens’ rights to change their government through a democratic process; unlawful killing by security forces; torture and beating of prisoners, some resulting in death; arrest and torture of national service evaders, some of whom reportedly died of unknown causes while in detention; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arrests of family members of national service evaders; executive interference in the judiciary; and the use of a special court system to limit due process.

Sudan’s human rights record remained horrific, with continued reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, and rape by government security forces and their proxy militia in Darfur. Despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, violence increased in 2007, and the region sank further into chaos as the government continued aerial bombardment of villages, rebel groups splintered and stepped up attacks, and intertribal warfare intensified. Since 2003, at least 200,000 people are believed to have died from violence, hunger, and disease. The U.S. government called the conflict genocide and innocent civilians continued to suffer from its effects during the year. By year’s end, the protracted conflict had left more than two million people internally displaced and another 231,000 across the border in Chad, where they sought refuge. The government obstructed international efforts to deploy an AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force there, and government security forces obstructed lifesaving humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian workers increasingly found themselves to be among the targets of the violence. According to the UN, 13 human rights workers were killed, 59 were assaulted, 61 were arrested and detained, and 147 were kidnapped during the year.


Excerpts on the Middle East's countries:

The April inauguration in Mauritaniaof a president elected in polls deemed by the international community to be largely free and fair marked the country’s first successful transition to democracy in its 50 years of independence. These polls, coupled with the parliamentary elections in November 2006, created a tolerant environment in which participation in the political sphere was broad and increasingly inclusive. The new government led to improved focus on addressing human rights problems, particularly the vestiges of slavery, the unequal political and social status of Black Moors and Afro-Mauritanians, and the repatriation of Mauritanian refugees living in Senegal.

As part of a broader reform process in Morocco, September parliamentary elections were transparent and accompanied by the increased influence of the Consultative Council on Human Rights. While observers noted problems in the campaign period and there were reports of vote-buying and other manipulation, the government published participation statistics and popular vote results by district within 48 hours, and all political parties accepted the final results as accurate. Some prison reforms, including access by NGOs, accompanied an overall public commitment to develop a culture of human rights. Human rights problems continued, however, such as restrictions on freedom of the press and reported abuses in the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara.

Despite President Musharraf’s stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan’s human rights situation deteriorated during much of 2007. After President Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice in March, lawyers and civil society responded with widespread protests in support of an independent judiciary, resulting in mass detentions. This prompted a protracted lawyers’ strike. In November, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency prior to the Supreme Court’s expected decision on whether or not he was eligible for re-election as President. During the state of emergency, President Musharraf suspended the constitution and dismissed and arrested eight members of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, and 40 provincial High Court judges. Under emergency provisions, Pakistani authorities also arrested approximately 6,000 opposition political party workers, human rights advocates, lawyers, and judges. At the end of the year, there still were 11 suspended judges and three lawyers under house arrest, and media outlets were required to sign a code of conduct that prohibited criticism of the government in order to operate. On the positive side, President Musharraf resigned as Chief of Army Staff at the end of November, re-took the presidential oath of office as a civilian, and lifted the state of emergency in December. The leaders of the two major opposition political parties returned from abroad and parliamentary elections were scheduled. The elections later were postponed in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In Iraq, the constitution and law provide a framework for the free exercise of human rights, and many citizens contributed to efforts to help build institutions, both civil and security, to protect those rights. Nonetheless, sectarian, ethnic, and extremist violence, coupled with weak government performance in its ability to uphold the rule of law, resulted in widespread, severe human rights abuses and the creation of large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The year began with the war’s most deadly six-month period, followed by a steep reduction in civilian deaths in the second half of the year as a new strategy gained ground. Aided by new military efforts, violence declined as a ceasefire by some Shi’a militias took hold and local citizen watch groups countered extremists. During the year, government institutions were greatly stressed and faced difficulty in successfully responding to the challenges presented by widespread human rights abuses and attacks by Al Qaida in Iraq terrorists and extremist groups. Terrorist groups continued to attack civilians and security forces.

