Will Progressives in the U.S. Congress Support Palestinian Children’s Human Rights?


With just hours left before today’s deadline, 13 Members of Congress have now joined the call for Palestinian children’s human rights.

Led by U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, these elected officials are signing a letter (PDF) to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that urges him to raise the human rights of Palestinian children in his dealings with the Government of Israel.

Many – but not all – of the signers are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  But many members of the Progressive Caucus have yet to sign the letter. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sri Lanka expels UN official

Over the weekend, it was reported that Sri Lanka had cancelled the visa of James Elder, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson in Sri Lanka, for comments he had made earlier this year during the goverment’s war with the opposition Tamil Tigers.  Mr. Elder had regularly expressed concern about civilians caught in the conflict and more recently about issues such as malnutrition among children in the camps for displaced civilians.  UNICEF defended Mr. Elder’s earlier comments and said it was very concerned about the Sri Lankan government’s decision.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement today through his spokesperson expressing regret for the government’s decision and saying that he would personally raise the issue with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Yesterday, the Sri Lankan government said that it was reviewing its decision in Mr. Elder’s case.

Amnesty International has reported how freedom of expression has been under severe restriction in Sri Lanka.  I hope the Sri Lankan government reconsiders its decision in Mr. Elder’s case, so he doesn’t become one more example of the dangers of speaking out in Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Flashpoints – August 25, 2009

NIGERIA – Instability Despite an Amnesty Deal
Hundreds of militants in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, including one of the main rebels group’s (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND) top commanders Ebikabowei Victor Ben, have begun to hand over their weapons as part of an amnesty deal offered by Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua. According to the BBC, the weapons handed over included hundreds of assault rifles, several rocket launchers and at least 12 gunboats.

However, factions of MEND have rejected the government’s amnesty offer and have pledged to resume attacks once the ceasefire is over on September 15. Security analysts warn that the Nigerian military will likely launch another major offensive against militants who do not accept the amnesty deal once the 60-day offer period officially ends on October 4.

In a separate development, Reuters reports that Nigerian police broke up an Islamic community in the western part of Nigeria and deported dozens of its members to avert renewed violence, such as last month’s clashes with the Boko Haram Islamic sect which reportedly took the lives of 800 people. The Darul Islam community was reported to be forcibly holding women to be wives.


We also support the Nigerian Government’s comprehensive political framework approach toward resolving the conflict in the Niger Delta. This process […] is incorporating the region’s stakeholders as absolutely essential, focusing on the region’s development needs, separating out the militants and the unreconcilables from those who deserve amnesty and want to be part of building a better future for that part of Nigeria – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 12, 2009

[MEND] should reconsider their stand and join the amnesty boat because the boat is about to sail –  Timiebi Koripamo, Agary, Spokeswoman for the Presidential Panel on Amnesty. 

YEMEN – Renewed Violence in the North
Over 100,000 people have been forced to flee and scores killed due to renewed fighting in the north of the country between government troops and Shi’ite rebels. The United Nations reported on Friday that at least 35,000 fled their homes in the past two weeks alone , while UNICEF reports that thousands of families remain trapped inside the conflict zone and are in urgent need of humanitarian support.

The BBC reports that Operation Scorched Earth, which begun two weeks ago, is aimed at crushing the rebels and recapturing the town of Harf Sufyan. But analysts argue that this latest assault is unlikely to end this 5-year long conflict and may only deepen instability in Yemen. 
The rebels, known as the Houthis after their present leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, are adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam and claim the government is oppressing the Zaydis. The rebels also oppose the Yemeni government’s support for the US-led “war on terror.” The Yemeni government enlisted  the support of the US after September 11, accusing the Houthis of having links to al Qaeda, Iran and Hezbollah. Although Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh unilaterally declared the war over in July 2008, full-scale fighting resumed late last month.


