"As an Arab and Muslim woman, I see no contradiction whatsoever between Islam and the call for democratic governance and respect for human rights...democracy provides a sensible framework for guaranteeing human rights...and is in harmony with the main assumption in Islam that the individual human being is born free and endowed with the freedom of choice regardless of his or her religion, race or identity."
--Amat al-Aleem Alsoswa, The Then Yemeni Minister for Human Rights
The past year brought both heartening progress and challenges to the promotion of democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. New technologies such as the Internet and satellite television widened public access to global information and strengthened internal demands for political participation, clean and responsive government, and broader economic opportunity. The Freedom Agenda found new partners in regional leaders and in a growing number of reform-minded government officials and civil society leaders. The Iraqi people went to the polls three times, in increasing numbers. At the same time authoritarian governments, rebuffing calls for peaceful democratic change, struck back at internal challenges to their monopoly on power. Courageous critics of such regimes continued to speak out despite assassinations, brutal attacks, and incarceration on spurious charges of defamation or treason.
Citing fears of instability or foreign interference, some governments moved to impose Draconian restrictions on reformist civil society groups. Their efforts to weaken the secular opposition often drove frustrated citizens to support the only visible alternative to corruption and inefficiency -- Islamist parties with compelling anti-corruption and good governance platforms and solid social service track records.
The United States used a variety of diplomatic and programmatic tools to strengthen its support for the consolidation of democracy and human rights protections in the region. Through these efforts the people of Iraq continued to build their nascent democracy, despite corruption and high levels of sectarian violence instigated by those who would institute a new dictatorship to replace that of Saddam Hussein. With U.S. support, Iraqis carried out elections that met international standards. This allowed a growing number of Iraqi voters, including members of the Sunni Arab community, to assert their right to participate in national political life, voting in elections and electing members of their community to the Council of Representatives. U.S. experts and outreach programs supported Iraqis who drafted and ratified a new Constitution that reflected growing public support for democratic principles, including protections for fundamental freedoms and human rights, due process, and separation of powers.
Robust private and public advocacy by U.S. officials spotlighted egregious violations such as arrests of peaceful reformers in Syria and Iran, and promoted continued progress through multilateral fora such as the Forum for the Future and the UN. The United States worked with regional and international allies to demand Syrian compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and investigations and to support credible international monitoring of elections around the region.
Buffeted by allegations of complicity in assassinations and kidnapping in Lebanon, President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian regime struggled to contain internal demands for freedom and to rebuff intensifying international scrutiny. The United States supported multilateral pressure on Syria to meet its international obligations and improve its deplorable human rights record, while encouraging calls for peaceful change such as the Damascus Declaration.
Meanwhile, Iran sank further into tyranny and international isolation during the year, turning back limited democratic progress through blatant electoral manipulation and the unblinking repression of dissent and religious and ethnic minorities. It continued to act as a state sponsor of terrorism, to stifle religious freedom, and to foster sectarian divisions and hatred abroad. The United States worked with regional allies to highlight concerns on Iran's human rights performance, and sought to strengthen internal voices of reform.
U.S. assistance programs throughout the region worked to address injustice and past abuses, strengthen democratic civil society organizations, support women's empowerment, and bolster the efforts of reformists within regional governments. Free Trade Agreement negotiations conditioned access to U.S. economic assistance and trade benefits on genuine progress toward labor, good governance and human rights benchmarks. An International Labor Organization official noted that member countries in the region had been "knocking on our door" in 2005 to ask for help with labor reform and protecting worker rights, and several countries in the region are making serious strides to end the use of child jockeys in the hazardous sport of camel racing.
The United States joined leaders such as King Abdullah Al-Hussein of Jordan in calling for increased religious tolerance and respect for religious minorities. Iran and Saudi Arabia were designated as Countries of Particular Concern for continued severe violations of religious freedom. During the year, the United States and Saudi Arabia initiated the Strategic Dialogue to address issues of concern including respect for religion and political, social, and educational reforms. The United States urged Saudi Arabia to widen political participation and to extend greater protections for religious minorities and women. The United States welcomed Saudi Arabia's release of political prisoners following King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud's accession to the throne, as well as steps to widen political participation through municipal council elections. The United States also encouraged governments throughout the region to enhance their efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, particularly of expatriate workers.
