JFP 2/4: CEPR Launches Haiti Relief Watch Blog

Just Foreign Policy News
February 4, 2010


FSRN: Plan to negotiate with Taliban leaders gathers support from world leaders
Just Foreign Policy talks with Free Speech Radio News about prospects for negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.
http://www.fsrn.org/audio/web-special-plan-negotiate-with-taliban-leaders-gathers-support-world-leaders/6144

CEPR Launches Haiti Relief Watch Blog
CEPR has launched a blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch," to monitor aid efforts to Haiti.
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/

Eat Your Spinach: Time for Peace Talks in Afghanistan
When U.S. and British officials say the end of the war in Afghanistan is a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, it's time for the talks to produce that agreement to start.
http://www.truthout.org/eat-your-spinach-time-peace-talks-afghanistan56626

Change.org: End the War in Afghanistan
At this writing, our proposal is in second place in change.org's war and peace category (behind Peace Action West's worthy "Freeze Pentagon Spending" proposal - since the top three proposals in the category will emerge from this round, you can vote for our proposal without fear of harming Peace Action West.) Now is the time to begin establishing "timetable for withdrawal" and "political negotiations" as demands on the war supplemental. Help us move these ideas to the center of public discussion.
http://www.change.org/ideas/browse/war_and_peace

Okinawa Anti-Base YouTube Channel:
http://www.youtube.com/2010okinawa

Support the work of Just Foreign Policy:
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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) While U.S. officials prefer to focus on low-level fighters while hoping that an additional 30,000 troops can pummel the Taliban into a weaker negotiating position, President Karzai's government has stressed the need to reach out to the Islamist movement's leadership, the Washington Post reports. "It's questionable why the United States just wants to reintegrate the low level of the Taliban and not the leadership," said Karzai's policy chief. "That's something they are concerned about, but from the Afghan side, we are trying to include everyone in negotiations." In public statements, the Taliban has predicated any negotiation on the departure of foreign troops. Former Taliban members have described this as political posturing and have said that less dramatic steps could bring the Taliban leadership to the table. Among them, they said, were recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political movement, removing bounties on Taliban commanders and eliminating a U.N. sanctions blacklist, under which more than 100 people associated with the Taliban are subject to asset freezes and travel bans. "The list is ridiculous. Many of these people, they are here in Kabul, they have been working with this government for years," said Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who once represented the Taliban at the UN and who remains on the sanctions list. "They want to negotiate," said Arsallah Rahmani, a former Taliban minister. "The problem is the Taliban doesn't trust the Americans."

2) Human Rights Watch said Colombia must act to halt rising violence, including against trade unionists, if it is to secure congressional approval for a trade agreement with the US, Reuters reports. President Obama said in the State of the Union speech he wanted to improve commercial ties with Colombia. Murder rates have climbed in Colombia as thousands of criminals, led by former right-wing militia chiefs, reorganize their cocaine-smuggling and extortion organizations. HRW says the Colombian government doesn't want to confront the problem because that would be admitting that "paramilitary demobilization was largely a fraud."

3) The killings of three U.S. soldiers in Pakistan were likely in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes, the New York Times reports. The US military involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known in Pakistan until the attack, the Times says. "People are going to be very suspicious," said a former Pakistani official who is now involved in US assistance projects. "There is going to be big blowback in the media." The US says it has about 200 military service members in Pakistan.

4) President Obama announced he would not put North Korea back on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, after a classified study determined that the country "does not meet the statutory criteria" for that designation, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials said there was no evidence that the North had aided terrorists or conducted terrorist acts for many years.

5) The UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights called for the immediate cancellation of Haiti's external debt, the UN says. More than half of Haiti's debt is owed to mulilateral creditors, including the IDB and the World Bank, the UN says. Cephas Lumina criticized the IMF's recent loan to Haiti. "It is unrealistic to expect that the people of Haiti can muster the resources to start servicing this debt in five years' time. It is also inappropriate to make Haiti pay back its emergency assistance," Lumina said.

Iran
6) Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said pressure for tighter sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program could block chances of a diplomatic settlement to the dispute, the New York Times reports. His remarks seemed a direct rebuff of efforts by the US to secure broad international support for tougher penalties against Iran, the Times says.

