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JFP News 8/25: U.S. suspends visas to Honduras; Human Rights Watch urges U.S. pressure
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 25 August 2009 - 6:19pm
Just Foreign Policy News
August 25, 2009
Feingold, Breaking Beltway Taboo, Calls for Afghanistan Withdrawal Timetable
Yesterday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke a Washington taboo. He called for a "timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. Now we need to help Senator Feingold bring other Senators along.
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1) The U.S. said Tuesday it was suspending most visa service in Honduras in a bid to put pressure on the nation's coup leaders to accept a plan to restore democracy, AFP reports. The State Department said it would stop granting visas Wednesday at its embassy in Honduras except to applicants seeking to immigrate to the U.S. or who have a personal emergency. The move came as a seven-nation mission visits Honduras to press the coup regime to accept the San Jose Accord that would reinstate President Zelaya. [With respect to visas, this is actually a broader sanction than Representative Grijalva and Just Foreign Policy advocated: we urged the State Department to cancel visas of coup leaders - JFP.]
2) The finding by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of widespread abuses in Honduras should compel the international community to take firm action, such as targeted sanctions, to resolve the country's ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch said today. "Given the ongoing abuses documented by the Commission and the lack of effective legal protection, it is urgent that the international community exert concerted and effective pressure to restore democratic government in Honduras," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. [The letter sent by Latin America scholars asked Human Rights Watch to put out a statement and to conduct its own investigation, so this represents a partial fulfillment of the ask. The Human Rights Watch statement is very strong, including its call for targeted U.S. sanctions and its highlighting of sexual violence allegations against the coup regime. Kudos to Human Rights Watch - JFP.]
3) The U.S. continues to provide the coup regime in Honduras with tens of millions of dollars in aid money through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), despite having cut off MCC assistance to Mauritania and Madagascar following coups in those countries, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports.
4) Senator Feingold says the U.S. should craft a "flexible timetable" for its withdrawal from Afghanistan, AFP reports.
5) Four U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday when their vehicle struck an IED in Afghanistan, making the 2009 death toll for foreign forces in Afghanistan the highest since the war began nearly eight years ago, the New York Times reports. The latest casualties bring to 63 the number of foreign soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this month, and to 295 the death toll since January. The death toll for foreign forces has risen steadily over the course of the war, from 12 in 2001 to 294 in 2008, which up until now had been the deadliest year.
6) The first preliminary results in the Afghan presidential election released Tuesday showed that President Karzai had a slender lead over his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, but not a majority, with 10 percent of the votes counted, the New York Times reports. Election officials cautioned against extrapolating from the preliminary results. Final, certified results will not be made public until mid- or late September.
7) South American presidents are expected to slam a US plan to use military bases in Colombia when they gather for a summit in Argentina at the end of the week specifically to discuss the issue, AFP reports. US officials say that while the deal on the bases was finalized this month, the agreement has not yet been signed. Secretary of State Clinton said she expected to ink the accord soon.
8) Diplomats say Iran's output of enriched uranium has stagnated for months, even though Iran has continued to install machines that carry out the process, George Jahn reports for AP. The diplomats tell AP that could indicate that Iran is running out of the material it needs to enrich.
9) Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a government program on Tuesday to build the apparatus of a Palestinian state within two years, regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel, the New York Times reports. Israeli officials criticized what they characterized as unilateral action, but the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem expressed approval for the plan.
10) Major Shiite parties with close links to Iran announced a new coalition Monday that excludes Prime Minister Maliki, the Washington Post reports. If the new coalition remains intact and secures a majority of parliamentary seats in the Jan. 16 vote, Iraq's next government probably will be run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, which would considerably curb U.S. influence here as U.S. troops continue to withdraw, the Post says.
1) US to halt visas to pressure coup-hit Honduras
AFP, August 25, 2009
Washington - The United States said Tuesday it was suspending most visa service in Honduras in a bid to put pressure on the nation's coup leaders to accept a plan to restore democracy.
The State Department said it would stop granting visas Wednesday at its embassy in Honduras except to applicants seeking to immigrate to the United States or who have a personal emergency.