Women's Advocacy Groups in Jordan
The foundations of democracy and its critical institutions are built over time, through the efforts of ordinary people longing for a better life and a say in their future. U.S.-supported Women's Advocacy Groups in Jordan work to open the door to that future, provide the skills and knowledge to empower the powerless, and build critical partnerships between a willing government and its people for internal democratic reform.
In tiny neighborhoods in rural and urban areas of the governorates of Jerash, Madaba, and Al-Karak, in partnership with government ministries, the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, and the Queen Zein Al Sharaf Institute for Development, the nongovernmental organization CARE used a small grant from the United States to establish three women's community development centers and provide impoverished women the skills, knowledge, and mechanisms to advocate for their needs and rights.
Participants in the Women's Advocacy Groups — women from traditional, conservative Muslim communities — learned how to resolve practical problems with the critical tools of grassroots democracy: consultation with the community to collect data on public needs, dialogue with government officials and service providers, networking to exchange best practices and address mutual concerns, and fostering public outreach on civic rights and responsibilities. During the 22 months of this project, these women not only mastered new leadership and advocacy skills but quickly used them to push for positive improvements to their communities. Successes included:
The work of these women and their success in mobilizing positive change for their community has been remarkable. This and other civil society projects supported by the United States underscore the energy and enthusiasm of grassroots democrats in the region and the compatibility of democracy and Islam. This support will continue to help build critical democratic skills and empower women to play a key role in advancing democracy in the region.
In 2005, the Government of Algeria again took several important steps to strengthen human rights protections, following over a decade of civil strife and terrorism. As a result of increased human rights training for police and security forces and criminalization of torture, reported abuses by the security forces decreased. Government actions such as the push for national reconciliation and better training for security forces contributed to a decrease in daily violence between the proponents and opponents of an Islamic state, and the overall security situation in the country continued to improve. Revisions to the Family Code and Nationality Code strengthened equal rights protections for women. The Government took significant steps toward reforming the judiciary by investigating corruption; however, corruption in the executive and legislative branches continued to be a serious problem. In an effort to address Kabylie regional concerns, the Government improved its outreach to and relationships with Berber groups. Regional elections in November followed an accord to resolve the problem of under-representation of Kabylie interests in regional and national legislatures.
The Government's respect for human rights in some areas remained problematic. Nearly all cases of disappeared persons remain unresolved. The Ad Hoc Mechanism on the Disappeared, established in 2003, to recommend ways to solve the more than 16,000 cases of disappeared persons in the 1990s, submitted its final report to President Bouteflika in March. This report was not made public. The Mechanism was widely criticized as ineffective and lacking sufficient independence, investigative authority, and impartiality. Alleged abuse and torture of detainees, arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, official impunity, and a continuation of the State of Emergency remained problems. The Government continued to impose restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement during the year. The use of defamation laws and government harassment of the press increased significantly, and the Government held considerable economic leverage over the press. A lack of governmental transparency and judicial independence continued to be problems; the Government also restricted privacy rights and workers' rights.
Supporting human rights and democracy in Algeria was a key objective for the United States. Throughout 2005, the United States encouraged the Government and civil society organizations to move forward on human rights and democracy issues. The Ambassador repeatedly underscored the importance of freedom of the press in both private and public exchanges with high-ranking government officials and nongovernmental leaders. He cautioned that restrictions on press freedom not only harmed Algeria's image abroad, but also hampered the country's democratic development and ability to modernize state institutions. The Ambassador raised the importance of press freedom and responsibility with the Minister of Communication and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, among others. U.S. officials strongly encouraged decriminalizing defamation. To encourage and support press freedom, the United States sponsored training on responsible journalism and greater coverage of critical issues. The Embassy sponsored one conference and three workshops focused on human rights and the media. Through a small grant, the United States also sponsored media training for ministry spokespersons as part of an initiative to promote greater government transparency and press responsibility.