Honduras
7) Some human rights activists say there has been an escalation of repression against political activists in Honduras since the election in November, In These Times reports. The Committee for the Families of Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH) says it has confirmed the deaths of seven opponents of last year's coup in January alone. "Killings that have occurred since the elections have received very little attention in the foreign press," noted Dan Beeton of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Israel/Syria
8) Israel's foreign minister Lieberman warned Syria's president Assad that the Assad family would lose power in any war with Israel, ratcheting up a war of words, the New York Times reports. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he is ready to talk to the Syrians without preconditions, but Syria expects a guarantee from Israel that it is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Lieberman said Syria "will have to give up on its ultimate demand for the Golan Heights." But some Israeli commentators are calling on the government to pursue peace talks.

Mexico
9) Human rights organisations in Mexico and the US are pressing Congress to raise concerns about abuses of women by Mexican security forces in the U.S.-backed drug war, Inter Press Service reports. The Washington Office on Latin America says the Mexican government is not fulfilling the requirements of the U.S. Mérida Initiative, because no progress has been made in investigating and prosecuting human rights abuses committed by Mexican troops.

Contents:

U.S./Top News
1) Karzai's Taliban Strategy Opposed
Karzai's Taliban reconciliation strategy raises ethnic, rights concerns at home
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Thursday, February 4, 2010; A08
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/03/AR2010020303737.html

Kabul - Political resistance is building in Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai's two-track plan to end the war by negotiating with Taliban leaders while enticing their foot soldiers with the promise of jobs and development projects.

Decades of war have shaped a broad consensus that fighting cannot end the conflict in Afghanistan, but such early opposition to reconciliation with insurgents points to the difficult road ahead for a process Karzai has deemed a top priority in his second term.

Some worry that funneling millions of dollars into Taliban-held villages in the south could unfairly benefit ethnic Pashtuns and reward those who have fought the government. Others fear that accommodating the Taliban leadership could bring a retreat from women's rights. Former Taliban officials, meanwhile, say that without a shift in American policy, their commanders are unlikely to negotiate with the U.S.-backed government. "There is no clear strategy for negotiations," said Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as ambassador to Pakistan under the Taliban government. "The Taliban were deceived so many times. They will not be deceived again and again. They need concrete guarantees."

Although U.S. officials have expressed general support for Karzai's initiative, the two governments disagree on the way forward. U.S. officials prefer to focus on low-level fighters while hoping that an additional 30,000 troops can pummel the Taliban into a weaker negotiating position. Karzai's government, on the other hand, has stressed the need to reach out to the Islamist movement's leadership. Karzai spent Wednesday in Saudi Arabia seeking the kingdom's help in encouraging Taliban representatives to attend an upcoming conference in Kabul, according to a senior Afghan official.

"It's questionable why the United States just wants to reintegrate the low level of the Taliban and not the leadership," said Sebghatullah Sanjar, Karzai's policy chief. "That's something they are concerned about, but from the Afghan side, we are trying to include everyone in negotiations."
[...]
Former Taliban officials said any U.S.-backed effort to entice lower-level Taliban fighters was a waste of time and money. The only path to ending the war, they said, lies in negotiating with the movement's leadership. "The Taliban know this is a conspiracy against them, to split them and separate them," Zaeef said. "No Talib who is fighting for the happiness of Allah will accept this. No one."

Zaeef and other former Taliban officials disagree with the popular notion among U.S. and NATO officials that the vast majority of Taliban fighters join the insurgency because they want money, protection or status. "This is an ideological war," Zaeef said. "When a person is coming to Kabul and fighting inside Kabul, he can be sure he will not survive. He will be killed here. This is not about money."

In public statements, the Taliban has predicated any negotiation on the departure of foreign troops. Former Taliban members have described this as political posturing and have said that less dramatic steps could bring the Taliban leadership to the table.

Among them, they said, were recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political movement, removing bounties on Taliban commanders and eliminating a U.N. sanctions blacklist, under which more than 100 people associated with the Taliban are subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

"The list is ridiculous. Many of these people, they are here in Kabul, they have been working with this government for years," said Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who once represented the Taliban at the United Nations and who remains on the sanctions list.

"They want to negotiate," said Arsallah Rahmani, a former Taliban minister. "The problem is the Taliban doesn't trust the Americans."

Sanjar, the policy chief in Karzai's office, said that the Afghan government's effort is just beginning but that there is more international support for reconciliation than in the past. "We hope we can build trust between the government and the Taliban forces on the other side," he said. "Once we have that trust, we'll have an opportunity to know who we can talk with."

