Thursday, May 31, 2007

One Country: Award-Winning Magazine

ONE COUNTRY, the award-winning newsletter of the Bahá'í International Community, first appeared in English in 1989 and is now published in five other languages - French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and German. Each issue contains two or three in-depth feature stories on the United Nations, noteworthy social and economic development projects, environmental efforts or educational programs, along with an editorial that addresses world problems from a Bahá'í point of view. In 1997 One Country launched its Web site which contains all the English issues of the newsletter published over the past three years. A French online version can also be viewed at this link....

In its printed format, ONE COUNTRY is published quarterly. Each 16-page issue contains two or three in-depth feature stories on the United Nations, noteworthy social and economic development projects, environmental efforts or educational programs, along with an editorial that addresses world problems from a Bahá'í point of view. It is published in English, French, Chinese, Russian, German and Spanish, and is currently mailed to more than 30,000 readers in more than 170 countries.

If you are affiliated with the United Nations or another international organization, are involved in government or international development work, are an academic or a researcher, or are a representative of the news media, you may qualify for a free subscription to ONE COUNTRY.

The magazine includes topics such as: development, education, environment, global prosperity, human rights, perspectives, profiles, reviews, women and the United Nations. It exemplifies some of the main goals of the Baha'i Faith with its contributions to socioeconomic development and active involvement in substantial world affairs that promote the progress and prosperity of humankind.

During the past year ONE COUNTRY featured several major stories regarding the progress of the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt. In this post links to four of these important articles are provided. In order to read the full stories, simply click on each picture of the articles shown here.

Subscription Information
To subscribe to the printed version you can write to our main address:

ONE COUNTRY Bahá'í International Community
866 United Nations Plaza
Suite 120
New York, NY 10017 USA
Phone: 212-803-2543
Fax: 212-803-2566

ONE COUNTRY Editorial Staff
The editorial staff of ONE COUNTRY is composed of:

Executive Editor: Douglas Moore

Editor: Brad Pokorny

Associate Editors:
Vladimir Chupin (Moscow)
Christine Samandari (Paris)
Kong Siew Huat (Macau)
Arezu Braun (Germany)

Production Assistant: Veronica Shoffstall
Information Systems: Thane Terrill

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amnesty International 2007 Report Cites Baha’i Case

In its 2007 report released on 23 May, Amnesty International (AI) cited the discrimination against the Baha'is of Egypt and Iran in three components of its report. Under the section on “Middle East and North Africa” in the paragraph entitled "Discrimination," it stated: “In Iran, members of the Arab, Azerbaijani, Kurdish and Baluchi minorities were increasingly restive in the face of continuing discrimination and repression, while members of religious minorities - Baha'is, Nematollahi Sufis and Christians - were detained or harassed on account of their faith. Baha'is were also subject to discrimination in Egypt, where they were required to present themselves as members of other faiths in order to obtain official documents such as identity cards and birth certificates.”

Under the section on “Egypt” in its introductory paragraphs entitled "Background" it reported the following: “In December, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned an earlier decision by an Administrative Court in April 2006 which recognized the right of Egypt's Baha'is to be certified as Baha'is on official documentation. This followed an appeal by the Ministry of Interior. The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court meant that Baha'is must register themselves as Muslims, Christians or Jews if they wish to obtain official documents such as birth and death certificates and identity cards.”

In the section on "Iran" under the heading entitled "Religious minorities" it stated: "Sixty-five Baha'is were detained during 2006 and five remained held at the end of the year. In March Mehran Kawsari was released early from his three-year prison sentence imposed in connection with an open letter sent to the then President in November 2004.

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief expressed concern about an October 2005 letter instructing various government agencies to identify, and collect information about, Baha'is in Iran."

At the conclusion of the report on "Egypt" under the heading "Visits" it describes the investigations and actions taken by Amnesty International as follows: "AI delegates visited Cairo in July and December to attend conferences and in September an AI delegation, headed by the Secretary-General, had meetings in Cairo with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and with the Minister of Interior and other Egyptian government officials."

This annual report caught the attention of Egyptian media. Cairo's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, in its attached 24 May 2007 issue, published an article with photographs describing in details the violations documented by Amnesty International. The article included all the violations cited in the AI report. The 2007 Amnesty International report in Arabic can be seen here.

To my knowledge, this is the first time the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt is addressed by Amnesty International in its investigative reports. It did report on the Baha'is of Iran before as can be seen in its 2006 report linked here. It is hoped that this initiative will assist those affected in obtaining all their rights due to them by their own government, and that violations of individual rights continue to be brought out in plain sight for the whole world to witness and be conscious of. This organization is to be congratulated on its efforts on behalf of those who are persecuted, their dignity violated, tortured or treated unjustly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The UN & Human Rights: "You Can't Blame the Institution...."