The move came as a seven-nation mission visits Tegucigalpa to press the interim government to accept the so-called San Jose Accord that would reinstall deposed President Manuel Zelaya.
"In support of this mission and as a consequence of the de facto regime's reluctance to sign the San Jose Accord, the US Department of State is conducting a full review of our visa policy in Honduras," department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "We firmly believe a negotiated solution is the appropriate way forward and the San Jose Accord is the best solution," Kelly said in a statement.
The head of the Organization of American States and the foreign ministers of seven nations - Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama - flew Monday to Tegucigalpa to press interim leader Roberto Micheletti to accept the deal.
2) Honduras: Rights Report Shows Need for Increased International Pressure
Widespread and Continuing Abuses Documented by Inter-American Commission
Human Rights Watch, August 25, 2009
Washington, D.C. - The finding by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of widespread abuses in Honduras should compel the international community to take firm action, such as targeted sanctions, to resolve the country's ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Commission released a report on August 21, 2009, showing a pattern of serious violations under the de facto government, including excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and attacks on the media, as well as several confirmed deaths and possible "disappearances." The Commission also documented an absence of effective legal protections from abuse.
"Given the ongoing abuses documented by the Commission and the lack of effective legal protection, it is urgent that the international community exert concerted and effective pressure to restore democratic government in Honduras," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
In the aftermath of the June 28 coup d'état, Human Rights Watch and other local and international advocacy groups urged the Organization of American States (OAS) to address serious human rights abuses being committed in Honduras under the de facto government. Given the scope of alleged abuses, and the region's history of bloody coups leading to massive violations, human rights advocates believed the situation warranted the direct intervention of the region's most authoritative human rights investigative body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The Commission conducted an extensive fact-finding mission from August 17 to 21. It met with representatives of the de facto government and representatives of various sectors of civil society, and received complaints, testimony, and information from more than 100 individuals.
In its preliminary findings, the Commission found "a pattern of disproportionate use of public force" by the military and police, which has resulted in the deaths of at least four people, dozens of wounded, and thousands of arbitrary detentions. It also found that the de facto government has abused its emergency powers, using the military to limit freedom of assembly and expression. The Commission confirmed that women had suffered sexual violence, and that threats, detentions, and beatings of journalists had created an atmosphere of intimidation among critical media outlets. While the Commission reported some serious acts of violence and vandalism by protesters, it noted that the majority of demonstrations were peaceful.
The Commission documented four deaths resulting from the use of excessive force under the de facto government. Isis Obed Murillo Mencías died after being shot in the head while participating in a demonstration outside Tegucigalpa's Toncontin Airport on July 5. The body of Pedro Magdiel Muñoz, which bore signs of torture, was found on July 25 in the department of El Paraíso. Witnesses told the Commission that Muñoz had participated in a rally in front of military roadblocks that day and had been arrested by the military. Roger Vallejos Soriano, a teacher, was shot in the head during a protest in Comayagüela on July 30. Pedro Pablo Hernández was shot in the head by a soldier at a military roadblock in the valley of Jamastran on August 2, according to testimony collected by the Commission.
The Commission also reported that, despite four requests for information, the state has been unable to account for two individuals. One was last seen at a protest on July 12, and the other was seized at home on July 26.
The Commission found "a pattern of disproportionate use of public force" by the military and police. More than 100 people verified that a disproportionate use of force was used in repressing demonstrations. The excessive use of force characterized the security forces' suppression of demonstrations in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Choloma, Comayagua, and the town of El Paraíso-and resulted in deaths, cases of torture and mistreatment, and hundreds of wounded.
According to the report: "In the various departments to which it traveled, the Commission received testimony about individuals wounded by lead bullets or injured by blows with police truncheons and other blunt objects made of rubber, iron, and wood, and about the indiscriminate use of tear gas, as customary methods used to deter demonstrations. The Commission received testimony from dozens of people with serious injuries to the head as a result of the repression exercised both by police and military personnel."
The Commission found that "women were especially subject to acts of violence and humiliation because of their gender." The Commission heard the testimony about two incidents that reportedly took place in San Pedro Sula, one in which a woman said she had been raped by police officers and another in which a woman said she was stripped from the waist down and beaten with batons.