2) No U.S. - Colombia Pact if Violence Goes on - Rights Group
Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, February 3, 2010, 1:54 p.m. ET
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/02/03/world/international-us-colombia-rights.html

Bogota - Colombia must act to halt rising violence, including against trade unionists, if it is to secure U.S. congressional approval for a long-delayed trade agreement with Washington, a U.S. human rights group said on Wednesday. Murder rates have climbed in Colombia over the last year as authorities say thousands of criminals, led by former right-wing militia chiefs, reorganize their cocaine-smuggling and extortion organizations.

Human Rights Watch said in a report that the emergence of these successor groups was predictable due to Colombia's failure to dismantle paramilitary networks when the groups were demobilized between 2003 and 2006.

Colombia is lobbying hard for a U.S. trade deal, but Tom Malinowski, head of Human Rights Watch's Washington office, said Democratic lawmakers would block it until President Alvaro Uribe did more to stop violence.
[...]
President Barack Obama said in last month's State of the Union speech he wanted to improve commercial ties with other countries, including Colombia. Uribe, who says he has improved human rights in part by ordering more police deployment, said he received Obama's comments "with joy."

Rights groups say Uribe has not focused on stopping former militia fighters from organizing new gangs that murder those who challenge their control over local communities.
[...]
Human Rights Watch said increasing crime in poor areas in cities like Medellin, where the murder rate has doubled over the last year, tells a different story as some security forces have permitted and even worked with new generation gangs. "The official collusion that we have seen has been mostly on the local level," Malinowski said. "At higher political levels there is disinterest in confronting the problem, because to confront it would be to admit that the paramilitary demobilization was largely a fraud."

3) Soldier Deaths Draw Focus To U.S. In Pakistan
Jane Perlez, New York Times, February 4, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/world/asia/04pstan.html

Islamabad, Pakistan - The deaths of three American soldiers in a Taliban suicide attack on Wednesday lifted the veil on United States military assistance to Pakistan that the authorities here would like to keep quiet and the Americans, as the donors, chafe at not receiving credit for.

The soldiers were among at least 60 to 100 members of a Special Operations team that trains Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps in counterinsurgency techniques, including intelligence gathering and development assistance. The American service members are from the Special Operations Command of Adm. Eric T. Olson.

At least 12 other American service members have been killed in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, in hotel bombings and a plane crash, according to the United States Central Command, but these were the first killed as part of the Special Operations training, which has been under way for 18 months.

That training has been acknowledged only gingerly by both the Americans and the Pakistanis, but has deliberately been kept low-key so as not to trespass onto Pakistani sensitivities about sovereignty, and not to further inflame high anti-American sentiment.
[...]
The American soldiers were probably made targets as a result of the drone strikes, said Syed Rifaat Hussain, professor of international relations at Islamabad University. "The attack seems a payback for the mounting frequency of the drone attacks," Professor Hussain said. If the American soldiers were the targets, the attack raised the question of whether the Taliban had received intelligence or cooperation from within the Frontier Corps.
[...]
The soldiers were en route to the opening of a girls school that had been rebuilt with American money, the United States Embassy said in a statement. The school was destroyed by the Taliban last year as they swept through Lower Dir and the nearby Swat Valley, where a battle raged for months between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban called reporters hours after the attack against the Americans and claimed that his group was responsible.

The Pakistani Army currently occupies Swat, and in an effort to strengthen the civilian institutions there and in Dir, some of the American service members on the Special Operations team have been quietly working on development projects, an American official said.

The presence of the American military members in an area known to be threaded with Taliban militants would also raise questions, said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat and Dir. Mr. Aziz said it was odd that American soldiers would go to such a volatile area where Taliban militants were known to be prevalent even though the Pakistani security forces insisted that they had been flushed out.

The usual practice for development work in Dir and Swat called for Pakistani aid workers or paramilitary soldiers to visit the sites, he said.

The Americans' involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known until Wednesday's attack. "People are going to be very suspicious," said Mr. Aziz, who is now involved in American assistance projects elsewhere. "There is going to be big blowback in the media."
[...]
Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said 12 other service members had been killed in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The three soldiers who died Wednesday had been assigned to a Special Operations command in Pakistan. But he said they were not commandos from the elite Delta Force or Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. The United States has about 200 military service members in Pakistan, Captain Hanzlik said.

4) U.S. Keeps North Korea Off Terror List
New York Times, February 4, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/world/asia/04terror.html

Washington - President Obama announced Wednesday that he would not put North Korea back on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, after a classified study determined that the country "does not meet the statutory criteria" for that designation.