Louise Fréchette, a former UN deputy secretary-general, says that the UN's members, rather than the world body, are creating the farcical situations.

"You can't blame the institution, you have to look at its international dynamics," says Fréchette, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

The above statements were published in the Toronto Star on 18 May 2007 in an article discussing the recent election of Egypt, along with other nations, to the newly formed 14 seats, Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, replacing the politically-charged UN Human Rights Commission.

The article, quite eloquently, shows that instead of blaming the institution of the United Nations, such outcome merits a closer look at its membership and that: the Human Rights Council election "shows we don't have a strong international consensus on human rights."
For the full story, please click here....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Egypt & Human Rights: Is the Fox Guarding the Henhouse?

Yesterday, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the election of 14 countries to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Among these nations Egypt was elected with 168 votes. According to the sixty-first General Assembly Plenary, 97th Meeting public information release: out of the 192 member nations of the General Assembly, a minimum of 97 votes are required for providing a "majority" vote necessary for election to the Council.

As this blog has been illustrating since it was introduced approximately a year ago, Egypt has clearly shown its violation of the human and civil rights of its Baha'i religious minority by depriving this group of its citizens of their identity documents necessary for their essential needs of daily living, thus grossly violating their citizenship rights.

Just a few days before that vote, 19 Egyptian Human Rights NGOs have written a letter to the United Nations protesting the inclusion of Egypt in the upcoming vote for the UN's Human Rights Council. It is interesting though to note that this has been entirely ignored by the voting nations, and Egypt got elected to the Council by many more votes than the required minimum for a majority vote. The full text of this letter can be seen at this link in English & (Arabic) and is quoted below:

19 Egyptian Human Rights NGOs Appeal to the United Nations: Egypt is Not Fit for Membership of the UN Human Rights Council

The undersigned NGOs would like to express their surprise that the Egyptian government is applying for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council and their amazement at the falsifications of the government’s true stance on human rights included in such application. This is especially true in the light of the infringement the Egyptian government in the last few years on legislative and constitutional safeguards of human rights, as well as their practices that fly in the face of the most basic human rights principles and values.

The undersigned call on the Member States of the UN General Assembly to uphold their commitments expressed upon the establishment of the Human Rights Council, which require that they take into consideration the human rights record of the nominated states when electing its members.

The undersigned assure that the credibility and competence of the Council depend on electing members with a sense of responsibility towards the international human rights standards and commitments. Incorporating states that are known for their severe hostility towards human rights, their blatant flouting of international standards and non cooperation with the UNHR treaty bodies and its special Rapporteurs would undermine the credibility of the Council. It would hamper its role in improving human rights conditions, not only in the Arab region but also worldwide.

The undersigned would like to point out the reports by local NGOs in Egypt, as well as those by regional and international organisations, by United Nations committees and UN human rights rapporteurs. All such reports place Egypt among the worst states for disregarding human rights. The Egyptian government’s record is full of serious human rights violations that have been practiced widely for long years. Moreover, Egypt is internationally recognised as a “not free state” and is deemed to “have a not free press.”

Despite the Egyptian government’s effort in the last few years to improve their image before the world, hard facts belie these efforts; they even indicate more deterioration in the last two years. It suffices here to point out the following:

First: the persistence of brutal torture in the various places of detention, and the impunity of perpetrators of torture especially in political cases. Both local and international organisations (including the United Nations CAT) have previously reaffirmed that torture in Egypt has become a systematic and routine practice.

Second: the persistence of arbitrary detention, given the continued state of emergency since 1981. The numbers of detainees are considered to be in the thousands, some of them have been detained (without being charged or tried) for more than ten years.

Third: trying civilians before military courts and denying them their right to be brought before a competent judge. This included referring a member of parliament of the opposition to military trial and sentencing him for one year in prison because of his expressed opinions.

Fourth: harassing non-governmental organisations and restricting their activities. The latest of such instances took place a few days ago when the offices of the Centre for Trade Union and Worker Services were shut down. Previously, the office of the El-Nadim Centre for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence were broken into and searched. This is in addition to the daily and heavy-handed interventions by the government in the affairs of NGOs. Such interventions include vetoing nominees to their boards of directors, denying them permission to receive foreign grants or accept local donations, and refusing to register new NGOs. Lately the Ministry made public their intention to make yet more restrictive amendments to the authoritarian Law on Associations currently in force.

Fifth: widening the scope of criminalisation in cases involving opinion and publication, and upholding the custodial penalties in such cases. This has led lately to issuing a prison sentence against an Egyptian producer at Al-Jazeera channel who made a documentary exposing torture in Egypt. Also, an Egyptian blogger was sentenced to four years in prison under the charge of derision of religion and insulting the President, in the context of a wider harassment of bloggers carried out by the security services. This is in addition to a number of newspaper editors who currently stand before court for their alleged insult of the President.