Democracy and human rights progress inLebanon continued to face opposition in the form of a campaign of violence and assassination and foreign-backed efforts to prevent the functioning of the government. Militant groups continued efforts to terrorize public and political figures, including through a series of car bombings and assassinations during the year. The May to September Nahr al-Barid conflict between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam resulted in a death toll of 168 LAF soldiers and an estimated 42 civilians and the internal displacement of some 30,000 Palestinian refugees. The Lebanese opposition, backed by outside forces, continued to block the election of a president by refusing to allow parliament to convene. Nonetheless, the Lebanese Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, continued to work intensively to ensure the functioning of the government.

In Egypt, opposition political activists, journalists, and NGOs continued to advocate for reform and criticize the government, despite the government’s attempts to thwart them. The government continued to hold former presidential candidate Ayman Nour as a political prisoner, charge journalists with libel, detain Internet bloggers, and significantly restrict freedom of association. In September, seven independent newspaper editors were convicted on charges ranging from misquoting the justice minister to defaming the president and senior officials of the ruling National Democratic Party. During the year, police detained some active Internet bloggers for periods of several days. In September, the government ordered the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, an NGO, for accepting funds from foreign donors without government approval; the organization had played a role in exposing several cases of torture by security personnel.

In Tunisia, throughout the year the government continued to intimidate, harass, arrest, jail, and physically assault journalists, labor union leaders, and those working with NGOs. The government also continued to place restrictions on foreign funding to organizations not approved by the government. Writer and lawyer Mohammed Abbou, imprisoned in 2005 for posting articles on the Internet critical of President Ben Ali, was released, but he is not allowed to travel outside the country.

The UN Democracy Fund, proposed by President Bush in his speech to the General Assembly in 2004, continued to grow by leaps and bounds. By the end of 2007, the Fund totaled $36 million and projects were being identified for a second round of grant-making. The number of proposals submitted increased from 1,300 in 2006 to 1,800 in 2007. A priority was funding projects to support the efforts of NGOs in emerging democracies, such as that of Hungary’s International Center for Democratic Transition, and to support for civilian participation in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative.

In the Broader Middle East and North Africa, non-governmental groups continued their activities related to the Forum for the Future, culminating in the Parallel Civil Society Forum in Sanaa, Yemen, in December. The gathering brought together more than 300 civil society leaders from across the region. The participants issued a report identifying benchmarks for reform and setting forth action plans for 2008 to address critical issues of freedom of expression and women’s political empowerment.



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- Human rights posts on Middle East Policy

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3.15.2008

U.S. Gets Tough on Syrian Regime, Property Blocking and Destroyer Deployment

Does the US have a Syria policy finally? Or the U.S. conduct, which is similar to crisis-management, continues with respect to Syria? (Read a previous opinion of mine: The U.S. Syria Democracy Program)

We are finally close to know.

Here are some very interesting materials on this question may reflect a serious change in the U.S. Syria policy:


The White House
Statement by the Press Secretary
February 13, 2008

Today the President signed an Executive Order that takes additional steps with respect to the Syrian regime's continued engagement in certain conduct that formed the basis of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004.

This order expands sanctions to block the property of senior Syrian Government officials and their associates who are determined to be responsible for, to have engaged in, or to have benefited from public corruption. The order also revises a provision in Executive Order 13338 to block the property of persons determined to be responsible for actions or decisions of the Syrian regime that undermine efforts to stabilize Iraq, or allow Syrian territory to be used for this purpose.

In addition to these policies targeted by this Executive Order, the Syrian regime continues to pursue other activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region. Syria continues to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, imprison democracy activists, curtail human rights, and sponsor and harbor terrorists. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Syria and the region as they seek to exercise their rights peacefully and to build a brighter future.

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U.S. Department of the Treasury
February 21, 2008


Rami Makhluf Designated for Benefiting from Syrian Corruption

Washington, DC − The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Rami Makhluf, a powerful Syrian businessman and regime insider whom improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials. This action was taken today pursuant to Executive Order 13460, which targets individuals and entities determined to be responsible for or who have benefited from the public corruption of senior officials of the Syrian regime.

"Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Asad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians," said Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. "The Asad regime's cronyism and corruption has a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria's borders, in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories."

Syria is well known for its corrupt business environment, which denies the Syrian people economic prosperity and other freedoms. The considerable role the Asad family, their inner circle, and the Syrian security services exert over the economy, coupled with the absence of a free judicial system and the lack of transparency, concentrates wealth in the hands of certain classes and individuals. In turn, these classes and individuals depend upon this corrupt system for their success and fortune. Syrians without these connections are unable to improve their economic standing, and suffer as a result of policies implemented by an unaccountable regime.

President George W. Bush issued E.O. 13460 on February 13, 2008 to take additional measures to address the threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States posed by certain conduct of the Government of Syria.

This new authority builds on E.O. 13338, which was issued by President Bush in May 2004, by targeting activities that entrench and enrich the Syrian regime and its cohorts thereby enabling the regime to continue to engage in threatening behavior, including actions that undermine efforts to stabilize Iraq. Corruption by the regime also reinforces efforts that deny the people of Syria political freedoms and economic prosperity, undercut peace and stability in the region, fund terrorism and violence, and undermine the sovereignty of Lebanon.

Pursuant to E.O. 13460, any assets that Makhluf holds under U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in business or transactions with Makhluf.

Identifying Information

Rami Makhluf
AKAs: MAKHLOUF, Rami
MAKHLOUF, Rami Bin Mohammed
MAKHLOUF, Rami Mohammad
DOB: July 10, 1969
POB: Syria
Passport Number: Syrian, 98044

Rami Makhluf is a powerful Syrian businessman who amassed his commercial empire by exploiting his relationships with Syrian regime members. Makhluf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards.

Makhluf is the maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Asad and through this relationship, Makhluf has become a focal point of Syria's telecommunications, commercial, oil, gas and banking sectors. Despite President Asad's highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns, Makhluf remains one of the primary centers of corruption in Syria.

Makhluf's influence with certain Syrian government officials has led to his being able to control the issuance of certain types of profitable commodities contracts. His close business associations with some Syrian cabinet ministers have enabled him to gain access to lucrative oil exploration and power plant projects. Makhluf's preferential access to Syrian economic sectors has led to complaints about him from members of the Syrian business community.

Makhluf is the brother of Syrian General Intelligence Directorate official Hafiz Makhluf, who was previously designated under E.O. 13441.

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Washington Ready for War with Syria to Defend Lebanon?

Naharnet
08 Mar 08

A recent electronic mail leaked by Egypt unveils U.S. readiness to launch wide-scale military offensive against Syria if the Assad regime sticks to its policy towards Lebanon, Germany's DPA news agency reported.

DPA on Friday quoted reliable sources as saying "the e-mail leaked a few days ago by Egypt to Syria reveals that the U.S. is ready to launch a wide-scale military offensive against Syria if (Damascus) holds onto its current position towards the Lebanese crisis."

"This is the main reason behind (the deployment of) the (USS Cole) destroyer off the Lebanese and Syrian coasts," the sources added.

A U.S. Navy official said earlier this week that the Cole had been relieved by the guided missile destroyer USS Ors and the guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last week that the deployment should not be viewed as threatening or in response to events in any single country in the volatile region.

An Nahar daily, however, quoted on Saturday diplomatic sources as saying that "the American message delivered to Damascus means Syrian and Iranian domination on Lebanon is prohibited."

An Nahar also said that newspapers in the Gulf have reported that Russian and Iranian naval forces in the Mediterranean sea have been put on alert.