President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list as part of a deal in which the North began to take steps to dismantle its nuclear complex at Yongbyon. But in early 2009, it conducted its second nuclear weapons test and said it would begin reversing those steps.

Administration officials said that test did not meet the criteria of sponsorship of terrorism. And they said there was no evidence that the North had aided terrorists or conducted terrorist acts for many years.

5) Independent UN Expert Urges Immediate Cancellation Of Haiti's External Debt
Press Release, United Nations, Feb 4 2010, 10:10AM http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1002/S00119.htm

New York - An independent United Nations human rights expert today called for the immediate cancellation of Haiti's external debt to allow it to recover from the devastating earthquake that struck the nation last month and move towards reconstruction. Haiti's current external debt amounts to about $890 million, around 70 per cent of which is owed to multilateral creditors, mainly the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.
[...]
"Haiti's remaining multilateral debt must be unconditionally cancelled as a matter of extreme urgency in order to afford the country the necessary fiscal space as it recovers from the recent devastating earthquake and moves towards reconstruction," Cephas Lumina, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, said in a news release.

Mr. Lumina also called for the provision of aid in the form of unconditional grants, "not new loans whatever the degree of concessionality," as well as a moratorium on debt service. While welcoming the recent announcement by the Paris Club - an informal group of 19 creditor countries - that its members would cancel the $214 million debt owed to them by Haiti, the expert warned that more action was needed. "The decision is insufficient to assure the country's sustainable recovery effort, given that the bulk of its external debt is owed to multilateral creditors."

Mr. Lumina also warned that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was ignoring its own advice by the recent approval of a 'highly concessional' and 'interest-free' loan of $114 million to Haiti, repayment of which is due after a five-and-a-half year 'grace period.'

"A new build-up of unsustainable debt must be avoided," he said, noting that independent assessments indicate that it will take at least ten years for the country to recover from the quake. "It is unrealistic to expect that the people of Haiti can muster the resources to start servicing this debt in five years' time. It is also inappropriate to make Haiti pay back its emergency assistance," said the expert.

Mr. Lumina has been mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. He reports to the Geneva-based Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.
[...]

Iran
6) China Renews Opposition to Iran Sanctions
Alan Cowell, New York Times, February 5, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/world/middleeast/05iran.html

Paris - Reflecting a growing catalog of disputes between Washington and Beijing, a senior Chinese official said Thursday that pressure for tighter sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program could block chances of a diplomatic settlement to the dispute.

The official, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, was speaking in Paris less than a week after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rebuked China over its opposition to stronger measures against Tehran, saying Beijing's position was shortsighted.

Since then, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has been reported to be reiterating support for a deal under which Iran would allow its low-enriched nuclear fuel to be exported for processing into nuclear fuel rods - prompting some skepticism in Europe and the United States about his motives.
[...]
The issue also arose during a visit to Paris by Mr. Yang, who was quoted on Thursday as telling reporters, "To talk about sanctions at the moment will complicate the situation and might stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution."

His remarks, quoted by Reuters, seemed a direct rebuff of efforts by the United States to secure broad international support for tougher penalties against Iran's Revolutionary Guards, accused by the West of running a covert nuclear arms program. Tehran says the program is for peaceful civilian purposes only.

"China firmly supports the international nuclear nonproliferation regime," Mr. Yang said. "All countries, Iran included if they obey I.A.E.A. rules, have a right to a peaceful use of nuclear energy." The I.A.E.A. - the International Atomic Energy Agency - is the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, based in Vienna.

The differences over Iran coincide with a plethora of other disputes. In recent days, China has objected to plans by President Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and to American weapons sales to Taiwan. Mrs. Clinton has also criticized China for censoring the Internet and the United States has challenged China on trade and financial issues.
[...]
In Vienna the atomic agency said it would not comment on Mr. Ahmadinejad's offer. Diplomats with knowledge of the situation said Iran had not formally confirmed its position to the agency, apparently preferring to make its views known through public channels such as interviews and statements to the state-run media.

Honduras
7) A Lobo in Sheep's Clothing?
New Honduran president's legitimacy questioned as 'one-sided civil war' deepens human rights crisis, national bankruptcy declared
Jeremy Kryt, In These Times, February 3, 2010 http://inthesetimes.com/article/5509/a_lobo_in_sheeps_clothing

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - It was all supposed to be different once Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo took over as the new president of Honduras. Human rights crisis finished. Dictatorship deterred. Even after a highly-contested election in November-which most of the world refused to recognize and more than half of Hondurans didn't participate in-many both here and abroad still clung to the hope that a new executive officer might resolve what some experts have called a "one-sided civil war" because only the military-backed regime has employed violent means.