The United States continued to promote reform and independence of the judiciary. Embassy officials used the Commercial Law Development Program to encourage judicial reforms, curb corruption and strengthen adherence to the rule of law. In 2005, with U.S. support, the American Bar Association (ABA) completed an assessment mission on promoting judicial independence. As part of ABA's North Africa program, the United States also supported training for Algerian judges and the expansion of training programs at the National Institute for Magistrates. U.S. officials worked with security forces to encourage internal reforms and self-correction, providing training videos and resource materials on human rights issues and giving lectures at the police academy.
The United States also sponsored programs to strengthen political parties and civil society organizations, train legislators, and build electoral capacity. Activities included organized roundtables, workshops, and study missions to encourage cooperation on issues of mutual concern between groups from different parties and outlooks. Local press coverage of these initiatives increased public awareness of democracy and built support for critical reforms and democratic principles.
The United States encouraged improved human rights practices and protections throughout Algerian society and governmental institutions. The Embassy worked to strengthen its outreach by directly supporting two NGOs that addressed civil society and human rights issues. Embassy officials met with international human rights groups to support the creation of an independent nongovernmental coalition in Algeria to monitor, investigate, document, and advocate on behalf of the missing. Embassy officials continued to meet with the president of the Ad Hoc Mechanism on the Disappeared, encouraging the commission to work closely with human rights NGOs and to support broader civic discourse on human rights issues. The United States urged the Mechanism to publicly release its March report.
The United States supported governmental efforts to fully integrate human rights principles and practices into professional training for the security forces. Seventy-one military officers received instruction in the rule of law and human rights during International Military Education and Training programs in the United States and within Algeria. Increased exchanges between the U.S. and Algerian military enhanced awareness of modern standards of military conduct, fostering respect for internationally recognized human rights standards and practices.
During the year, the Government passed liberalizing amendments to the Nationality Code and Family Code that granted women equal rights to transmit citizenship to a spouse and/or children and extended broader legal protections in the areas of marriage and divorce. The United States also funded a Global Rights regional project with Algerian participants to promote human rights advocacy skills for women and foster capacity building and networking for rural women and women's organizations.
Student exchange programs and the International Visitors Leadership Program also played an important role in U.S. efforts to strengthen democratic awareness and support for fundamental freedoms. During the year, the United States sponsored 65 student leaders and other participants in exchanges promoting democracy, freedom of the press, technology, and free market economy studies.
The United States continued its dialogue on religious freedom with the High Islamic Council, the Council of Algerian Religious Scholars, and representatives of Islamic political parties. The Ambassador underscored the message of religious tolerance by giving several speeches on the theme and continuing to fund two cultural restoration projects with religious significance for both Christians and Muslims.
Algeria was ranked at Tier 2 in the 2005 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for acknowledging and beginning to address its status as a transit country for persons subject to sexual and labor exploitation in Europe. U.S. officials continued to raise our concerns about TIP with the Government of Algeria, particularly the need to screen and protect victims, and encouraged the Government to follow through on its promises to establish an anti-TIP office.
In 2002, Bahrain became a monarchy, adopting a Constitution that reinstated a bicameral legislature consisting of a 40-member Shura (Consultative) Council appointed by the King and a 40-member elected Council of Representatives. Parliament has the authority to propose and review legislation, but the King, as head of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, holds most of the legislative authority. All citizens over the age of 21 have the right to vote. The 2002 legislative elections, the first in nearly three decades, were perceived as generally free and fair despite a boycott by four opposition political societies. (Political parties are not permitted under the law, but in July 2005 the Government passed legislation that legalized political societies.) Both Shi'a and Sunni citizens are represented in the government, although the minority Sunni population plays a dominant role in both politics and the economy. Women ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for office in 2002. Six of the 40 appointed Shura Council members and two of the 20 government ministers are women. Problems remained in the Government's respect for human rights, including impunity for government officials and discrimination against the Shi'a population, women, and third-country nationals. The judiciary lacked full independence. The Government also infringed on the privacy rights of citizens, and in some cases restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association.
Advancing human rights and democracy in Bahrain was a U.S. priority. The United States promoted the rule of law, greater political participation, freedom of the press, judicial reform, civil society development, labor rights and the protection of foreign workers, and actions to combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP). U.S. officials regularly met with Bahraini officials to advocate respect for human rights and a proactive approach to democratization. U.S. officials frequently engaged civil society activists and moderates in the political opposition and encouraged their participation in the political process. The United States advanced economic reforms through diplomatic engagement and the participation of business, labor, and civil society input during the negotiations leading to signing and ratification of the Free Trade Agreement.
