UN calls on Azerbaijan to release activists and ‘reverse trend of repression’

azerb yunusUN human rights experts have condemned Azerbaijan’s increased prosecution of human rights activists and urged Baku to “reverse the trend of repression,” RFE/RL reports:

In a statement issued by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the experts said they are “appalled” by several incidents in which Azerbaijani officials use surveillance and interrogation to arrest and sentence rights activists “on the basis of trumped-up charges.”

They said the “criminalization of rights activists must stop” and that those who have been unjustly detained be “immediately freed,” including Leyla Yunus (above), Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Intigam Aliyev.

Independent civil society groups this week released a list of political prisoners that meet the criteria adopted by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. The list, containing as many as 98 names, was compiled under the leadership of Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov.

“As an irony of fate, and as a confirmation that the problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan is enormous, unsolved and underestimated,” notes one observer, ‘Yunus and Jafarov now find themselves behind bars.”

Yunus, arguably one of the fiercest critics of Azerbaijan’s poor rights record, and her husband Arif Yunus, have been accused of treason, spying for Armenia, and illegal business activities, among other financial charges, the Guardian reports:

The list is based on the definition of political prisoner offered by the Council of Europe, which aims to promote human rights on the continent. The organisation’s secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland said he had spoken to Azeri president Iham Aliyev, and told him of his “deep concerns about the arrests of prominent human rights defenders in recent days”. Despite its rights record, Azerbaijan currently presides over the organisation’s committee of ministers….. Azeri investigative journalist Khadiya Ismayil told The Guardian that Aliyev has now been added as the last entry…..

Laws regulating NGOs have been tightened this year, making it more difficult to register and run them. At the time, then-EU foreign policy chief expressed concern that the move was aimed at “restricting the environment for an independent and critical civil society, especially in the field of human rights and democracy”.

International human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders also called on the authorities to immediately release Azerbaijani journalists and human rights advocates.

“The crackdown on the civil society in Azerbaijan has once again come to demonstrate how Aliyev’s regime continues to use authoritarian methods of governance, despite the fact that the country chairs the Council of Europe,” stated Executive Director of Civil Rights Defenders Robert Hardh.

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Politically, morally right for democracies to support Kurdistan

Kurdistan Iraq ISIS Stansfield 0731On 15 August, the Council of the European Union stated that it welcomed efforts by EU governments to provide arms to Kurdish forces attempting to halt the advance of Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq. Writing on the LSE’s Europblog, the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Brendan O’Leary provides a comprehensive overview of the political situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the development of the conflict between Kurdish and IS forces. He argues that it is not only legally permissible under the Iraqi Constitution for foreign governments to arm Kurdish forces, but that it is also politically and morally right for European democracies to do so.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is the sole surviving success story from the US-led intervention that in 2003 removed from power the genocidal dictator Saddam Hussein, and his Baath regime. Kurdistan’s institutions work – its executive (its presidency, prime minister and cabinet), its parliament, its civil service, courts, police, universities, schools and hospitals. Its officials generally obey the law, except the speeding rules. Corruption is low by regional standards, especially those of Arab Iraq under Saddam and Nouri al-Maliki.

Since 2005 votes determine who governs the region. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani, is the most electorally successful party in this functioning Muslim-majority democracy. It has shared power in coalitions in which two other parties, Goran (“Change”), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), vigorously compete for second place. In the last decade the KDP has led Kurdistan from Erbil, whereas the PUK has led for Kurdistan in Baghdad. Conflict between the KDP and the PUK, which marred the 1990s, is long over, its legacies resolved peacefully and politically. The administrative unification of the region is almost complete…………..

“Although Washington has long been wary of Kurdish nationalism, it is a powerful mobilizing force. It also converges with America’s strategic interests. The Kurdish groups from Syria and Turkey reject radical Islamism. They are secular nationalists and natural American allies,” Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou write for the New York Times:

Ironically, American support for the Kurds could also help keep Iraq intact as a state. A few weeks ago the central Iraqi government was in a state of political paralysis and the K.R.G. president, Massoud Barzani, had announced plans to hold a referendum on independence. The ISIS offensive has forced re-evaluations all around.

Iraq is starting to understand that it needs a strong Kurdistan to defeat ISIS and survive. Mr. Barzani, who has since dropped talk of a referendum, sees that he needs partners inside Iraq and allies outside to ensure stability and protect Kurdish territory from assault.

