JFP 4/11: Annan asks Iran help on Syria ceasefire; Welcome to Palestine; drug war "on autopilot"

Just Foreign Policy News, April 11, 2012
Annan asks Iran help on Syria ceasefire; Welcome to Palestine; drug war "on autopilot"


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

A Contrarian Optimist View of the Upcoming Iran Nuclear Talks
When President Obama nominated global health superhero Dr. Jim Young Kim to lead the World Bank, Harvard development economist Dani Rodrik remarked, "It's nice to see that Obama can still surprise us." Is it possible that Obama could pleasantly surprise us in the upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program? Much of the media coverage would suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, there are actually quite a few positive signs we can point to.
http://truth-out.org/news/item/8456-a-contrarian-optimist-view-of-the-upcoming-iran-nuclear-talks

Video: "Want to Prevent War with Iran? Engage Congress!"
Highlights from a panel on engaging Congress to prevent war with Iran and promote diplomacy. Featuring Kate Gould of FCNL and Jamal Abdi of NIAC.
http://youtu.be/Ilkdy5IZbK8

Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings
New revelations that the Bush Administration provided training to a group on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997. "The US is still involved…in using the MEK as surrogates…we have continued to provide the MEK with intelligence…"
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/10/training_terrorists_in_nevada_seymour_hersh

II
) Summary:

U.S./Top News
1) Kofi Annan, the special envoy who devised the timetable for a truce in Syria, on Wednesday urged Iran to support the peace effort and cautioned against arming rebel forces, saying that further militarization of the conflict would be "disastrous," the New York Times reports. Annan acknowledged Iran's potential influence, saying "Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution."

Annan said the Damascus authorities had assured him in writing that they would respect the cease-fire but had reserved the right to respond to attacks. Activists said that the main umbrella organizations of the opposition, both the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, had committed to the cease-fire but that it was unclear whether they held sway over the loose coalition of armed men arrayed against the government. Russia urged the U.S. to use its influence with the Syrian opposition to get them to respect the cease-fire.

2) Israeli security forces said they had begun preparations for a "fly-in" of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists expected to arrive at Ben Gurion airport this weekend, AFP reports. Hundreds of activists are expected to try to fly into Ben Gurion with the goal of travelling to the Palestinian West Bank. Organizers say they want to publicise Israel's control of movement into and out of the Palestinian territory. "There is no way into Palestine other than through Israeli control points," organizers said. "Israel has turned Palestine into a giant prison, but prisoners have a right to receive visitors."

3) Denmark's prime minister pressed Bahrain to release a jailed rights activist on Tuesday, 62 days into his hunger strike, as Bahrain continued to dismiss claims its crackdown on dissent made it unfit to host an international motor race scheduled for next week, the New York Times reports. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's family expressed fear that his life might be in danger last week, when they were denied permission to see him. Denmark's Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt said on Tuesday, "What we're hearing now is that al-Khawaja's condition is very critical."

The Danish effort to save Khawaja's life comes as the kingdom is trying to silence calls from opposition protesters for the cancellation of next week's Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, the Times says. The Guardian reported that "a leading member of one of the teams" scheduled to race next week told the newspaper: "I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain. If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lockdown there. And I think that would be unacceptable."

4) An oil price spike caused by a confrontation with Iran is now seen as the biggest threat to the U.S. economy, according to nine out of 18 economists surveyed by CNNMoney. "It's something we're really concerned about," said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's Analytics. "A military confrontation could push prices to $180 a barrel, which would precipitate a recession."

5) The Washington Office on Latin America says the imminent passage of the Colombia-U.S. FTA will halt progress on the Andean nation's appalling workers' rights record, writes Colombia Reports. Gimena Sanchez, WOLA's senior associate for Colombia, told CR the final approval of the FTA would "significantly reduce the political leverage of the U.S. government to really change things for labor rights conditions in Colombia." President Obama is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor rights conditions required for final approval of the FTA at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite ongoing violence against unionists in the country.