U.S. programs worked to strengthen Bahrain's democratic movement and increase civil society's confidence in the electoral system leading up to the 2006 municipal and parliamentary elections. Through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the United States sponsored efforts to help the country's political societies (in the absence of political parties) strengthen their institutional capacity and transparency and better respond to citizens' needs. During the year, the United States hosted eight workshops to increase the participation of youth and women in the political process and facilitated discussions between civil society and Members of Parliament on key legislation and other matters of national interest.
The United States engaged the political societies in dialogue, urging them to become involved in the political process and voice their concerns from within the system. Four political societies, including the most influential Shi'a political society Al-Wifaq, boycotted the 2002 elections and have since remained outside the political system. With encouragement by the United States, all four have now registered under the new Political Societies Law. While there are indications they may drop their boycott, these societies have not publicly declared their intent to participate in the 2006 municipal and parliamentary elections.
The Embassy focused on civic education initiatives as key to long-term consolidation of democracy in Bahrain. In 2005, the Civic Education Program trained over 100 Ministry of Education officials and teachers on a curriculum that will teach students about participation in the community and in government, individual responsibility, and collective problem solving, all core principles of a successful democracy. The United States supported two secondary school pilots using "Arab Civitas," an ongoing regional cooperative learning-based civic education program. In another program, U.S. funding supported the Arabic-language translation of a series of civic education storybooks for the primary grades and training for teachers on using the texts. The United States also helped train over 250 primary teachers on how to promote critical thinking skills using Arabic-language translations of American children's fiction. The Microscholarships Program sponsored the attendance of over 70 Bahraini high school students in English language classes that emphasized skills that students need in a democracy such as critical thinking, and encouraged targeted discussions about topics such as the U.S. Constitution. During 2005, the United States also sponsored three senior specialists from the Ministry of Education on an International Visitors Leadership Program on civic education and curriculum reform.
Freedom of expression and press liberties were priorities for the United States in Bahrain. U.S. programs trained dozens of Bahraini journalists during the year in investigative journalism and on the role of media in society, working to promote broader and more balanced coverage of political and social issues. The United States helped establish the University of Bahrain's first student-run radio station. During the past two years, the Embassy sent several journalists as International Visitors to study the role of the media in a democracy and responsibilities of an investigative journalist. A U.S. grant supported an assessment of the country's state television that led to recommendations to transform Bahrain Radio and Television into a public broadcaster with editorial independence.
Embassy officers met regularly with leaders of various civil society organizations focused on women's rights, youth, human rights, labor, and transparency in government. The United States provided a small grant to the Bahrain Transparency Society to support management training for some of these groups. Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, participated in the Forum for the Future conference in Bahrain and were instrumental in establishing the Foundation for the Future to support the development of civil society.
Judicial reform was another priority, supported through a multi-faceted project facilitating reforms within the Bahraini Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The project trained two senior judges as trainers in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and conducted the first ADR training in the country for judges, lawyers, and senior government officials. The Economic Development Board began integration of ADR into the settlement of labor cases. In consultation with project consultants, the MOJ amended its rules of civil procedure and related legislation to expedite administration of justice. Also through this project, the Ministry introduced advances in technology to reduce or eliminate case backlogs that impede citizens' access to justice. These included a scanning system for court records and a digital audio court-reporting system pilot that will be expanded to all of Bahrain's courtrooms during the next year. The project also supported the development of a Judicial Training Institute and conducted TIP training for judges and prosecutors, judicial clerk training for law students, and case management training for judges.
After the King called for the creation of a family law ensuring greater protection of women's legal rights, the government-funded Supreme Council for Women spearheaded a supportive media campaign on the issue. A subsequent U.S.-funded regional conference drew together women participants from Bahrain and the region to review personal status laws. The Embassy also reached out to encourage human rights organizations and activists, including women and youth, to network and leverage their efforts in support of the proposal.