The compromise that Iraqi Kurds accepted in 2005 — autonomy within a federal Iraq instead of holding out for independence — may prove more durable than expected. A new American approach to all of Kurdistan would help strengthen that compromise by strengthening the Kurds. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Aliza Marcus is the author of “Blood and Belief: The P.K.K. and the Kurdish Fight for Independence.” Andrew Apostolou is the former head of Iran human rights programs at Freedom House.

What is to be done? O’Leary asks:

Questions of constitutionality and legality matter deeply, but it is separately politically and morally right for European democracies to support the Peshmerga. European Governments recognise this is not 2003. No one is manipulating information to encourage a major western intervention in an authoritarian dictatorship. No western politician is seeking to act unlawfully – indeed, western governments are painfully fearful of doing so. American and European politicians arguably spent the first half of the year trying to look away from Iraq as long as possible, convinced that their public has no appetite for intervention, humanitarian or otherwise.

Not only are the Peshmerga the lawful army of the Kurdistan Region but they also are the sole viably well-organised military in Iraq that is under proper civilian and democratic control. Moreover, aid to the Peshmerga will work. Revivifying the Iraqi federal army – if that ever happens – will take far too much time to accomplish holding back ISIS, whereas injecting sufficient resources to make the Peshmerga fulfil their defensive tasks is an entirely viable mission. Supporting the Peshmerga will also ensure that neither western nor Turkish governments need put armed troops into field combat against the pretenders to the Caliphate. President Barzani has insisted that the Peshmerga require no foreign troops on the ground to help them. What they need is the equipment, and associated training, to counter the American equipment handed over to ISIS by the federal Iraqi army.


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Houthi Shia rebels ‘threaten Yemen’s transition’

Moderate Islamists and western diplomats in Yemen are increasingly concerned that military successes by the Houthis, coupled with the re-emergence of the local al-Qaeda franchise, could ignite the kind of debilitating sectarian violence that is raging elsewhere in the region – pushing Sunnis towards the violent rhetoric of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the FT’s Peter Salisbury reports from Sana’a:

Western and local officials fear a surge in sectarian violence could derail Yemen’s internationally backed political transition to democracy aimed at putting an end to decades of conflict.…..A debate is now raging within Islah, and the wider Sunni community, over how to respond to the rise of the Houthis – seen by some as an existential threat to a political order that has been controlled by privileged conservative Sunnis for much of the past three decades. One party official described sentiment within Islah as “life or death”.

Tens of thousands of Houthis joined an anti-government rally in Sanaa on Monday in response to a call by Shiite rebel commander Abdulmalik al-Houthi, Middle East Eye reports:

The protesters assembled in Change Square and then paraded through the centre of the capital, where supporters of the rebels, who are known as Houthis or Ansarullah, had converged during the morning after travelling from outside the capital.

“Islah was one of the early winners from the overthrow of Mr Saleh – taking up key posts in the country’s transitional government. But the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt led to disquiet in the party, which had seen Egypt as a template for Islamist governments in the region, while the increasingly anti-Islamist stance of Saudi Arabia took away a valuable source of funding,” Salisbury writes:

Islah supporters also believe Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who replaced Mr Saleh as Yemen president, has turned against them since the early days of his leadership. Islah suspects that the Houthis’ offensive is part of their plan to reinstall the Zaydi imamate that ruled in Yemen for a millennium before being unseated in 1962, and that their ultimate goal is control of Sana’a. They also say the Houthis are backed by Iran.

However, Hussein al-Izzi, a Houthi spokesman, insists the group has no interest in seizing the capital and denies being supported by Tehran. “We came to stop corruption in Amran, and the fighting stopped when we defeated the Islah militias and al-Qaeda,” he says.

Mr Al-Izzi says Islah’s leadership is intertwined with that of AQAP – a widely held view in Yemen but one denied by the party.

But, according to April Alley-Longley, an analyst at International Crisis Group, a move into Arhab would provoke a powerful backlash that could change the dynamics of the conflict. “If the Houthis continue their advances, especially around or in Sana’a, they risk reshuffling the political deck and consolidating a new coalition against them,” she says.

“We are concerned by the physical spread of the Houthis – now they are just outside Sana’a,” says a senior western diplomat. “We want the transition to continue, for there has to be a focus on national unity, not divisions. We want the Houthis to be in there, but not with their tanks.”

