Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gates Welcomes Afghan Leaders for Inaugural Forum

By Lisa Daniel of American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates welcomed Afghanistan's defense and interior ministers to the Pentagon today for the first of what officials expect to be regular meetings to sustain a long-term military-to-military relationship.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center, escorts Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi, left, and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, right, into the Pentagon for a security consultation forum, Feb. 23, 2011. DOD photo by R.D. Ward 
The U.S.-Afghanistan relationship "is bonded in the blood of our sons and daughters," Gates told Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Afghan Interior Minister Besmillah Khan Mohammadi before the three men and their senior staffs began their meeting.
The administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai already has made much progress, and the Afghan national security forces have made "tremendous progress" in helping to secure the country, Gates said. The growth of Afghanistan's army and national police and their increasing ability to lead security operations has been "truly impressive," he added.
More than 5,000 Afghan forces have been killed in action since 2006, the secretary noted, adding that their sacrifice is "something we appreciate and honor."
Wardak said the Afghan casualties "are our patriotic duty," and added that Afghans are "extremely grateful for the sacrifices of your sons and daughters who fought from so far away."
"I strongly believe that our greatest tribute to them will be to realize the objectives of those brave soldiers who paid the ultimate price," he added.
Afghans have "profound gratitude and everlasting appreciation" to the United States, Wardak said. He added to Gates, "We are thankful for your personal engagement and leadership, ... and I believe we will prevail."
Afghan leaders are looking for a closer and stronger relationship with U.S. leaders, Wardak said. "Whatever we have achieved, we could not have accomplished without your support," he said.
Afghanistan had only a very basic foundation when U.S. forces began operations there in the fall of 2001 to drive out the Taliban, and clear progress has taken place since then, Wardak said.
Though plans call for Afghanistan's security forces to be responsible for the entire country's security by the end of 2014, Afghanistan still will need U.S. help, Wardak said. "I do strongly believe that for Afghanistan to survive in that very volatile region, we need your help beyond 2014," he said.
The meeting was the first of the U.S.-Afghanistan Security Consultations Forum, which Gates said he established "as an institution beyond 2014," when U.S. military forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
The forum included Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy; Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and other defense officials to discuss building long-term cooperation between the two countries, as well as issues of immediate importance, according to a Defense Department statement.
The secretary said he hopes the forum would meet twice a year to discuss shared expectations for Afghanistan, to set specific goals and objectives, and to demonstrate to others in the Central Asia region that the U.S.-Afghanistan partnership is putting Afghanistan on a path of improvement.
The meetings included a review of security gains across Afghanistan in 2010, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where improved security provided by a surge of Afghan and NATO forces has enabled greater Afghan freedom of movement, commerce, and development, officials said.
Talks focused on how to build on those gains this year, officials added, particularly in transitioning security to the Afghans.
Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan told reporters that the leaders would meet for several hours today.
"This is looking to the future for a sustained and enduring relationship with Afghanistan as a country, but also with the Afghan security forces," he said.
The Afghan ministers and Gates also will discuss the gains of the last year and what needs to happen in the future to continue the progress, Lapan added.
"What will it look like past 2014?" he said. "These discussions will look beyond at what our relationship will be and what U.S. military support will be needed after that date."
(Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service contributed to this report.)
Robert M. Gates 

Mao Hengfeng has been released in China

We're thrilled to announce that Mao Hengfeng, a prisoner of conscience and recent Write for Rights case, has been released in China! 

Dear Rector,

We have great news to report — Mao Hengfeng was released unexpectedly yesterday, six months before the end of her sentence! She had been detained since March 2010 for protesting the arrest of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent human rights defender and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

This most recent detention was only one of many for Mao. Mao has courageously worked for human rights in China for years, and has suffered torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities.

Mao was featured as a case in Amnesty's 2010 Write for Rights campaign, which generated an incredible number – 636,139 – of appeals, from 51 different countries worldwide, for the release of Mao and other human rights activists. Mao's husband, Wu Xuewei, believes that international pressure was integral to Mao's release, and he sends his thanks to Amnesty for all the campaigning we've all done on Mao's behalf.

This year's Write for Rights campaign has already seen some amazing successes, including the release of Femi Peters in Gambia, and now the release of Mao Hengfeng. We sincerely thank you for your letters, which have already delivered hope for so many.

But we still need your help to free thousands of other human rights activists who suffer unjustly in detention. Donate today to fund Amnesty's work to release prisoners of conscience and defenders of human rights all over the world!


Michael O’Reilly
Senior Campaign Director, Individuals at Risk
Amnesty International USA

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Call for Immediate Arms Embargo and Assets Freeze

Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Amnesty International Statement
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

London : Amnesty International today accused the international community of failing the people of Libya in their hour of greatest need as violence spirals and Colonel al-Gaddafi threatens to “cleanse Libya house by house”. 

The organization said the response to the Libya crisis by  the U.N. Security Council fell shamefully below what was needed to stop the spiralling violence , and called for concrete action, including an immediate arms embargo and assets freeze. 

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday issued a statement calling for an end to the violence and urging Libya to act with restraint and respect human rights, but took no substantive measures. 

Amnesty International  also criticized the African Union, which has not convened its Peace and Security Council to address the human rights crisis in Libya. 

“Colonel al-Gaddafi has publicly made clear his readiness to kill those who oppose him in order to stay in power,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General. 

“This is unacceptable. Colonel al-Gaddafi and all those reporting to him need to know that they will be held personally accountable under international law for the crimes they commit.” 

“His threats make the half-hearted response from the international community even more shocking. What Libyans need now is not mere words of concern but immediate, concrete action.” 

Amnesty International said that as a bare minimum the Security Council must impose an immediate arms embargo against Libya and an asset freeze against al-Gaddafi and his key security and military advisers. 

The call came as Colonel al-Gaddafi gave a speech in which he called protesters “cockroaches” and “rats,” and compared the situation to China, saying that national unity had been “more important than the people of Tiananmen Square." 

Amnesty International also criticized the response of the African Union to the unfolding crisis, which has seen hundreds killed and persistent reports of mercenaries being brought in from African countries by the Libyan leader to violently suppress the protests against him. 

“It is outrageous that the African Union Peace and Security Council has not even met to discuss the emergency taking place in one of its own member states,” said Salil Shetty. 

Amnesty International called on the African Union to ensure that its member states, particularly those bordering Libya, are not complicit in human rights abuses in Libya. 

The organization also urged the Arab League, which yesterday banned Libya from participation in its meetings, to act at once on its public commitments, in particular by launching an independent Arab investigative committee into the crisis in Libya. 

In full, Amnesty International called on: 

·        The United Nations Security Council: to immediately impose an arms embargo on Libya preventing transfer of equipment and personnel, implement an asset freeze against Colonel al-Gaddafi and his senior military and security advisers and state unequivocally that crimes under international law in Libya will be investigated and punished. 

·        The African Union and its member states: to immediately investigate reports that armed elements are being transported from African countries to Libya, acting to secure the land borders into Libya and monitor suspicious flights. 

·        The U.N. General Assembly: to immediately suspend Libya from the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 

·        The UN Human Rights Council: to deploy a fact-finding mission to Libya to make rapid recommendations on human rights abuses and whether a referral to the International Criminal Court is warranted. 

·        Libya and neighboring countries: to facilitate the safe departure of those who wish to leave Libya. 

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.