The United States monitored religious freedom through regular meetings with representatives of different sects and minority faiths. To foster better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and among Muslim sects in the country, the Embassy sponsored the visit of a prominent imam from Georgetown University to Bahrain. He met with a broad range of interlocutors including clerics, government officials, and members of the public. He delivered lectures promoting tolerance by describing Muslim life in America and gave interviews to the local media.
Approximately 60% of the country's work force are expatriates, and some foreign workers, especially domestic workers, were victims of trafficking. The 2005 TIP Report placed Bahrain on the Tier 2 Watch List, noting insufficient progress in extending labor law protection to domestic workers, prosecuting traffickers, and educating the public on trafficking and the rights of foreign workers. In official exchanges, the United States consistently underscored the importance of combating abuse of foreign domestic workers by affording them labor law protections, establishing a fast-track court for labor exploitation cases and encouraging victims to participate in legal prosecutions against their employers. During the year, a U.S.-funded NGO visited the country for an initial assessment of anti-TIP needs in the areas of legislation, law enforcement training, and public outreach.
The Government of Egypt introduced some important reforms during the year, including the first annual report of the National Council for Human Rights, a constitutional amendment to permit the direct election of the president in multi-party elections rather than a yes-no referendum, and a presidential decree to ease restrictions on church repair. However, the Government's respect for human rights and the overall human rights situation remained poor. Significant human rights problems included limitations on citizens' ability to change the government and broad use of a decades-old Emergency Law, including the use of emergency courts and indefinite administrative detentions. The Government's commitment to protecting and expanding human rights was called into question by the prosecution and conviction of an opposition leader, Ayman Nour; by persistent and credible reports of abuse and torture, including deaths at police stations and in prisons; and by police violence against Sudanese refugees and against opposition protesters and voters during parliamentary elections. A culture of impunity discouraged systematic prosecution of security personnel who committed human rights abuses. There were arbitrary and sometimes mass arrests and detentions, poor prison conditions, executive influence over the judiciary, some restrictions on religious freedom, corruption, a lack of transparency, and societal discrimination against women and religious minorities, including Coptic Christians and Baha'is.
The referendum on the constitutional amendment to allow for multi-party presidential elections was tainted by low turnout and violence by government supporters. Critics of the amendment cited the inclusion of barriers to meaningful participation by opposition parties and independents, including continued restrictions on the licensing and operation of Islamist parties. Parliamentary elections in November and December were marred by low turnout, vote buying, rigging, and violence by the ruling National Democratic Party, which maintained its dominance in national politics with an overriding majority in the People's Assembly and the partially elected Shura (Consultative) Council. Independent candidates affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood became Egypt's largest parliamentary opposition with 20% of the seats.
At least 27 Sudanese protestors were killed on December 30 when security forces removed a group of several thousand protestors from a Cairo park. The United States worked closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and government officials to facilitate re-evaluations of refugee status claims, discourage summary deportations, and alleviate suffering. The Government took no immediate steps to discipline or otherwise prosecute members of security forces responsible for this violence or other instances of violence against protestors. Although many opposition critics called for the resignation of the Interior Minister, the President reappointed him to his position during a year-end cabinet reshuffle.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy addressed human rights problems and supported efforts to build a more robust civil society, promote the rule of law, and encourage the growth of democratic institutions, including an independent media. In 2005, the President and the Secretary of State made clear statements of U.S. support for democracy and human rights in Egypt. During a May 7 speech in Latvia, the President said Egypt's presidential election should "proceed with international monitors and rules that allow for a real campaign." On June 26 in Cairo, the Secretary of State called upon the Egyptian Government to "fulfill the promise it has made to its people—and to the entire world—by giving its citizens the freedom to choose." The Secretary of State also called for the rule of law to replace emergency decrees and for an independent judiciary to replace arbitrary justice, expressing concern "for the future of Egypt's reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy—men and women—are not free from violence." Emphasizing the importance of international standards, she also said, "Egypt's elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election" and called for voting "without violence or intimidation."
Other senior U.S. officials pressed the Government throughout the year, urging lifting of the Emergency Law and other critical political reforms. In official exchanges, senior U.S. officials raised concerns about civil society development, political participation (including electoral reform), and basic political rights, as well as the prosecution and conviction of opposition leader Ayman Nour.