The Commission confirmed that the police and army groped the breasts and genitals of women in detention. And women denounced security officers for forcibly spreading the women's legs and touching their genitals with police batons.
The Commission found that attacks on the media have intensified in recent weeks, generating "an atmosphere of intimidation that inhibits the free exercise of freedom of expression." Among other tactics, it reported that the de facto government, military and police had suspended or closed TV channels and radio stations; threatened, detained, and beaten members of the media; and attacked the offices of critical news outlets.
An OAS delegation arrived in Honduras on August 24 to meet with various public and private actors with the goal of promoting the signing of the San Jose Accord, a plan that would return Zelaya to power until elections are held by the end of November. The delegation includes the foreign ministers of Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as by OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
"If the OAS delegation is unable this week to persuade Honduras's de facto government to allow Zelaya's return to the presidency, the only option left will be for the international community to ratchet up the pressure," said Vivanco. "The US government in particular could play a key role through the use of carefully targeted sanctions."
The United States has condemned the coup and suspended about US$18 million in mostly military and development aid to the de facto government. However, the Obama administration has so far resisted imposing more far-reaching sanctions, citing the detrimental impact they could have on the Honduras's struggling economy.
Human Rights Watch has previously urged the Obama administration to consider using carefully tailored sanctions that would directly target officials in the de facto government without affecting the broader population. These might include cancelling their travel visas, denying them access to the US banking system, and targeting their private sources of income.
3) U.S. Continues to Provide Honduran Regime With MCC Aid Money, Despite Having Cut Off Other Countries Following Coups
Center for Economic and Policy Research, August 25, 2009
The U.S. continues to provide the coup regime in Honduras with tens of millions of dollars in aid money through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), despite having cut off MCC assistance to Mauritania and Madagascar following coups d'etat in those countries, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) describes in a new issue brief. The brief notes that while the U.S. suspended MCC money within days following coups in both Mauritania and Madagascar, MCC commitments in Honduras, worth more than $190 million, have not been put on hold after over 57 days following the coup. The U.S. also cut MCC aid to Nicaragua this year following what the U.S. alleged were electoral irregularities in municipal elections.
"There appears to be a double standard regarding MCC assistance following coups," CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said. "It is unclear why the U.S. has not cut MCC funds to Honduras, considering its stated opposition to the ouster of President Zelaya and its stated intentions to pressure the coup leaders."
There has been growing pressure on the Obama administration to enact further sanctions on the regime. On August 7, 16 Democratic members of Congress wrote President Obama urging him to freeze the assets of coup leaders and deny them entry into the U.S. The administration has not responded to the letter, nor has it made a legal determination as to whether a coup d'etat took place in Honduras, almost two months after Honduran military forces broke into President Manuel Zelaya's home and rousted him from his bed at gunpoint before flying him out of the country. A legal determination that these events did constitute a coup would trigger a suspension of aid under the Foreign Assistance Act.
"This has been a violent coup, with a wave of repression including assassinations of Zelaya supporters, beatings and physical assaults, mass detentions, and attacks on media outlets critical of the coup," Weisbrot said. "The U.S. government could quickly end the coup with serious economic pressure, but it hasn't even frozen the coup leaders' assets."
The MCC is a U.S. government-run corporation created in 2004 and tasked with managing the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a fund whose mission is to provide development assistance to low-income developing countries. A country's eligibility to receive assistance from the MCC is based on a series of "selection indicators" related to "Ruling Justly", "Investing in People" and "Economic Freedom". Its board of directors is chaired by the U.S. Secretary of State and includes cabinet officials such as the Treasury Secretary and the U.S. Trade Representative, who oversee stewardship of the MCA.
The brief notes that the MCC froze all assistance to Nicaragua following alleged irregularities in its November 9, 2008 elections. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton then announced in June that the MCC would terminate all but one of the Nicaragua programs, costing Nicaragua $62 million.