6) When Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that broad changes need to be considered, the Washington Post reports. Those leaders who have most forcefully offered new proposals, or developed carefully argued critiques of US policy, are among Washington's closest allies, the Post notes, including Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Cesar Gaviria, a former Colombian president who has been a forceful critic of the U.S. policy, said U.S. officials acknowledge the failure of the policy behind closed doors and do little to defend it publicly. He said it is simply a policy on automatic pilot. "You reach the conclusion that all this killing in Mexico and Central America has been in the name of a failed policy that the United States does not believe in or vigorously defend," said Gaviria.

Iran
7) The vast majority of the public in 12 Arab countries does not believe that Iran poses a threat to the "security of the Arab homeland," according to a survey by the Doha Institute, writes Nadim Rouhana for Foreign Policy. Only 5 percent of respondents named Iran as a source of threat, versus 22 percent who named the U.S. The first place was reserved for Israel, which 51 percent of respondents named as a threat to Arab national security. In this context, the Arab public is likely to view threats of a military strike by Israel or the U.S. against Iran as brute intimidation. If the American threats and policies against Iran's nuclear program are perceived as motivated by Israeli pressures -- a widely held view in the Arab world and elsewhere -- the stature and prestige of the U.S. will inevitably suffer even further in that region.

Israel/Palestine
9) Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – to speak out more forcibly on the issue of Israeli violence against Palestinians, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Colombia
10) Colombia stays on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' "blacklist," because of ongoing violence by illegal armed groups and the country's inability to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice, writes Colombia Reports. "Illegal armed groups continue to be involved in acts of violence against the population, peoples and persons historically discriminated or that have been subjected to vulnerable situations, such as women, human rights defenders and children," said the annual report from the IACHR, an arm of the OAS.

Honduras
11) The AFL-CIO and two leading Honduran union federations formally complained to the U.S. Labor Department that Honduras is violating the Central American Free Trade Agreement by not enforcing its own labor laws, the People's World reports. Last year, the DOL found another CAFTA signer, Guatemala, broke the CAFTA pact.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Envoy to Syria Seeks Iranian Help as Cease-fire Deadline Nears
Neil MacFarquhar, Rick Gladstone and Alan Cowell, New York Times, April 11, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/world/middleeast/kofi-annan-seeks-iranian-help-with-syria-cease-fire.html

Beirut, Lebanon - With the deadline for a cease-fire in Syria less than a day away, Kofi Annan, the high-profile special envoy who devised the timetable for a truce, on Wednesday urged Iran, Syria's main regional ally, to support the peace effort and cautioned against arming rebel forces, saying that further militarization of the conflict would be "disastrous."

Mr. Annan said the Damascus authorities had assured him in writing that they would respect the cease-fire but had reserved the right to respond to attacks - a caveat that appeared to create considerable latitude. Reports from activists on the ground in Syria suggested that government forces were still pressing to subdue their adversaries, pounding rebel enclaves with shells and rockets.
[...]
Mr. Annan, appointed by the Arab League and the United Nations, said Syria's plight could be "much improved" by daybreak on Thursday if the combatants - Syrian government forces on one side and a ragtag collection of armed rebels and army defectors on the other - respected his proposal to stop fighting by then.

"I have received government assurances they will respect the cease-fire," he said, referring to the Syrian authorities.

"If everyone respects, I think by six o'clock on Thursday the 12th - six o'clock in the morning on Thursday the 12th - we should see a much improved situation on the ground," he said, adding that it was still possible for both sides to make progress toward a cease-fire.

But, he said, the authorities in Damascus were still pushing for guarantees that the rebels would observe a truce. "What they mean and want is an assurance that the other forces, the opposition forces, would also stop the fighting so that we could see cessation of all the violence," Mr. Annan said.
[...]
Mr. Annan acknowledged Iran's potential influence, saying "Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution. He spoke, too, of potential regional repercussions if the fighting continues.

"The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences," he said. Syria borders Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Mr. Annan also rejected suggestions by some Arab states that want to arm the rebels. "I've always said the further militarization of the conflict will be disastrous," he said.
[...]
Activists said that the main umbrella organizations of the opposition, both the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, had committed to the cease-fire but that it was unclear whether they held sway over the loose coalition of armed men arrayed against the government.
[...]
In a rejoinder to the United States, which has harshly criticized both Russia and China for thwarting more aggressive action on Syria at the Security Council, Mr. Lavrov said, "The U.S. and other countries, which have pretty direct access to Syrian opposition groups, would do better not to constantly blame Russia and China, but to use their levers in order to honestly force everyone to stop shooting each other," according to the Interfax news service.
[...]