Sixth: the continued rigging of elections and doctoring the returns of representative elections and popular referendums, as well as punishing judges who exposed the rigging. Moreover, the constitutional amendments passed by the government last month will enable more of the same manipulation of the will of the electorate.

Seventh: suppressing the right to peaceful demonstration and assembly, which was epitomised in the savage massacre of the Sudanese refugees who had organised a sit-in in one of the squares of Cairo in December 2005. The attack on the refugees claimed the lives of around thirty of them. The United Nations has recently called for an inquiry into this massacre, and the government refused. There is also the example of the physical assault and blatant sexual harassment used against female demonstrators and journalists who were protesting against the amendments of the constitution in 25 May 2005. These events, documented by human rights NGOs, constitute the basis of a case that is currently being examined by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Eighth: amending the constitution last March in a way as to allow the security services to free their hands from the constitutional guarantees that protect the rights to freedom and security of person, prohibit breaking into and searching homes without a judicial warrant, protect the right to privacy, and prohibit surveillance of mail and tapping phone calls. In this way the new amendments entrench the foundations of the police state.

Ninth: increasing pressures on the freedom of belief, and the rise in discriminatory practices based on religion that are sometimes based on constitutional or legislative provisions or court rulings.

Tenth: increasing pressures on the independence of the judiciary and widening the scope of exceptional courts, especially military courts, which are accountable to the executive.

Finally, the undersigned NGOs realise that the chances of making an objective choice for the membership of the UN Human Rights Council from among the Arab countries are almost nonexistent, given that most of the governments of those countries, perhaps with the exception of Morocco, Lebanon and Mauritania, are considered among the worst in the world in their disregard of human rights standards.

Despite the difficulties that this will involve for the UN General Assembly, we believe that voting for the Egyptian government would imply an encouragement for it and similar governments to persist in their practices against human rights.

1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
2. The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners
3. Arab Penal Reform Organization
4. Hisham Moubarak Law Center
5. Association for Human Rights Legal Aid
6. the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
7. The Egyptian Association For Community Participation Enhancement
8. The New Woman Association
9. The Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services
10. Al-Nadim Centre for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence
11. Egyptian Organization Against Torture
12. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
13. The Arab program for Human Rights Activists
14. Land Center for Human Rights
15. Shumuu For Human Rights and Care of disabled and Community Development
16. Andalus Institue for Tolerance and Anti Violence Studies
17. Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development
18. The Center for Alternative Development Studies
19. the Group for Democratic Development

Monday, May 14, 2007

Exactly...That's What Freedom of Belief is All About!

Brian Whitaker of the Guardian newspaper wrote a very interesting column on 18 December 2006 regarding the case of the Baha'is in Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court that was ruled on two days before.

The article, entitled "Losing their religion: In Egypt, computerised ID cards are providing the latest source of discrimination against members of the Baha'i faith" described the history of the case very clearly and objectively, it spoke of the judgement itself and its consequences. He then quoted the words of an Egyptian blogger who described the scene at the court when the ruling was read. In order to read this accurate and vivid account, please click to see the column on this link....

Whitaker concluded his column, under the section named "comment is free," by quoting Muhammad Abdel Hafez, a columnist on Egypt's al-Gomhouriya newspaper, who has also been fulminating against the Baha'is, wrote: "If Bahaism is officially recognised, worshippers of cows, the sun and fire will want to jump on the bandwagon." Addressing this comment, Whitaker wrote: "Exactly. That's what freedom of belief is all about."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bahá’ís in Egypt Pay Taxes—But Are Deprived of Civil Rights

On 9 may 2007, Al-Ahaly Egyptian newspaper published an interview with Dr. Basma Moussa, a professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Dentistry and an Egyptian Baha’i.

Instead of translating the article, the following are my conclusions based on the information provided in that interview:

There must be separation between citizenship and belief—they cannot be interconnected. Each Egyptian citizen must be entitled to ALL citizenship rights. Presently, all Egyptian Bahá’ís are deprived of their citizenship rights simply because of their belief. They are denied government-issued ID cards which are a necessity in order to continue to live in Egypt as a human being. Nothing in normal daily living can be accomplished without these ID cards.

Egyptian Bahá’ís have always served their country and fellow citizens with absolute loyalty and sincerity. As law-abiding citizens, they have always had contributed to their society in professions, sciences, commerce and fine arts. One of the members of the community, Mr. Hussein Bikar has been recognized as a national treasure and awarded the highest prize in the land: President Mubarak’s Prize in Fine Arts.

In Egypt, it appears to be perfectly acceptable for the government to force the Bahá’ís to pay taxes like all other citizens, but seems to have no hesitation in depriving them of all their civil rights and all services due to them. The authorities cannot demand taxation from Bahá’ís with nothing in return. Is there any justice in this? This fact alone raises a very big question! One would expect that ID cards (and the national ID number) must be used in order to pay taxes!