4) US Senator calls for Afghan withdrawal plan
AFP, Mon Aug 24, 5:25 pm ET
Washington - The United States should craft a "flexible timetable" for its withdrawal from Afghanistan even though President Barack Obama may be considering plans to ramp up US forces there, a US Senator urged Monday.
"It is time we ought to start discussing a flexible timetable, when people in America and Afghanistan and around the world can see where we intend and when we intend to bring our troops out," Democratic Senator Russell Feingold.
"I think showing the people there and here that we have a sense about when it's time to leave is going to be one of the best things we can do to succeed in Afghanistan. People in that country have to take ownership of it, everybody says that," he added.
Feingold, who was the first US senator to call for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, was speaking to a newspaper in his home state of Wisconsin amid a growing US debate about troop levels in Afghanistan.
5) With 4 U.S. Deaths, Grim Milestone in Afghan War
Sharon Otterman, New York Times, August 26, 2009
Four American soldiers were killed Tuesday when their patrol vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan, NATO said, making the 2009 death toll for foreign forces in Afghanistan the highest since the war began nearly eight years ago.
The milestone came as Afghans awaited the results in a presidential election marred by accounts of intimidation and fraud, and as high-level American commanders say that more troops are required to defeat the insurgency by Taliban militants.
The latest casualties bring to 63 the number of foreign soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this month, and to 295 the death toll since January, according to the Web site icasualties.org, which tracks reports of deaths.
The death toll for foreign forces has risen steadily over the course of the war, from 12 in 2001 to 294 in 2008, which up until now had been the deadliest year.
American forces, who make up the largest contingent of the NATO force in Afghanistan, have also suffered the largest share of deaths, with 172 killed this year, surpassing the previous high of 155 killed in 2008. A total of 802 American troops have died since the war began. British forces have suffered the second highest number of deaths, with 206 killed since 2001.
6) No Clear Winner in Early Afghan Results
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 26, 2009
Kabul, Afghanistan - The first preliminary results in the Afghan presidential election released Tuesday showed that President Hamid Karzai had a slender lead over his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, but not a majority, with 10 percent of the votes counted.
The inconclusive results, reported by the Independent Election Commission, were sharply at odds with claims by aides to President Karzai on Monday that he had won an overwhelming majority in the voting last Thursday. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election would be required.
Early results from the election, which was held under heavy security as American-led forces in Afghanistan have battled Taliban insurgents in the nearly eight-year-old war, are receiving extraordinary scrutiny as a test of the fairness of the vote. Karzai's opponents have claimed numerous instances of fraud and irregularities.
The special American representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said it was premature to interpret the first results. "Ten percent of the vote is in. Imagine an American election with 10 percent in. You don't call it with 10 percent," Holbrooke told reporters during a visit to Turkey. "Anyone who extrapolates at this point is less than accurate."
The Afghan election commission said the first results tallied show Karzai had 40.6 percent of the vote, and Abdullah 38.7 percent. The commission said it planned to release partial results each day for the next several days. Final, certified results will not be made public until mid- or late September.
7) South America to Slam US-Colombia Base Deal
AFP, Tuesday, August 25
Sao Paulo - South American presidents are expected to slam a US plan to use military bases in Colombia when they gather for a summit in Argentina at the end of the week specifically to discuss the issue.
The anti-US leaders [sic] of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have already vociferously criticized the announcement that Washington wanted to expand its military presence in Colombia to access seven bases.
The more moderate presidents heading up Brazil, Chile and Argentina have likewise expressed concern at the decision, first announced last month by Bogota.
The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit in the Argentine ski resort of Bariloche on Friday is to examine claims by Venezuela President Hugo Chavez that the increased US deployment could be used to invade his country.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is to attend, after having snubbed the previous Unasur meeting in Ecuador early this month because of regional friction over the deal.
Ahead of that last meeting, Uribe embarked on a tour of South America to speak to leaders one-on-one about the bases deal, but failed to win any support except from Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
US officials say that, while the deal on the bases was finalized this month, the agreement with Colombia has [not] yet been signed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected to ink the accord soon.
8) Diplomats: Iran's enrichment program stagnates
George Jahn, AP, August 25, 2009
Vienna - Diplomats say Iran's output of enriched uranium has stagnated for months, even though Tehran has continued to install machines that carry out the process.