We call on both parties to return to the cease fire that was established last year. In the meantime, both parties should avoid any action that would endanger the civilian population in the affected area. We also call on both parties to ensure the security of local and international relief workers in the region, and the safe passage of emergency relief supplies to camps housing internally displaced persons – Statement of U.S. Embassy in Yemen, August 22, 2009

UNICEF stands ready to assist the civilian population. It is essential that we gain immediate and secure access to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance. Children cannot be the innocent victims of conflict – Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, August 24, 2009

Coming This Week

  • August 24-28: Kenya holds its first national census in 10 years.
  • August 25: Independent Election Commission expected to release partial results of Afghan elections.
  • August 26: Celebrations in the breakaway region of South Ossetia to mark the one year anniversary Russian recognition of its independence following the war with Georgia
  • August 27: South African President and SADC chairman Jacob Zuma makes his first state visit to Zimbabwe.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team

Human Rights Flashpoint – August 18, 2009

AFGHANISTAN – Election violence and a nod to “warlord politics”

The world is looking to Afghanistan this week, where Presidential and Provincial Council elections will be held on August 20th. The Taliban are threatening to attack polling stations in the country’s unstable southern province. The government estimates that about 14 percent of the country’s polling centers are considered too dangerous for people to vote. Moreover, the risk of violence will increase should no presidential candidate reach more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a mandatory run-off between the top two contenders. Nevertheless, US government officials are optimistic, stating that the Taliban have failed to derail the elections. In other developments, both government officials and the Taliban have been increasing pressure and threats against journalists in the country and limiting independent and critical reporting.

In what the Christian Science Monitor calls a nod to ‘warlord politics’, suspected war criminal General Dostum returned to Afghanistan this week. Addressing the thousands of people who welcomed him home, he boasted that he is too popular to be persecuted: “If you mess with Dostum, you mess with a million people.” His return has shown the failure of the Afghan government and its international supporters to demonstrate that the rule of law is respected in Afghanistan.

Must Reads


We hope that, from top to bottom, every effort will be taken to make election day secure, to eliminate fraud, and to address any complaints fairly and quickly. It will be several days before we have preliminary results and we hope initial reports will refrain from speculation until results are announced. Final results could take several weeks. We call on candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

We have made clear to the Government of Afghanistan our serious concerns regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan. And I think that President Obama had earlier, based on an earlier story, had asked that the national security team gather further information on his background, including concerns that he might have been involved in the deaths of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war a few years ago, and that the team is continuing to gather that information – Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

A ferocious offensive by the Taliban [was] designed to try to kill the elections. Their goal is to prevent the elections and they have failed in that – Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – Humanitarian situation deteriorates

Ongoing ethnic conflict in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and recurring attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the southeast part of CAR have created overwhelming humanitarian needs throughout the country. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that thousands of internally displaced people have been left without food, protection or shelter.

The country is the second poorest in the world after Sierra Leone and has long been unstable. Although five of the rebel groups signed peace treaties with the government in late 2008, the security situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, causing about 18,000 people to flee to Chad and many more losing their homes during attacks. Children are particularly at risk in CAR, with almost 700,000 children under five living below acceptable standards, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, CAR Communications Minister Cyriaque Gonda announced on Monday that the government has set up a three-year timetable to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 former rebels. However, upcoming elections in 2010 and the formation of a new rebel group in 2009 in the northeast of the country are likely to lead to increasing insecurity and tension in CAR.

Must Reads


The situation is still very volatile and the displaced population remains traumatized […] Fear is very evident amongst the people who had to repeatedly leave their villages and watch their homes and livelihoods being looted, burnt and destroyed – Catherine Bragg, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

These children’s lives, their ability to learn, to earn, and to lead productive lives is being stunted by this tragic crisis – Jeremy Hopkins, acting representative of UNICEF in CAR

Coming This Week

  • August 18: U.S. President Barack Obama meets Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, DC
  • August 18: Secretary Clinton meets with Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez
  • August 20: Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan
  • August 17-24: US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration travels to Sudan (Juba, Makalal), Ethiopia and Egypt

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.