Meanwhile, a misguided Human Rights Committee of the Egyptian Parliament just announced the outcome of its deliberations regarding the ID card issue. In an article published in the front page of Al-Dostour Al-Youmy Egyptian newspaper on 8 May 2007, the decision of that committee of the parliament was revealed, announcing that it has denied the entry of any religion on ID cards other than the three recognized “divine” religions in Egypt, i.e. Islam, Christianity & Judaism. It also refused to eliminate religious classification from Egyptian ID cards, quoting the usual baseless reservations and rhetoric regarding personal status laws (addressed in the previous post dated 9 May 2007). Thus affirming the denial of ID cards to the Bahá’ís and any other “unrecognized” religious groups in Egypt.

Here again, is another blow to human and civil rights in Egypt, disrupting hopes for progress and tolerance and depriving Egypt from a stable, more humane and progressive society.

It is worth noting that one’s religion is only in one’s heart and is the individual’s private and personal affair. Simply stating the religion of a person on a piece of paper or a plastic card cannot truly reflect the person’s true feelings, conscience or beliefs. On the other hand, no one should ever be placed in a position to have to lie about his or her own belief or religion in order to satisfy some arcane laws that dictate the religions which can be the only ones entered in ID cards and official documents.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Egyptian Newspaper on ID Cards & Religious Classification

On 8 May 2007, Al-Dostour Al-Youmy (The Daily Constitution) Egyptian newspaper published a very well thought out and researched article on the crisis of religious classification in Egyptian ID cards, written by Ihab Abdel-Hamid. The article had the heading of “Why Does the Government Want to Know the ‘Religion’ of its Citizen?” It addresses issues affecting the Bahá’ís as well as Christians who had converted to Islam and want to return to Christianity, particularly in cases when a father did so (convert to Islam) without the knowledge of his son and as his son—who considers himself a Christian—reaches the age of 16 at which he is required to obtain an ID card, he is suddenly confronted with rejection and losing legal battles. Recently the Egyptian Administrative Court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Interior, disallowing the entry of “Christian” on ID cards for Egyptians who wanted to return to Christianity.

The writer also indicates that even Sudan, who follows Shar'iah law, does not have religious classification on ID cards. He describes how religious and ethnic identification on ID cards had led to genocide as happened in Nazi Germany and in Rwanda, when nearly one million individuals were killed in one week, by the “Hutu,” just because their ID cards showed “Tutsi.” Also in Lebanon when killing was based on religious identification until 1997 when all fighting factions of the civil war finally realized that there must be an end to such discrimination and removed religious classification from ID cards altogether, thus their entire population became as equal citizens. Even when some authoritarian elements in Pakistan wanted to add religion to their ID cards in 1992, the opposition turned that initiative down.

Egypt has always defended its policy of including religion in ID cards as a necessity for personal status laws regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance. He referred to this as a week argument and excuse since marriage is never a simple matter, in which each party gets to know the other very well before going through with it. It is not such an irresponsible act in which one party easily deceives the other as to his or her religious identity. ID cards are not the “simple” answer to such commitment. In this case he also gave the example of the millions of Muslims living in a country such as France (with no religion on ID cards), surrounded by millions more of Christians…that does not seem to pose any difficulties in going through with any of the required arrangements, and the parents of Muslim women do not seem to have any problem in identifying appropriate suitors for their daughters.

He indicated that having religious classification in ID cards violated the Egyptian laws and the constitution. He referred (according to Attorney Mamdouh Nakhla) specifically to Personal Status Laws # 260 of 1990 and # 142 of 1994—neither of which has any clauses requiring religious classification on ID cards, nor was there any mention of such requirement in the Egyptian constitution. He then referred to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The author presented a very well argued case for finding a solution for this very critical situation. He asks the question: “what do we do with the Bahá’ís and what do we do for the Christians who want to return to Christianity?” He referred to the absurd statements made by some radical Egyptian legislators who said that Bahá’ís should be thrown into the sea [the Nile]! He then stressed the need to continue dialogue [not to forget this problem while absorbed in the many other serious problems facing Egypt] and find a solution for this important citizenship right. He asked at the conclusion of the article: “or is it the right of the Christian majority in America, for example, to throw all Muslims into the sea?”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Another Insightful Post in "Seeking Justice"

A critical legal question was just raised yesterday in a post published on "Seeking Justice" blog. It addresses Egypt's legal responsibility to uphold its obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a co-signatory. The post quotes articles 2 & 18 of the Covenant and analysis their meaning. It then emphasizes Egypt's obligations of being a party to that Covenant and the impact of such obligations on the current Baha'i crisis in Egypt. In order to learn more about this particular issue, please click here....