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3.12.2008

Registrar of Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Appointed, Tribunal Is Ready


(Picture: the building of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague)


Ban Ki-moon names top official for Lebanon tribunal

11 March 2008 – A veteran of numerous international court proceedings has been appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the Registrar of the tribunal being set up to try those responsible for political killings in Lebanon, particularly the 2005 attack that killed former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Robin Vincent of the United Kingdom will start his duties on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at a date yet to be determined, but “the appointment of the Registrar reflects the steady progress being accomplished in establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

From 2002 to 2005, Mr. Vincent served as Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Since then, he has served as the temporary Deputy Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and has advised on the establishment of other international tribunals, including the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The Security Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) in April 2005 after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Mr. Hariri died in a massive car bombing in Beirut in February 2005 that also took the lives of 22 others.


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Khalilzad: Hariri Tribunal Ready to Launch Trials

11 March 2008

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad has said the international tribunal that would try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was ready to launch trials.

"The U.N. has everything it needs for the first year to activate the tribunal," Khalilzad said in remarks published Tuesday.

Khalilzad, who was speaking before a Security Council meeting in New York to discuss U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's sixth report on Resolution 1701, said the contributions to finance the tribunal have reached more than $50 million, including $21,3 in pledges.

He said a "management committee" had been established.

The committee, which will among other tasks provide advice and policy direction on all non-judicial aspects of the operations of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and oversee expenditures, is composed of France, Germany, Holland, Britain, the United States and the United Nations, he added.


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Related materials on Middle East policy:

- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- 'Management Committee' of Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Set Up

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Gets Base, Judges

- The International Tribunal for Lebanon (Resolution 1757)

- UN Report on the Establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Ninth report of Hariri International Investigation Commission

- Memo for International Tribunal for Lebanon

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Comes Into Force

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3.05.2008

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the February issue (latest issue) of Arab Reform Bulletin Published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:


Syria: Crackdown on Political Activists
Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed; Official Assassinated: Journalist Threatened
Iraq: Flag Change; Justice and Accountability Law; Kurdish Press Law Updates
Palestine: Gaza Crisis; Hamas and Fatah Meetings; Crackdown on Journalists
Saudi Arabia: Live Programming Banned; Blogger Arrested; Civil Society Law
Kuwait: Minister Survives Confidence Vote; Crackdown on Cross-Dressers
Bahrain: Crackdown on Protestors; Human Trafficking Law
UAE: New Social Assistance Package; Plans for Women Judges
Yemen: Websites Blocked
Egypt: Brotherhood Arrests; EU Resolution; Torturers Convicted
Sudan: Janjaweed Leader Promoted; Southern Ministers Rejoin Government
Libya: Human Rights Criticism
Tunisia: Journalist Sentenced to Prison
Morocco: Polisario Talks; Homosexuals Sentenced
Mauritania: Return of Refugees; Attack on Israeli Embassy
Upcoming Political Events



Syria: Crackdown on Political Activists

A Damascus court charged ten members of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change opposition coalition on January 28 with “attacking the prestige of the state, publishing false information, membership in a secret organization aimed at destabilizing the state and fuelling ethnic and racial tension.” Under articles 285, 286, 306, and 307 of the criminal code, they face prison sentences of up to fifteen years. Those charged include Fidaa al-Horani, president of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration and Akram al-Bunni, its general secretary. Former MP Riad Seif was arrested on January 28, drawing condemnation from the White House. Prominent artist and political activist Talal Abu-Dan was also arrested on January 31. Twelve Damascus Declaration members in all have been detained since December 9. The Declaration held its first general conference in Syria on December 1. Click here for more details.


Lebanon: Presidential Vote Delayed; Official Assassinated: Journalist Threatened

On January 20, the Lebanese parliament postponed the election of a new president for the thirteenth time—the new session is now scheduled for February 11. The Western-backed ruling coalition and the pro-Syria opposition had agreed on Army Commander General Michel Suleiman as president, but are now divided on the composition of a new government. The Hizbollah-led opposition demands a one third plus one presence in the cabinet—the so-called blocking third. The Western-backed governing coalition has rejected the idea of giving the opposition the power to blocking power but appears ready to accept instead a three way division of cabinet appointment between government, opposition, and president. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the delay aims at giving the two sides more time to negotiate as part of a recent Arab initiative. The Arab plan, endorsed by Syria and Saudi Arabia, calls for the election of Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government, and the drafting of a new law for the 2009 parliamentary election.