Yemen has long had a vibrant tradition of community-based dispute resolution, particularly tribal dispute resolution, which has become even more dominant in the transition period that followed the 2011 Arab Spring protests, according to a recent report from the US Institute of Peace:

  • As the Yemeni state has struggled to regain political equilibrium, rule of law has deteriorated and criminality and armed conflict have increased. State institutions have weakened and now struggle to meet citizens’ demands.
  • In response, citizens increasingly turn to traditional or community-based dispute resolution for their justice needs. In addition to long-standing actors or mechanisms, a number of new dispute resolution actors have emerged. Some areas have seen a retribalization, while in thers, armed actors dominate.
  • Although alternative dispute resolution actors have been an important gap-filler during this time, they have also found their authority challenged. The political uncertainty and the rise in lawlessness have simultaneously weakened both formal and informal actors’ ability to resolve disputes sustainably and to prevent conflict.

Over two years after the start of Yemen’s uprising in 2011, participants at a recent Chatham House forum (above) discussed achievements of the transition process to date and its latest developments, including progress of the National Dialogue Conference. Yemen’s transition was also be considered in regional and international context, in light of transitions set in motion by the ‘Arab uprisings’.

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Poland’s past points to future of its neighbors?

Credit: FT

Credit: FT

One lesson of August 1989, applicable to the present Ukrainian crisis, is that the US and its allies need to practice skilful diplomacy and respect legitimate Russian interests even as they assist democratic forces in countries once under Moscow’s thumb, writes FT analyst Tony Barber:

In the US state department archives there is an amusing exchange of cables on August 24 1989 between John Davis, ambassador in Warsaw, and Lawrence Eagleburger, deputy secretary of state in Washington. Mr Davis reports that, with Mazowiecki’s appointment, he has completed “the political tasks assigned to me in my current letter of instructions and [I] await further orders”. Eagleburger replies: “Your next task is to promote and ensure the realisation of economic prosperity in Poland, to include stable growth, full employment, low inflation, high productivity and a Mercedes (or equivalent) in every garage.”

To a suspicious eye – an eye watching from, say, the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow – Mr Davis’s reference to his “political tasks” might be taken as proof that the US was always out to bring down communism in Poland and its neighbours. In fact, the George HW Bush administration was careful to show restraint in 1989, conscious that a strident pro-democracy stance risked weakening Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist Soviet leader, and setting back the cause of change in the communist world…..

Needless to say, it is easier to secure results if a Gorbachev, not a Vladimir Putin, is sitting in the Kremlin. But the lack of triumphalism in US foreign policy in 1989 – and in 1991, when the Soviet Union started to fall apart – was a factor in its success.

A second lesson is that no repressive system of government will last forever.


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What about Jordan?

jordanJust because European diplomats created some Arab countries in the post-World War I settlements does not mean those countries are necessarily susceptible to disintegration, notes Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square.”  

If ever there was a colonial creation, it is Jordan, he writes for the Washington Post:

Yet Jordan’s allegedly artificial borders have become meaningful, and, within them, people have a sense of what it means to be Jordanian. In Syria, where war has taken a toll on the territorial integrity of the country and hardened sectarian and ethnic differences, it is important to remember that the descent into conflict began when Syrians asserted a different concept of citizenship and the relationship between rulers and the ruled.

A U.S. ally for more than half a century, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is one of the pillars of American Middle East policy, the Hudson Institute observes:

But this longtime bulwark of stability in an otherwise dangerous and volatile region is now being buffeted by powerful—and unwelcome—winds of change. Two of its bordering neighbors, Syria and Iraq, are engulfed in civil wars featuring both active Iranian involvement and well-resourced Sunni extremists like the Islamic State. Moreover, the role of Hamas in West Bank politics remains an unsettled question. Domestically, Jordan has been suffering a severe refugee crisis for more than a decade, to which the Syrian conflict alone has recently added another million-plus civilian exiles.

Can Jordan continue to manage the various emergencies on its doorstep? What can the American government do to help one of its key Middle East partners?

On August 26th, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith will host an expert panel featuring Faysal Itani, Salameh Nematt, and David Schenker for a discussion about the present state and future prospects of Jordan and its central role in American Middle East policy.

Tuesday, August 26th 12:00 to 1:30 pm

Hudson Institute, 1015 15th Street, NW – Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005


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