The diverse anti-coup resistance movement has maintained a nonviolent stance, refusing to respond even when authorities have attacked peaceful marches and gatherings with chemical-based crowd control weapons, rubber bullets and live rounds. Dozens of peaceful resistance members have been killed by soldiers, police and government-funded paramilitaries since the armed coup against democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Even more worrisome, local human rights groups report that clandestine death squads, reminiscent of groups that terrorized the country in the 1980s, are once again roaming the streets at night.
[...]
"In terms of the human rights situation, our overall impression is that in some ways it's worse since the [presidential] elections [of November 29] than it was before," said Victoria Cervantes, coordinator of the Chicago-based human rights organization Los Voz de los de Abajo. Cervantes met with In These Times in the capital of Tegucigalpa last week, at the conclusion of a fact-finding trip that combined several international human rights delegations from the United States and European Union.

"What we're seeing now is a violence that's very selective against people and communities in resistance," Cervantes said. "But violence that is very much the style of the death squad and paramilitary violence [of the Cold War era]. In other words, resistance people are found in their closets with their hands tied, ropes around their necks. People have been found with their tongue cut out. Decapitated bodies. [Others have been] raped and tortured."

According to Meri Agurcia, a human rights worker with the nonprofit Committee for the Families of Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH), the numbers support Cervantes' theory. COFADEH has confirmed the deaths of seven resistance members in January alone. In the previous six months, COFADEH reported a total of 28 politically-motivated killings of nonviolent resistance members. "The military is starting to assert itself," Agurcia said. "All of these recent victims were members of the resistance-we haven't seen that kind of targeting before." COFADEH also reports more than a dozen other incidents of authority-backed violence against pacifist activists in January, including beatings, detentions and one disappearance.

But, even as casualties rise, the eyes of the world seem focused elsewhere. "What concerns me most is that human rights abuses-including murders-could continue with little international attention," wrote Dan Beeton, a Honduras expert with the Washington D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, in an email to In These Times. "Most of the media has 'moved on' from the Honduras coup story, and killings that have occurred since the elections…have received very little attention in the foreign press. Meanwhile, the Lobo government-aided by the U.S.-will continue to lobby governments for international recognition while these abuses are ignored."
[...]

Israel/Syria
8) Israeli Minister Adds Heat to Exchange With Syria
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, February 5, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/world/middleeast/05mideast.html

Jerusalem - Israel's blunt-talking foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, on Thursday that the Assad family would lose power in any war with Israel, ratcheting up bellicose exchanges between the countries in recent days.

In a speech at Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, Mr. Lieberman said, "I think that our message must be clear to Assad. In the next war, not only will you lose, you and your family will lose the regime. Neither you will remain in power, nor the Assad family." That had to be the message, Mr. Lieberman added, because "the only value truly important to them is power."

In an effort to calm the atmosphere, an aide to Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Mr. Netanyahu was "ready to go anywhere in the world, at any time, to open peace talks with Syria without preconditions." The aide, Nir Hefetz, added that Israel did not rule out assistance from any "fair third party" that could advance a peace process with Syria.

Mr. Lieberman was responding to strident comments from Syria on Wednesday. Mr. Assad told the visiting Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, that Israel was "not serious about achieving peace" and that the facts indicated that "Israel is pushing the region toward war, not peace," according to the Syrian news agency SANA.

Furthermore, the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Wednesday that "Israel should not test Syria's determination," adding, "Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities." He implied that a conflict beginning in South Lebanon could also lead to an all-out war.

Mr. Moallem made his comments in response to a strong statement made by Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, to senior Israeli Army officers on Monday, warning that "in the absence of an arrangement with Syria, we are liable to enter a belligerent clash with it that could reach the point of an all-out, regional war."

Israelis understood Mr. Barak's remark as a plea for the Israeli government to start new peace negotiations with Syria, but the Syrians apparently interpreted it as war-mongering.
[...]
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he is ready to talk to the Syrians without preconditions on either side. But Syria expects a guarantee from Israel up front that it is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Syria lost in the 1967 war.

There are sharp differences within Mr. Netanyahu's ruling coalition, not least over whether a deal with Syria would succeed in removing Syria from the Iranian sphere.
"Those who think that territorial concessions will cause a severance of the ties between Syria and the axis of evil are deluding themselves and avoiding reality," Mr. Lieberman said Thursday, referring to Iran with a term used by former President George W. Bush. Syria, he added, "will have to give up on its ultimate demand for the Golan Heights."

