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Resources updated between Monday, August 24, 2015 and Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 29, 2015

Indians protesting treatment of women (file photo)

The girls, from the "untouchable" caste, are being punished for their brother's elopement with a married woman.

Two sisters in India will be gang-raped for a social "sin" committed by their brother unless the country's Supreme Court intervenes with protection, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The sisters, one 15 and the other 23, were condemned to this brutal fate by an informal legal system with a history of doling out egregious punishments. Their so-called crime was that their brother eloped with a married woman of a higher caste. The sisters and their family are from the Dalit caste, commonly called Untouchables, which is the lowest in the Indian social hierarchy. On July 30, the village council in the northern Indian district of Baghpat decreed that the two sisters would be raped, then paraded around their village naked, with their faces covered in black paint.

The ruling from this all-male panel is not legally valid, but these unelected panels called khap panchaya controversially act as courts throughout the country and still command power.

The family has already fled the town, seeking refuge in Delhi in May.

Earlier this month, the elder sister petitioned the country's highest court to protect her family, whose home was ransacked. "After we went to the Supreme Court, the villagers are even more aggressive," the sisters' other brother told Amnesty International.

India's Supreme Court previously ruled that the village court's decrees are not legally binding, but that hasn't fully eliminated the system.

"When informal legal systems exist alongside the formal legal system, women and girls often experience enormous abuse," says Shelby Quast, policy director at gender advocacy group Equality Now. "The Supreme Court must uphold the rule of law and condemn Uttar Pradesh for allowing an informal legal council to sentence innocent girls to rape as a form of punishment."

The Supreme Court has ordered the province to respond to the protection petition by September 15, but for now the family feels endangered. The father of the young women has also filed complaints-one to the National Human Rights Commission and another to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes-for protection.

A petition released by Amnesty International this week has already garnered nearly 30,000 signatures.

"Revenge rape" as a punishment for a woman or her family member's crimes isn't unheard of in the region. It's traditionally seen as a way to ruin a family's worth, by tarnishing its honor and ruining a daughter's chances for marriage. Last year, a 22-year-old woman was left in critical condition after village elders ordered 13 men to rape her as punishment for her relationship with a man outside the community. The attackers were later arrested by police.

July of last year saw the rape of a 14-year-old whose brother was accused of sexual assaulting a married woman. The woman's husband was ordered to dole out the punishment, and took her into the woods as the village looked on.

The issue has commanded worldwide attention before-notably in a 2002 case in Pakistan, when a victim of this savage "justice" took her attackers to court and was paid restitution. "I tried to commit suicide twice after the incident because I felt like I wasn't getting any justice," she told the BBC last year. "What happened to me is another form of honor killing."

Indian Village Orders Gang-Rape Of 2 Sisters Document

August 28, 2015

Relatives of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants marked 500 days on Thursday since the abductions, with hope dwindling for their rescue despite a renewed push to end the insurgency (AFP)

Nigeria Marks 500 Days Since Schoolgirls Seized by Boko Haram Document

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, June 8, 2015. (Reuters/Leonhard Foeger)

Iran May Have Built Extension at Disputed Site: U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Article

August 27, 2015

Kurdish Political Prisoner Behrouz Alkhani

An informed source tells Iran Human Rights that Alkhani's execution was carried out at 1:10am on Wednesday. Before Alkhani's execution, Amnesty International and activists had reached out to Iranian authorities and called on them to stop his death sentence.

Iran Human Rights, Wednesday August 26 2015: At the first possible hour on Wednesday, Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani was hanged to death in Urmia Central Prison along with five prisoners who possessed various drug and murder charges. An informed source tells Iran Human Rights that Alkhani's execution was carried out at 1:10am on Wednesday. Before Alkhani's execution, Amnesty International and activists had reached out to Iranian authorities and called on them to stop his death sentence.

Fars Alkhani, Behrouz's father says the Iranian authorities have refused to give the family access to his son's body: "We went to the Revolutionary Court, they said it won't be possible for us to retrieve his body. We went to various government offices, including the Ministry of Intelligence, but none of them would sign off on us. We saw Behrouz's body as they were loading him in a vehicle (after his execution)." However, the bodies of three prisoners with drug related charges and two prisoners with murder charges (who were executed with Behrouz Alkhani) were reportedly returned to their families.

Behrouz Alkhani was arrested in January 2009 and accused of affiliations with the armed Kurdish group PJAK. Several months later, he was also accused of taking part in the murder of a judicial authority. He was sentenced to death in Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Urmia for Moharebeh through association with PJAK. In another court hearing he was issued a second death sentence, this time for murder. Alkhani has repeatedly denied the murder charge. "The murder charge is an unfounded lie. They've charged him with murder, because they're out to kill him," says Fars Alkhani.