The diplomats tell The Associated Press that could indicate that Iran is running out of the material it needs to enrich - a process that can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
9) Palestinian Leader Maps Out Building of a State
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, August 26, 2009
Jerusalem - The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, unveiled a government program on Tuesday to build the apparatus of a Palestinian state within two years, regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.
The plan, the first of its kind from the Palestinian Authority, sets out national goals and priorities and operational instructions for ministries and official bodies. Fayyad said it was meant to hasten the end of the Israeli occupation and pave the way to independent statehood, which he said "can and must happen within the next two years."
There was no immediate official Israeli comment, with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, traveling for talks in Europe. But two Israeli officials reacted with consternation over what they saw as unilateral action. The United States consul general in Jerusalem expressed approval for the plan.
Fayyad, an American-educated economist and a political independent who has gained the confidence of the West and is largely respected in Israel, made the announcement in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He said the goal of the plan was "to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years."
The Western-backed Palestinian leadership has recently been accused of passivity in its approach to peace-making and pursuit of independence. Fayyad said the new program represented a proactive effort to form the foundation of the state. His announcement came on a day when Netanyahu met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London. On Wednesday, he is to meet there with George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration's Middle East envoy.
Jacob Walles, the American consul general, spoke of the plan in an interview here on Monday, in advance of Fayyad's announcement. He said that it was the first time he had seen the Palestinians come up with such a "concrete plan" and that they were working in a practical way toward their goal.
Fayyad's plan lays out a broad national outline for a democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The plan states, for example, that "shelter, education and health insurance are basic rights which will be preserved and protected by the state," which also has "an enduring obligation to care and provide for the martyrs, prisoners, orphans and all those harmed in the Palestinian struggle for independence." It adds: "Natural resources, archaeological remains, and historical and heritage sites in the state of Palestine are the property of the Palestinian people."
Aspirations for the economy include ridding it of outside hegemony and reversing its dependence on Israel. Goals for the Finance Ministry include reducing reliance on international aid by controlling spending and increasing domestic revenues. The government is to offer tax incentives to local and foreign investors.
The Palestinian Authority has instructed its Ministry of Transport to help develop legislation and plans for modern seaports, crossing points, and airports, including construction of an international airport in the Jordan Valley.
The government plan calls on the Palestinians - whose loyalties are currently divided between the two largest political groups, Fatah and Hamas - to unite in building their state.
10) Major Shiite Political Parties Exclude Maliki In Forming Coalition
Move by Iran-Allied Groups Could Push Iraqi Premier to Partner With Sunnis
Ernesto Londoño and K.I. Ibrahim, Washington Post, Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Samarra, Iraq, Aug. 24 - Major Shiite parties with close links to Iran announced a new coalition Monday that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a development that appears to make him the underdog in the coming national elections.
If the new coalition remains intact and secures a majority of parliamentary seats in the Jan. 16 vote, Iraq's next government probably will be run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, which would considerably curb U.S. influence here as American troops continue to withdraw.
The new alliance and the likelihood that Maliki will be forced have to partner with Sunnis suggest that Iraqi politicians are increasingly willing to cross sectarian lines in the pursuit of power.
Maliki's exclusion from the alliance was not entirely surprising. Despite his considerable popularity, the prime minister has become a divisive figure, and a recent surge in violence has triggered criticism from Iraqis who view his administration as cocky and incompetent.
Because of the volatile nature of Iraqi politics and the fickleness of alliances, analysts cautioned that the political groupings are likely to change between now and the time the ballots are printed. Alliances could even be redrawn after the votes are tallied. "All possibilities are open," said Shiite lawmaker Jaber Habib Jaber, who is part of the new coalition. "Negotiations are still ongoing with Maliki's camp."
The new Shiite coalition will be led by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a conservative party that is among Iran's closest allies in Iraq. It also includes the movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the Fadhila Party; former Pentagon ally Ahmed Chalabi; and former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari.
Alliance leaders said they invited Maliki to join but refused to guarantee that he would keep his job if the alliance obtained a majority of seats.
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