Yet with the Palestinian peace process at an impasse, there have been increasing voices in Israel for a refocus on negotiations with Syria. "Because of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only chance for generating change lies in the north" wrote the commentator Ari Shavit in Thursday's issue of Haaretz. "There is no certainty at all that peace is in the offing," he continued. "But if it is, it is to be found not in Ramallah but in Damascus."

The previous Israeli government, under the lead of Ehud Olmert of Kadima, held indirect talks with Syria through Turkish mediators, but they ended when Israel embarked on its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
[...]

Mexico
9) Women - Casualties in Army's Counternarcotics War
Emilio Godoy, Inter Press Service, Feb 3
http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50211

Mexico City - Human rights organisations in Mexico and the United States sounded the alarm about abuses against women by the Mexican armed forces in the context of the government's all-out offensive against drug trafficking in the border state of Chihuahua.

"They touched my body while saying 'you smell so good,' they were making fun of me and pressed me against the truck to continue searching me as if I were a criminal, and they touched my private parts," one woman, Claudia, said in a complaint filed with the Centre for Women's Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, CEDEHM).

Claudia (not her real name) was stopped by soldiers on her way to her job in Ciudad Juaréz - the biggest city in the northern state of Chihuahua - on Nov. 4. They asked her to step out of her vehicle in order to search it. But when she asked them to hurry so she wouldn't be late for work, they told her they would have to search her too.

Her case is just one illustration of the frequent human rights abuses committed by the security forces during counternarcotics operations in Chihuahua, which are increasingly violating the rights of women, according to human rights groups.

"In a state of near civil war, with three armies fighting each other, it is local residents who suffer, living in a virtual state of siege by the military," Gustavo de la Rosa, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission's (CEDH-Chihuahua) representative in Ciudad Juárez, told IPS.

"The ones who suffer the most are those who are left alive, and normally each person killed (in drug-related violence) is mourned by his wife, his mother and his daughters, who are left in utter vulnerability, while forced to deal with the severe psychological impacts as well," said the activist.

De la Rosa was appointed to his position in CEDH-Chihuahua, a public institution, in April 2008. But after speaking out about the violence by the drug cartels as well as the abuses committed by the army in its crackdown on drug trafficking in the state, he was forced to move his office across the border from Ciudad Juárez, to the U.S. city of El Paso, last October.
[...]
In the law few years, the number of complaints of human rights violations by soldiers filed with CEDH-Chihuahua has soared, from just three in 2007 to 162 (including 88 from women) in 2008 and 149 (78 from women) in the first 10 months of 2009. The violations included cases of torture, forced disappearance, and extrajudicial execution.
[...]
In a Jan. 27 memo to the U.S. Congress, CEDEHM, CEDH-Chihuahua and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) urged the legislature to ask the State Department to express to the Mexican government its concerns with regard to the risks faced by human rights defenders in the border state, "given the recent wave of threats and attacks" against activists. "In counter-drug operations, women are the main witnesses that observe how soldiers enter their homes and take away their sons and husbands without an arrest warrant. They are the ones who desperately look for their family members and confront the soldiers who have detained them to demand that they be presented to the relevant civilian authorities," says the five-page memo.
[...]
"Women are particularly vulnerable in this situation," WOLA Associate for Mexico and Central America Maureen Meyer told IPS, pointing out they are frequent victims of sexual harassment, besides other kinds of abuse.

The memo points out that when the U.S. Congress approved significant funding for the Mexican security forces under the Mérida Initiative as of 2008, "it recognised the need to make progress on respect for human rights in Mexico, specifying that 15 percent of the funds could not be released until the State Department reported on the Mexican government's fulfillment of a set of human rights requirements." The Mérida Initiative is a three-year 1.4 billion dollar assistance package to Mexico and Central America to fight organised crime and drug trafficking.
[...]
WOLA's Meyer said the Mexican government is not fulfilling the requirements of the Mérida Initiative, because no progress has been made in investigating and prosecuting human rights abuses committed by Mexican troops.
[...]
The memo to the U.S. Congress also requests that the State Department ask the Calderón administration to ensure the protection of the members of CEDEHM and of de la Rosa himself, who has received death threats. "The most effective way to fight violence in Mexico is by means of strong, accountable institutions, and the United States should focus its aid on these necessary long-term reforms in Mexico," said Meyer.

-
Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.

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