2) Israeli forces prepare for pro-Palestinian 'flytilla'
AFP, 9:52AM BST 10 Apr 2012
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/9194985/Israeli-forces-prepare-for-pro-Palestinian-flytilla.html

Israeli security forces said on Tuesday they had begun preparations for a "fly-in" of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists expected to arrive at Ben Gurion airport this weekend.

"We have made arrangements and are prepared for this operation, which is expected to begin from Sunday," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, without giving further details.

Hundreds of activists mainly from European countries are expected to try to fly into Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, with the goal of travelling to the Palestinian West Bank.

The so-called "Welcome to Palestine" campaign, which has been dubbed a "flytilla," is taking place for the third year.

In 2010, organisers said around 100 activists were able to arrive without incident and travel to the West Bank, access to which is controlled by Israel.

But last year, Israel worked with airlines to prevent hundreds of activists from boarding planes bound for Ben Gurion, and detained and later deported others who managed to arrive.
[...]
The campaign's organisers in the West Bank say they want to publicise Israel's control of movement into and out of the Palestinian territory.

"There is no way into Palestine other than through Israeli control points," the organisers said in a mission statement. "Israel has turned Palestine into a giant prison, but prisoners have a right to receive visitors."

3) Denmark Presses Bahrain to Release Activist Amid Doubts Over Formula One Race
Robert Mackey, New York Times, April 10, 2012, 8:20 PM
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/denmark-presses-bahrain-to-release-activist-amid-doubts-over-formula-one-race/

Denmark's prime minister pressed Bahrain to release a jailed rights activist on Tuesday, 62 days into his hunger strike, as the kingdom continued to dismiss claims that its crackdown on dissent made it unfit to host an international motor race scheduled for next week.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told reporters in Copenhagen that she had demanded the extradition of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who holds Danish as well as Bahraini citizenship, in a letter to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The Danish newspaper Politiken reported that the letter was sent more than a week ago, but the activist remains in a military hospital in Bahrain's capital, Manama.

Mr. Khawaja's family expressed fear that his life might be in danger last week, when they were denied permission to see him. Ms. Thorning-Schmidt said on Tuesday, "What we're hearing now is that al-Khawaja's condition is very critical." Hours later, Bahrain's state news agency claimed that a medical report prepared by "two international independent experts" showed that the activist remains relatively healthy, if "somewhat pale" and very thin.

The Danish effort to save Mr. Khawaja's life comes as the kingdom is trying to silence calls from opposition protesters for the cancellation of next week's Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix.
[...]
The Guardian reported on Monday that "a leading member of one of the teams" scheduled to race next week told the newspaper: "I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain. If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lockdown there. And I think that would be unacceptable."
[...]
In an interview with Al Jazeera English on Monday, Ms. Khawaja said that her father told her during a recent visit that his goal was not to be released, but "for the world to see what's happening in Bahrain, and what's happening to Bahrainis - not just to me, but to the hundreds of political prisoners."
[...]

4) Iran-fueled oil price spike biggest threat to economy
Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney, April 11, 2012: 9:24 AM ET
http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/11/news/economy/oil-price-economy/index.htm

New York - An oil price spike caused by a confrontation with Iran is now seen as the biggest threat to the U.S. economy.

That's according to nine out of 18 economists surveyed recently by CNNMoney. They say rising oil prices now outweigh the risks posed by the European debt crisis, ongoing gridlock over the budget in Washington and fears of a slowdown in China.
"An Iranian disruption of oil supplies could send oil prices to $200 a barrel," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute.

"It's something we're really concerned about," said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's Analytics. "A military confrontation could push prices to $180 a barrel, which would precipitate a recession."
[...]

5) Colombia-US FTA will halt labor rights progress: WOLA
Sarah Kinosian, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 10 APRIL 2012 14:58
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/23323-colombia-us-fta-will-halt-labor-rights-progress-wola.html

The imminent passage of the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will halt progress on the Andean nation's appalling workers' rights record, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said Tuesday.

Gimena Sanchez, WOLA's senior associate for Colombia, told Colombia Reports the final approval of the FTA would "significantly reduce the political leverage of the U.S. government to really change things for labor rights conditions in Colombia."