Iran Human Rights strongly condemns Wedesday's executions. "The legal proceedings for Behrouz were unjust. He, like many other politcal prisoners, did not have access to a lawyer and was abused & tortured throughout his imprisonment," says Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson for Iran Human Rights.

Kurdish Political Prisoner Behrouz Alkhani Executed Along With Five Other Prisoners Document

Victims of bombing by Syrian regime (file photo)

SOHR could document the death of 247 civilians in the consecutive massacres carried out by the regime air force in several towns and cities in the Eastern Ghouta and in the province of Rif Dimashq. Among the death toll documented from August 16 to this dawn, there are 50 children, 25 women and several families. Targeting the Eastern Ghouta left 1000 injuries, dozens of them were seriously wounded. The airstrikes also caused material damages in people's properties.

SOHR holds the international community especially the International Security Council the moral responsibility towards the daily killing committed against the Syrian people by al- Assad regime particularly in the city of Duma, which has been besieged for 2 years. Therefore, those criminals are not going to stop committing more massacres as long as they known that there is no punishment or trials against them. Accordingly, we call on the UN Security Council to send the file of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

About 1300 Syrian Civilians Killed and Wounded by the Regime Air Force in the Last 10 Days Document

Authorities investigating a mass grave site in Malaysia in May, 2015

Another mass grave for human trafficking victims has been discovered in Malaysia, according to recent reports, raising further questions about the Department of State's decision to upgrade the country's ranking in this year's annual Trafficking in Persons report.

The grave reportedly contains the bodies of 24 people and is located near Malaysia's northern border with Thailand, where gangs of human traffickers have been known to hold regional migrants for ransom. Malaysian authorities unearthed 139 grave sites in May in the same area, sparking criticism of the government's efforts to crack down on the practice.

Some of the victims found in May were detained in "human cages" made of wood and barbed wire.

In Washington, D.C., the State Department has been sharply criticized amid allegations that it raised Malaysia's anti-trafficking ranking from Tier 3, the lowest level, to Tier 2, for political reasons. Reuters reported earlier this month that senior political leaders at the department overruled the agency's trafficking experts on the grades for 14 countries in this year's report, including strategically important nations such as Malaysia, China, and Cuba.

Tweet: Mass grave of trafficking victims 24 discovered in Malaysia - after 139 discovered in May.

All three countries have been accused of sponsoring or failing to combat the modern-day slave trade, which involves forced labor and prostitution.

Malaysia is a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a landmark free trade deal that the Obama administration is currently negotiating with 11 other countries. A provision in the trade promotion authority (TPA) law signed by Obama, which allows Congress to hold a simple up-or-down vote on the TPP and is viewed as crucial to its success, bars consideration of a trade agreement with a Tier 3 country-raising suspicions that the State Department boosted Malaysia's ranking to secure the TPP.

The revelation of more mass graves in Malaysia is likely to renew concerns on Capitol Hill about the integrity of the report. Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement that he was "deeply saddened" by the recent reports that "have made clear the true extent of human trafficking operations in Malaysia."

"This development raises further questions about the independence of the Administration's choice to upgrade Malaysia's human trafficking rating in the State Department's 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report," he said.

Salmon noted that, according to the report, Malaysia actually convicted fewer traffickers last year than it did in 2013.

"I am also seriously concerned that the State Department made this upgrade based on promises of reforms that would be implemented after the reporting period, while disregarding other events that happened outside the period such as the discovery of mass graves," he added.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month, lawmakers threatened to subpoena all information related to the State Department's production of this year's report. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the committee, expressed frustration with the State Department's defense of the report's accuracy.

"This is possibly the most heartless, lacking of substance, presentation I have ever seen about a serious topic," he said. "I don't see how anybody could believe that there was integrity in this process."

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said earlier this month that "colleagues from across the Department engage in iterative, fact based deliberations on the annual trafficking in persons report."

"The Department stands behind the findings and the process of the TIP report," he added.

The number of country rankings that were ultimately determined by the department's political leadership this year was unprecedented in the report's 15-year history, according to reports.

The Obama administration has come under withering criticism for its human rights record, including its perceived lack of public support for dissidents in China and Cuba. Obama previously referred to anti-trafficking efforts as "one of the great human rights causes of our time" and said that "the United States will continue to lead."