On February 2, a Lebanese judge ordered the arrest of three army officers and eight soldiers allegedly involved in the death of seven protestors in Beirut’s southern suburbs on January 27. Hundreds of Shi’i protesters angry about electricity rationing clashed with Lebanese troops in what were described as Lebanon’s worst riots since clashes between Sunnis and Shi’a at a university in January 2007 left four people dead.

Internal Security Forces Captain Wissam Eid and five others were killed in a January 25 car bombing in Beirut. Eid had been investigating previous assassinations in Lebanon, including the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

Newspaper editor Aziz al-Mitni’s car was set on fire in Carnet Shehwan, near Beirut, on January 20. Al-Mitni is the editor of al-Anbaa, the official newspaper of Waleed Jamblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, and a vocal critic of the opposition. In recent months, threats against journalists have become commonplace as the security situation in the country has deteriorated. Click here for more information.


Iraq: Flag Change; Justice and Accountability Law; Kurdish Press Law Updates

The Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a bill on January 22 to change the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi flag in a symbolic break with the past. The new measure removed the old flag’s three green stars, which symbolized unity, freedom and socialism—the slogan of the Baath party. The words “Allahu Akbar” will remain, but the calligraphy, a copy of Saddam’s handwriting, will be changed. The measure expires in one year. Click here for the new flag.

The Iraqi Presidency Council signed a “Justice and Accountability Law” on February 3 to replace the de-Baathification law enacted by former U.S. Civil Administrator Paul Bremer. The new law will allow thousands of former Baathists to apply for reinstatement in the civil service and the military, while a smaller group of more senior members still banned from public positions will receive pensions. The Baath party will continue to be barred from political participation. The Iraqi Council of Representatives passed the law on January 12. The law remains controversial among Sunnis who fear the vetting process required for reinstatement may actually increase the number of Sunnis barred from government positions. Click here for the law in Arabic.

The Kurdistan Regional Government released Faisal Abbas Ghazala, a correspondent for the satellite station Kolsat, on December 21 after he was held for a month without charge in Mosul. The Kurdish national assembly passed on December 11 a new draft law introducing heavy fines and prison sentences for press offenses. The law is awaiting ratification by President Massoud Barzani, who told representatives of the Kurdish Union of Journalist that he would reject the law and ask for an amendment. Click here for more information.


Palestine: Gaza Crisis; Hamas and Fatah Meetings; Crackdown on Journalists

Fatah is planning to hold its sixth General Congress on March 5-6 in the West Bank. The last congress was held in 1989 in Tunisia, before the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Click here for more information.

In a January 23-25 Palestinian National Conference in Damascus, Hamas and Syria-based Palestinian groups called for unity of the Palestinian people and intensifying resistance against Israel. Fatah, along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, boycotted the Hamas-led conference.

One Palestinian civilian was killed in clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border on February 4. On February 2, Egyptian and Hamas security forces resealed the Egypt-Gaza border breached by Palestinian militants on January 22 after Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza. After talks with Egypt, Hamas declared that it would “restore control over this border, in co-operation with Egypt, gradually.” Egypt has kept its border with the territory closed almost continuously since the Hamas takeover in June 2007.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on January 30 that the state could continue with its Gaza fuel cuts, but ordered a delay on plans to reduce electricity supplies. International human rights organizations expressed deep concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. Click here for a January 26 statement by Human Rights Watch and here for a January 25 statement by Amnesty International.

Hamas released Omar al-Ghul, journalist and advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on February 1, after detaining him for forty-nine days without charge. On February 4, Hamas released Munir Abu Rizq, Gaza bureau chief of the pro-Fatah newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida, after a two-week detention, amid reports that a release of Fatah and Hamas prisoners was under negotiation. Click here for more information.