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor rights conditions required for final approval of the FTA at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite ongoing violence against unionists in the country. Since January 2012, four union members have been killed across the country, while dozens were murdered in 2011- Colombian unions say 51, the government says 30.

The Labor Action Plan, signed in April 2011 as part of FTA negotiations, stipulated that Colombia take measures against the threatening and killing of unionists, prosecute those suspected of violating workers' rights, and combat the exploitation of laborers. The agreement allowed for the U.S. Congress to approve the FTA, the passage of which has been delayed since 2006 over human and labor rights concerns.

Sanchez warned it would be premature for Washington to announce a victory for labor rights in Colombia, saying "we are very concerned that there would be this idea that Colombia has complied so soon when the plan hasn't been given enough time to actually be implemented properly and secondly when there are great violations to the plan going on currently."

According to Sanchez, the Colombian government has failed to comply with the agreement and should be given more time to implement change. She cited the ongoing violence against union workers and continued use of third party contracting by major companies.
[...]
When asked how the government should proceed to protect labor rights, Sanchez emphasized the responsibility of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to "stand up to companies and tell them that Colombia is serious about making these changes."

She also stressed the need to target high impunity for those suspected of crimes against unionists. "The first thing the Colombian government really needs to address is the 94% impunity issue when it comes to trade unionist violence. It needs to get a list together and implement sanctions and prosecute those responsible, not just the direct author of the crime, but those behind it as well," she said.

Bolder efforts must be taken to dismantle paramilitary groups that continue to operate and threaten workers, as well as to ensure that the plan is implemented according to the agreement, she said.

According to Sanchez, "only about 100 of the 480 labor inspectors required in the agreement are in place currently." She urged not only that these inspectors be put in place, but that the government ensures they are well-trained and advocating on behalf of workers' rights, guaranteeing that disputes are dealt with properly.

"The plan itself is very good and if it's achieved it would be a very positive thing for workers and it would also be a positive thing for US and Colombian businesses as it would allow for a more even playing field between the two countries in terms of the competition and so forth," Sanchez told Colombia Reports.

In February the Obama administration said Colombia had still not complied with the Labor Action Plan -- but his expected comments will signal that concerns have been assuaged.
[...]
The Summit of the Americas will take place in Cartagena April 14 and 15.

6) Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war
Juan Forero, Washington Post, April 10
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/latin-american-countries-pursue-alternatives-to-us-drug-war/2012/04/10/gIQAFPEe7S_story.html

Bogota, Colombia - When President Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that broad changes need to be considered.

Latin American leaders say they have not developed an alternative model to the approach favored by successive American administrations since Richard Nixon was in office. But the Colombian government says a range of options - including decriminalizing possession of drugs, legalizing marijuana use and regulating markets - will be debated at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena.

Faced with violence that has left 50,000 people dead in Mexico and created war zones in Central America, regional leaders have for months been openly discussing what they view as the shortcomings of the U.S. approach. But the summit marks the first opportunity for many of them to directly share their grievances with Obama.

Those leaders who have most forcefully offered new proposals, or developed carefully argued critiques of American policy, are among Washington's closest allies. They include Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister who marshaled U.S. aid to weaken drug syndicates; Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a former military man who has long battled drug gangs; and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose nation has been engaged in an all-out war with cartels.

"There's probably been no person who has fought the drug cartels and drug trafficking as I have," Santos said in an interview last week with The Washington Post. "But at the same time, we must be very frank: After 40 years of pedaling and pedaling very hard, sometimes you look to your left, you look to your right and you are almost in the same position.

"And so you have to ask yourself: Are we doing the correct thing?"

Perez, whose small country has been engulfed by violence that his security forces can barely contain, has been the most forceful and surprising proponent of far-reaching policy changes. The military and police under his command have continued to battle traffickers, he said in an interview from Guatemala City. But he said they have little to show for their effort.

"The strategy that we have followed these 30 or 40 years has practically failed, and we have to recognize it," he said.
[...]
Latin American leaders, however, point out that the United States remains the world's largest cocaine market and that there have been record levels of violence from Venezuela to El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

Cesar Gaviria, a former Colombian president who has been a forceful critic of the U.S. policy, said American officials acknowledge the failure of the policy behind closed doors and do little to defend it publicly. He said it is simply a policy on automatic pilot.