Discovery of Mass Grave in Malaysia Renews Criticism of 'Heartless' State Department Document

Workers search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa airport. (Reuters)

The Human Carnage of Saudi Arabia's War in Yemen Document

August 26, 2015

(Photo illustration)

Islamic State (IS) militants may have used chemical weapons in an attack on a town in northern Syria on Friday.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Tuesday it had treated four members of a family who suffered from breathing difficulties and developed blisters after a mortar hit their home in Marea.

The Syrian American Medical Society has also reported receiving 50 patients showing symptoms of chemical exposure.

Local rebels say the shells were fired from an IS-held village to the east.

A spokesman for one group, the Shami Front, told the New York Times that half of the 50 mortars and artillery rounds which hit Marea contained sulphur mustard.

The powerful irritant and blistering agent - which is commonly known as "mustard gas" but is liquid at ambient temperature - causes severe damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory system and internal organs.

Samples assessed

MSF said the four patients - two parents and their three-year-old and five-day-old daughters - arrived at one of its hospitals an hour after Friday evening's attack in Aleppo province, suffering from respiratory difficulties, inflamed skin, red eyes and conjunctivitis. Within three hours they developed blisters and their respiratory difficulties worsened.

Staff treated their symptoms and gave them oxygen before transferring them to another facility for specialised treatment.

"MSF has no laboratory evidence to confirm the cause of these symptoms," said Pablo Marco, MSF's programme manager in Syria. "However, the patients' clinical symptoms, the way these symptoms changed over time, and the patients' testimony about the circumstances of the poisoning all point to exposure to a chemical agent."

On Monday, the Syrian American Medical Society said its field hospital in Marea had received more than 50 civilians who exhibited similar symptoms. Some 30 civilians developed skin blisters, with doctors identifying the agent to be sulphur mustard.

The medical organisation said samples had been taken from patient blood, clothing, and hair as well from the shelling site, to be assessed.

Earlier this month, the US military said IS was suspected of having used chemical agents in an attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Reports of a sulphur mustard attack on Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq are also being investigated.

US officials recently suggested IS might have obtained the sulphur mustard in Syria, despite the government declaring that all of its stockpiles had been destroyed under a disarmament deal agreed following a deadly sarin nerve agent attack in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August 2013.

Syria Conflict: New 'IS chemical attack' Document

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greeting Iranian university students during a ceremony in Tehran on July 11, 2015. (EPA)

The Consequences of a Bad Deal Article

Satellite image of the Parchin high explosive test site collected on November 7, 2012. (DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

Cash-Strapped IAEA to Stop Monitoring Iran Next Month? Article

August 25, 2015

Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

"SPOILS of war," snaps Dabiq, the English-language journal of Islamic State (IS). The reference is to thousands of Yazidi women the group forced into sex slavery after taking their mountain, Sinjar, in August last year. Far from being a perversion, it claims that forced concubinage is a religious practice sanctified by the Koran. In a chapter called "Women", the Koran sanctions the marriage of up to four wives, or "those that your right hands possess".

Literalists, like those behind the Dabiq article, have interpreted these words as meaning "captured in battle". Its purported female author, Umm Sumayyah, celebrated the revival of Islam's slave-markets and even proffered the hope that Michelle Obama, the wife of America's president, might soon be sold there. "I and those with me at home prostrated to Allah in gratitude on the day the first slave-girl entered our home," she wrote. Sympathisers have done the same, most notably the allied Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram, which last year kidnapped an entire girls' school in Chibok (pictured above).

Religious preachers have responded with a chorus of protests. "The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus," declared an open letter sent by 140 Muslim scholars to IS's "caliph", Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, earlier this year. "You have taken women as concubines and thus revived...corruption and lewdness on the earth."

But while IS's embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other "slave-like" conditions prevalent across the region. IS's targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labour for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not. From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.

Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame.

Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but-according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salifi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi-he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition.

Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief's daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi-enslavement to God, not man.

Other scholars insist, however, that IS's treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. "They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages," says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, "what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid." The Prophet's calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.

To quash a black revolt in the salt mines of southern Iraq, the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad conscripted Turkish slaves into their army. Within a few generations these formed a power base, and from 1250 to 1517 an entire slave caste, the Mamluks (Arabic for "chattel"), ruled Egypt.

Their successors, the Ottoman Turks, perfected the system. After conquering south-eastern Europe in the late 14th century, they imposed the devshirme, or tribute, enslaving the children of the rural poor, on the basis that they were more pagan than Christian, and therefore not subject to the protections Islam gave to People of the Book. Far from resisting this, many parents were happy to deliver their offspring into the white slave elite that ran the empire.