Saudi Arabia: Live Programming Banned; Blogger Arrested; Civil Society Law

Saudi Information Minister Iyad Madani announced on January 30 a ban on all live broadcasts on Saudi public television. The announcement came two days after some viewers phoned in with critical comments about senior Saudi government officials, including the King, to a live program on the state-owned al-Ikhbariya news channel. The station’s director, Muhammad al-Tunsi, was dismissed. Click here for more information.The Interior Ministry confirmed on December 31 that Saudi blogger Ahmad al-Farhan was detained for questioning. Al-Farhan, who used his blog to criticize corruption and call for political reform, was arrested on December 10 “for violating rules not related to state security,” according to the ministry spokesman. Saudi authorities also blocked access to the leading blog publishing service, Blogger.com. The Saudi government's official “internet blacklist” contains more than 400,000 websites, including political, religious, and pornographic sites. Click here for more information.

President of the National Society for Human Rights Bandar al-Hajjar announced on January 5 that Saudi Arabia is moving toward incorporating a human rights curriculum into its higher education system. During the past year, the organization has established a human rights library in Riyadh and a data center for human rights research.

The Saudi Shura Council approved on December 31 a draft civil society law that will regulate civil society organizations in Saudi Arabia. The law—the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia—calls for the establishment of a “National Authority for Civil Society Organizations” to supervise the activities of NGOs. The draft law is currently under discussion in cabinet. Click here an Arabic summary of the draft law.


Kuwait: Minister Survives Confidence Vote; Crackdown on Cross-Dressers

Kuwait’s only female cabinet minister survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on January 22. During the January 8 nine-hour parliament questioning, Islamist MPs accused Minister of Education Nuriya al-Sabeeh of mismanagement, failing to uphold religious values, and of being responsible for “serious deterioration” in education standards. Al-Sabeeh categorically denied all the allegations and won the confidence vote by twenty-seven to nineteen. Maasouma al-Mubarak, who made history by becoming Kuwait’s first female minister in 2005, resigned last year after Islamist MPs summoned her to appear before parliament. Click here for more information.

Kuwaiti authorities arrested at least fourteen transgender cross-dressers between December 18 and 21 for violating Kuwait’s new dress-code law. The law, approved by the National Assembly on December 10, 2007, criminalizes “imitating the appearance of the opposite sex” and stipulates a punishment of up to one year in prison or a fine not exceeding one thousand dinars (U.S. $3,500). A January 17 statement by Human Rights Watch called the law “a violation of freedom of expression and personal autonomy” and urged the Kuwaiti government to free the prisoners.
On January 17, a Kuwaiti court ordered al-Jazeera satellite channel to pay a fine of 20,000 Kuwaiti dinars (U.S. $73,665) for “damaging Kuwaiti national sentiment” and “distorting the history of the country.” Four Kuwaiti lawyers filed the case after al-Jazeera aired an episode of “al-Ittijah al-Mu’akis” (The Opposite Direction) in which an Egyptian commentator accused Kuwait of “stealing Iraq’s oil” and blamed it for the 1990 Iraqi invasion. The channel’s studios in Kuwait have been closed twice before, in 1999 and 2002-2005. Click here for more information.


Bahrain: Crackdown on Protestors; Human Trafficking Law

A Bahraini court charged political activist Hussain Mansoor on January 23 with the assault and attempted murder of a security officer during a protest. The trial was postponed to February 17. A February 3 trial for fifteen other protestors was also postponed to February 24 after lawyers boycotted the hearing, in protest of its late-afternoon timing. Bahrain is currently detaining at least fifty activists, arrested between December 21 and 28 following December 17demonstrations in which one protestor was killed. In a January 21 statement, Human Rights Watch expressed serious concerns over allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights revealed on January 23 that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs refused to approve the distribution of the novel Omar, A Martyr by Bahraini novelist Abdullah Khalifa, alleging that it defames a religious figure. Click here for more information.