"You reach the conclusion that all this killing in Mexico and Central America has been in the name of a failed policy that the United States does not believe in or vigorously defend," said Gaviria, speaking in his Bogota office.

Much of the momentum for a shift began after Gaviria, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso issued a report in 2009 calling for drug policy reform. They have been joined by a range of intellectuals, among them Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, and retired officials, including former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz.

What they and many current presidents in Latin America propose is not a wide-open policy of legalization but a softening of the laws.

Decriminalizing drug possession would free billions of dollars spent in the criminal justice system, advocates say, while vastly improving drug treatment. Heavy drug users, who drive the illicit trade, could be weaned off drugs through maintenance models that provide drugs legally but under close supervision.

Legalizing marijuana, which advocates argue would present only a modest risk to public health, would weaken cartels and free up funding for other uses, advocates say.

"They're not saying, 'Legalize everything today,' like alcohol and tobacco," said Ethan Nadelmann, who has advised Latin American leaders and is the director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization that has criticized U.S. tactics. "What they are saying is we need to give the same consideration to alternative, regulatory and non-prohibitionist drug control policies in the future as we've given to the failed drug war strategies of the last 40 years."

Leaders discussing drug policy at the summit said they do not expect a change soon. Rather, the idea is to plant the seeds of changes in the years ahead.

"We understand perfectly that this is an election year in the United States," said Perez, Guatemala's leader, noting that no major policy shift could occur without a regionwide consensus. "There is not a decision that has to be made in this moment, or in six months. This is a process of discussion."

Santos, who said he wants talks to take place "without a specific proposal" in mind, said that if there are changes in the future, they should be based strictly on serious studies.

"There are good arguments for legalizing, but I would prefer to reach that conclusion after an objective discussion," he said. "The U.S. says, 'We don't support legalization, because the cost of legalization is higher than no legalization.' But I want to see a discussion where both approaches are analyzed by experts to say, really, the cost is lower or not."

Iran
7) Misreading Arab public opinion on Iran's nuclear program
Nadim N. Rouhana, Foreign Policy, April 9, 2012
http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/04/09/risks_of_misreading_arab_public_opinion_on_irans_nuclear_programs

[Rouhana is professor of international affairs and conflict studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and founding director of Mada al-Carmel -- Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa.]

In a recent interview with the BBC, Israel's deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor, who is also the country's Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, said that the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons "...sends shivers of fear to all Arab countries." The assumption behind this statement is that "Arab states" see in Iran's nuclear program a threat to their national security. This might lead one to believe that Arab governments and publics would support, or at least not oppose, military measures against Iran.

But debate about a military strike against Iran to cripple its nuclear facilities cannot be conducted with the old mindset that shaped our views about the Arab Middle East before the seismic political changes introduced by the "Arab Spring" -- the mindset that equated "Arab states" with Arab governments and ruling families. Today, the transformation in the relationship between Arab governments and their constituencies ought to be strongly factored into any discussion of a military approach to the Iranian nuclear question.

To learn more about how Arabs view the threat that Iran poses to Arab national security and about nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the Doha Institute recently surveyed the publics in 12 Arab countries covering more than 85 percent of the total population of the Arab world. The survey, which was conducted from February to July 2011, consisted of more than 16,000 face-to-face interviews with representative samples in these countries, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

The results were unambiguous: The vast majority of the Arab public does not believe that Iran poses a threat to the "security of the Arab homeland." Only 5 percent of respondents named Iran as a source of threat, versus 22 percent who named the U.S. The first place was reserved for Israel, which 51 percent of respondents named as a threat to Arab national security. Arab societies differed modestly in their answers: The largest percentage viewing Iran as a threat was reported in Lebanon and Jordan (10 percent) and the lowest (1 percent or less) was reported in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, and the Sudan. Even when respondents were asked about the state that poses the greatest threat to their particular country, the pattern held: Iran (7 percent), U.S. (14 percent), and Israel (35 percent). Interestingly, while Saudi Arabia is often cited as the primary Arab state in support of belligerence against Iran, the data indicate that this view doesn't seem to extend to its public. In the Saudi Arabian sample, only 8 percent believed that Iran presents a threat -- a lower percentage even than that which viewed the U.S. as a source of threat (13 percent).
[...]
In this context, the Arab public is likely to view threats of a military strike by Israel or the U.S. against Iran as brute intimidation. The potential damage to the already dubious U.S. moral standing in the Middle East is enormous. Furthermore, if the American threats and policies against Iran's nuclear program are perceived as motivated by Israeli pressures -- a widely held view in the Arab world and elsewhere -- the stature and prestige of the U.S. will inevitably suffer even further in that region.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
8) Fayyad calls on Quartet to denounce Israeli violence
PA prime minister tells audience in Bil'in that continued settlement activity endangers the two-state solution.
Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, 10/04/2012
http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=265600