Under this system, enslaved boys climbed the ranks of the army and civil service. Girls entered the harem as concubines to bear sultans. All anticipated, and often earned, power and wealth. Unlike the feudal system of Christian Europe, this one was meritocratic and generated a diverse gene pool. Mehmet II, perhaps the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, who ruled in the 15th century, had the fair skin of his mother, a slave girl from the empire's north-western reaches.

All this ended because of abolition in the West. After severing the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, Western abolitionists turned on the Islamic world's, and within decades had brought down a system that had administered not just the Ottoman empire but the Sherifian empire of Morocco, the Sultanate of Oman with its colonies on the Swahili-speaking coast and West Africa's Sokoto Caliphate.

With Western encouragement, Serb and Greek rebels sloughed off devshirme. Fearful of French ambitions, the mufti of Tunis wooed the British by closing his slave-markets in 1846. A few years later, the sultan in Istanbul followed suit. Some tried to resist, including Morocco's sultan and the cotton merchants of Egypt, who had imported African slaves to make up the shortages left by the ravages of America's civil war. But colonial pressure proved unstoppable. Under Britain's consul-general, Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Egypt's legislative assembly dutifully abolished slavery at the end of the 19th century. The Ottoman register for 1906 still lists 194 eunuchs and 500 women in the imperial harem, but two years later they were gone.

For almost a century the Middle East, on paper at least, was free of slaves. "Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them," proclaimed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990. Early jihadist groups followed the trend, characterising themselves as liberation movements and, as such, rejecting slavery.

But though slavery per se may be condemned, observers point to the persistence of servitude. The Global Slavery Index (GSI), whose estimates are computed by an Australian NGO working with Hull University, claims that of 14 states with over 1% of the population enslaved, more than half are Muslim. Prime offenders range from the region's poorest state, Mauritania, to its richest per head, Qatar.

The criteria and data used by GSI have been criticised, but evidence supports the thrust of its findings. Many Arab states took far longer to criminalise slavery than to ban it. Mauritania, the world's leading enslaver, did not do so until 2007. Where bans exist, they are rarely enforced. The year after Qatar abolished slavery in 1952, the emir took his slaves to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Government inspections and prosecutions are rarities. "The security chiefs, the judges and the lawyers all belong to the class that historically owned slaves," says Sarah Mathewson of London-based Anti-Slavery International. "They are part of the problem."

No labour practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system "facilitates slavery", says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live. The Gulf's 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labour laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer's roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.

Irons and red-hot bars

Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.

Elsewhere in the region, the collapse of law and order provides further cover for a comeback of old practices. Syrian refugee camps in Jordan provide a supply of girls for both the capital's brothels and for Gulf men trawling websites, which offer short-term marriages for brokerage fees of $140-270 each. Trafficking has soared in Libya's Mediterranean ports, which under the Ottomans exported sub-Saharan labour to Europe. Long before Boko Haram kidnapped girls, Anti-Slavery International had warned that Nigerian businessmen were buying "fifth wives"-concubines alongside the four wives permitted by Islam-from neighbouring Niger.

Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait's parliament granted domestic servants labour rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing. And earlier this year Mauritania's government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicise a fatwa by the country's leading clerics declaring: "Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law." Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait's emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.

Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.

Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant labourers building Abu Dhabi's Guggenheim and Louvre museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.

Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labour? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants' own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities.

One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region's persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.

This piece originally identified Mehmet II as caliph. He was a sultan. Sorry for the error.

The Persistence of History Document

Nigerians inspecting aftermath of explosion (file photo)

Police say a girl suicide bomber killed five people in an attack at the crowded entrance to a bus station in Damaturu in northeast Nigeria.

Assistant Superintendent Toyin Gbagedesin says 41 people were wounded in the Tuesday morning explosion.

He says the bomber appeared to be about 14 years old.

Suspicion fell on Boko Haram.

Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremist group has used dozens of girls and women in recent suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, raising fears it is using kidnap victims.

More than 1,000 have been killed since President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in March with a pledge to annihilate the militants.

Girl Suicide Bomber Kills 5, Injures 41 in Nigeria Document

Salim Alaradi with his children. Alaradi was abducted by UAE security forces and detained without charge in 2014.

Canadian family pleads for father detained in the United Arab Emirates: 'torture until I wished for death' Document

August 24, 2015

Rockets fired into Israel caused brushfires after hitting open areas near the Galilee (EPA)

Ambassador Prosor Responds to the Attack from Syria Article