Bahrain issued a law to combat human trafficking on January 9. The law stipulates a prison penalty and fines ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 Bahraini dinars (U.S. $5,319 to 26,731). The law also calls for the formation of a committee to combat human trafficking, members of which have not been announced.UAE: New Social Assistance Package; Plans for Women Judges
UAE Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum issued a decree on January 31 appointing his son Hamdan as crown prince of Dubai. Al-Maktoum also issued directives on January 18 to launch a 15 billion dirham (U.S. $4 billion) plan to build 40,000 houses for needy nationals and to double the budget for social assistance to 2.2 billion dirhams (U.S. $600 million). Click here for more details.

Minister of Justice Muhammad al-Dhahiri announced on January 6 that the UAE is hoping to amend its law on the judiciary to allow women to become judges and prosecutors. He added that women were being trained for the job and two women in Abu Dhabi had been appointed as prosecutors and would begin work once the amendment to the judiciary law was passed. If approved, the move would make the UAE the second Gulf Arab country, after Bahrain, to allow women to become judges.


Yemen: Websites Blocked

Yemeni authorities have blocked access to the independent news website Yemen-Portal since January 19, accusing it of “jeopardizing national unity” and “inciting secession.” Other blocked news websites in Yemen include Yemen Hurr, Hour News Today , Hdrmut, al-Teef, al-Yemen, Aden Press, and Sout al-Gnoub. Click here for more information.


Egypt: Brotherhood Arrests; EU Resolution; Torturers Convicted

Egyptian police forces arrested twenty-nine senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood on January 21, including two candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. The Brotherhood said that the arrests aimed at preventing the Islamist movement from staging demonstrations in support of Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 400 Brotherhood members are now in detention, most of them without charge or trial, since a crackdown that began a year ago. Click here for more details.

Egyptian authorities released Howayda Taha, a documentary producer for al-Jazeera satellite channel, on January 29 after a brief detention and interrogation. Taha was accused of filming without official permission. In May 2007, a state security court convicted Taha of “harming the country’s interests” and sentenced her to six months in prison for producing a documentary on torture in Egypt. She appealed the verdict and a decision on her appeal is expected to be issued February 11.

Egyptian security forces abducted opposition leader Abdel-Wahab al-Mesiri on January 21, along with his wife and other activists, and abandoned them in the desert. Al-Mesiri, head of the opposition Kifaya movement, reported being harassed following his participation in a January 17 protest against price increases and the government’s plan to cut subsidies. He also announced that Kifaya would soon release “The Black Book,” a record of the regime’s abuses in various domains. Click here for more information.

The European Parliament issued a resolution on January 16 calling on the Egyptian Government to respect human rights, end all forms of torture and ill-treatment, refrain from harassing human rights defenders and activists, and respect freedom of belief and expression. The resolution also calls for the immediate release of al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour and the lifting of the state of emergency. In a January 18 statement, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Aboul Ghait announced Egypt’s “complete rejection” of the resolution and of “attempts by any party to appoint himself as an inspector of human rights in the country or a guardian for the Egyptian people.”

An Egyptian court convicted three police officers of torture on January 5, sentencing one officer to five years and the two others to one year each in prison. The officers were accused of beating a prisoner in the port city of Alexandria and forcing him to wear women's clothing in public to humiliate him. The court ruling came two months after a Cairo court sentenced two policemen to three years in prison for beating and raping a prisoner. Under Egyptian law, the sentence for torturing a prisoner ranges from three to fifteen years in prison.

Five Egyptian and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement on December 29 calling on President Hosni Mubarak to authorize an independent judicial inquiry into the December 30, 2005 police assault on Sudanese protestors, which left twenty-seven persons dead. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and the Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence said the investigation should identify those who ordered, led, and implemented the attacks, and hold them responsible.

Sinai writer and jurist activist Mosaad Soliman Hussein, known as Mosaad Abu Fagr, was arrested on December 26 and charged with instigating riots. He remains in detention in al-Arish prison. Abu Fagr has been campaigning actively for human rights in Sinai and the release of Sinai political prisoners. Click here for more information.