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – to speak out more forcibly on the issue of Israeli violence against Palestinians when it meets Wednesday in Washington.

"It is important for the Quartet to put a lot more emphasis, in addition to what it traditionally does, on [Israeli] violence in the face of nonviolent Palestinian protests, settler violence [and] Israeli army incursions into Area A," Fayyad told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

He spoke with the Post and a few other reporters briefly on the sidelines of the 7th annual Bil'in Conference on popular struggle, held in the Palestinian village, which has held weekly protests against the security barrier for over seven years. The four-day conference will also include events in Hebron and east Jerusalem.

On the first day, several hundred participants sat on plastic white chairs under a large white tent adorned with Palestinian flags, which had been set up in an olive grove next to the barrier, within eyesight of the Modi'in Illit settlement.

Both in speaking before the conference and with reporters afterwards, Fayyad said he supported nonviolent protests and the popular struggle against Israel.
[...]

Colombia
9) Colombia remains on international human rights 'blacklist'
Marc Hall, Colombia Reports, Monday, 09 APRIL 2012 14:25
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/23296-colombia-still-on-iachrs-human-rights-blacklist.html

Colombia stays on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' "blacklist," because of ongoing violence by illegal armed groups and the country's inability to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice, the OAS body said Monday.

"Illegal armed groups continue to be involved in acts of violence against the population, peoples and persons historically discriminated or that have been subjected to vulnerable situations, such as women, human rights defenders and children," said the annual report from the IACHR, an arm of the Organization of American States (OAS).

OAS members will come together this weekend for the Summit of the Americas, at which Obama is expected to state Colombia has met Free Trade Agreement (FTA) requirements to improve protection for workers and unionists, who have suffered decades of appalling violence. The appearance of Colombia on the IACHR blacklist, which refers to countries which require "special attention" with regards to human rights abuses, suggests otherwise.
[...]

Honduras
10) AFL-CIO tackles rights violations in Honduras
Mark Gruenberg, People's World, April 9 2012
http://peoplesworld.org/afl-cio-tackles-rights-violations-in-honduras/

Washington - The AFL-CIO and two leading Honduran union federations formally complained to the U.S. Labor Department that Honduras is violating the Central American Free Trade Agreement by not enforcing its own labor laws. The groups asked the DOL to investigate, negotiate changes, and punish Honduras if necessary.

In the case, filed Mar. 29, the federations said the Latin American government is refusing to enforce its laws in the manufacturing, agriculture, and port sectors. Last year, the DOL found another CAFTA signer, Guatemala, broke the CAFTA pact.

Honduran workers' internationally recognized rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and acceptable working conditions are also violated, this year's complaint said. Many workers have nowhere to turn for legal relief and there is still excessive use of child labor in Honduran agriculture, it adds.

Honduras "has not complied with the ILO provisions" in CAFTA, said Francisco Joel López Mejía, Deputy Secretary General of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras, one of two Honduran union leaders who came to Washington to file the complaint.

"The [Honduran] government and corporations have continued to act with impunity, while undermining our most basic rights," Lopez Mejia said.

In particular, he said, the Honduran government changed its labor law in late 2010 to let firms hire up to 40 percent of their workforce on temporary, part-time contracts for what is usually full-time work. The other Honduran leader, Evangelina Argueta Chinchilla of the General Workers Confederation, said: "We are here in search of justice. For many years our government neglected workers and even violated their own promises. They ignored Honduras' unions, while dealing openly with corporations. They passed laws that undermine unions and reduce the standards of living."


-

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