Sudan: Janjaweed Leader Promoted; Southern Ministers Rejoin Government

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir appointed Musa Hilal, a leader of the Arab Janjaweed militia that is accused of grave human rights violations in Darfur, to the position of senior presidential advisor on January 20. Human Rights Watch criticized the appointment in a January 20 statement, calling it a “stunning affront to victims of Janjaweed atrocities in Darfur.” The United States has declared the actions of the Janjaweed to constitute “genocide.”

The southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rejoined the national government coalition on December 26. The SPLM suspended its participation in the government in October 2007, accusing the north of hindering the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The SPLM’s return came after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reshuffled the cabinet, bringing in six SPLM ministers. Click here for the new cabinet line-up.

On January 7, Sudan’s National Press Council suspended the English-language daily The Citizen for two days over accusations of insulting the Sudanese president. The newspaper had published an editorial about armed clashes on the border between southern and northern Sudan, which the Council found “disrespectful” to the president. The National Press Council regulates Sudan’s press. Click here for details.


Libya: Human Rights Criticism

In a January 30 statement, Human Rights Watch called on the Libyan government to release political prisoner Fathi al-Jahmi, who is seriously ill and in urgent need of medical care. Al-Jahmi, aged 66, has been in detention for nearly four years without trial.

The human rights organization also criticized Libya’s January 16 decision to deport summarily all undocumented foreigners. The decision can potentially affect one million people, including asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan. Under customary international law, Libya is obliged not to return persons to a place where they may face persecution, or where their lives or freedom are at risk. Click here for more information.


Tunisia: Journalist Sentenced to Prison

A Tunisian court upheld journalist Salim Boukhdeir’s prison sentence in a January 18 hearing. Boukhdeir was convicted on December 4 of “insulting behavior towards an official in the exercise of his duty,” “violating decency” and “refusing to produce identity papers,” and sentenced to one year in prison. Boukhdeir, a correspondent of the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi and al-Arabiya satellite television, was arrested on the outskirts of Sfax on November 26 after an argument with a police officer. Click here for more information.


Morocco: Polisario Talks; Homosexuals Sentenced

Morocco and Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement concluded a third round of UN-sponsored talks in New York on January 9 without reaching agreement on Africa’s longest-running territorial dispute. The Moroccan delegation argued in favor of Western Sahara autonomy within Morocco, while the Polisario proposed a referendum among ethnic Sahrawis that includes an option of independence. UN mediator Peter van Valsum said the two sides agreed to meet again March 11-13 for further talks. Click here for more information.

A Moroccan appeals court on January 16 upheld prison sentences for six men convicted of “practicing homosexuality.” The six men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to ten months on December 12. The men organized a homosexual wedding in the northern city of al-Qasr al-Kabir on November 26, prompting over 600 of the town’s inhabitants to protest demanding a government crackdown on homosexuals. Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code stipulates that homosexuality is illegal and is punishable with six months to three years in jail and a fine of 120 to 1,200 Moroccan dirhams (U.S.$15 to 155). Amnesty International issued a statement on January 18 criticizing the ruling and calling for the immediate release of the prisoners.

On January 5, a Moroccan court convicted fifty members of the Ansar al-Mahdi group of plotting terrorist attacks and sentenced them to between two and twenty-five years in prison. The group, which includes policemen and members of the military, was arrested in August 2006.


Mauritania: Return of Refugees; Attack on Israeli Embassy

Over one hundred Mauritanian refugees, part of a group of 24,000 who fled to neighboring Senegal after ethnic violence in 1989, returned on January 29 under a UN-sponsored program. Mauritanian President Sidi Muhammad Ould Sheikh Abdullahi in June 2007 invited all remaining refugees to return, and Mauritania, Senegal, and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement to facilitate their repatriation. Click here for more information.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott on February 1, causing several injuries. Mauritania is one of three Arab countries, along with Jordan and Egypt, that maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel. Click here for more details.


Upcoming Political Events

Palestine: Fatah’s Sixth General Congress: March 5-6, 2008
Egypt: Local elections, April 2008
Qatar: Parliamentary elections, June 2008



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