U.S. programs focused on promoting greater participation, accountability, and scrutiny for presidential and parliamentary elections. U.S. democracy programs supported international and Egyptian NGOs working to improve Egypt's electoral processes. Several major U.S. nongovernmental democracy institutes began programs in 2005, playing a critical role in training and funding the electoral activities of Egyptian civil society organizations monitoring the polls. Providing funds directly to a variety of Egyptian civil society groups, the United States supported several domestic election monitoring initiatives, whose 5,000 observers enabled unprecedented domestic scrutiny of the elections. Achievements through U.S. support also included the organization of several international election assessment missions. U.S. funding helped train broadcast and press journalists in election coverage, supported preparation of a voters' information guide by the Egyptian State Information Service, established an NGO network focusing on voters education, supported another NGO network advocating greater access by the disabled to voting places, and organized several high-level discussions on elections and political reform. National election commissions established to oversee presidential and parliamentary elections were criticized for their lack of independence and consistency; they declined U.S. offers of technical assistance.
The year saw positive developments for freedom of the press and expression, with the media, opposition figures, and civil society voicing unprecedented public criticism of the government and its policies. The campaign period prior to September's presidential election was marked by vigorous public debate and greater political awareness and engagement. Domestic media coverage of the elections, particularly regarding violence in the last round, was comprehensive and accurate.
The United States funded a new effort to promote greater independence and professionalism in the media and assist Egyptian television, radio, print, and electronic media to improve professionalism, sustainability, and diversity. The program built training capacity to promote the development of journalists, mid-career professionals and managers, and improve the economic viability of media. It was also intended to strengthen local media and support legal, regulatory, and policy reform. U.S. support for journalist workshops, including one for 32 women journalists looking at the political participation of women, also helped improve media awareness and coverage of human rights and political reform initiatives.
Other U.S. democracy and governance programs promoted the participation of marginalized groups in decision-making at the local level, trained student union leaders to become more engaged in political processes, promoted the civil and political participation of people with disabilities, fostered greater political participation by Bedouins and migrants in South Sinai, and promoted democratic engagement and empowerment of women, youth, and poor farmers in marginalized rural and urban communities. Still other U.S. programs provided legal aid to victims of human rights violations among prisoners, detainees, and their families and reinforced understanding among religious leaders of the importance of democratic practices, human rights, and participation in politics and civil society.
The new Egyptian NGO Support Center, an institution designed to strengthen civil society organizations developed through a major U.S. assistance project, played an important role during the year. It quickly put into place key structures, including its vision statement, board, committees, and leadership, and prepared plans and proposals for multi-donor funding and sustaining project functions and services. The new Center, with U.S. and international support, is fully committed to providing assistance to civil society in advocacy, improved internal governance, and effective management.
In other initiatives to strengthen civil society, the United States supported Egyptian organizations working on human rights, religious tolerance, and women's and children's issues. The Embassy awarded several dozen small grants to support local, grassroots initiatives, including training for youth activists, support for both model parliamentary workshops and a model U.S. Congress program at Cairo University, legal systems training and exchanges for lawyers and judges, civic education summer camps, and programs focused on women's and children's rights. The 2005 International Visitors Leadership Program supported exchanges on subjects relating to human rights, civil society, good governance, and women's issues.
A bilateral democracy assistance agreement signed in 2005 included a decentralization initiative, which will maximize the collection and retention of local revenue by pilot governorates, promote national policy reform to increase local autonomy, strengthen mechanisms for citizen participation around local decision-making, and build the capacity of local governments to manage revenue.
U.S. programs supported a nationwide reform of the judicial system, with a pilot program streamlining court procedures and enhancing judicial transparency. The bilateral assistance agreement also initiated a program to provide more effective assistance of counsel to criminal defendants and improve administration of criminal justice through development of a public defense system and a human rights curriculum for prosecutors and judges as well as automation of selected areas of the Prosecutor General's Office. Under an ongoing criminal justice project with the Egyptian Prosecutor General's Office, Egyptian judges and prosecutors visited the United States to study best practices and network with U.S. federal judges.
The United States urged the Government to grant due process of law to all citizens and raised specific concerns about the issue of the Government requiring notation of religious affiliation on national identity cards, a practice that adversely affects citizens who wish to convert away from Islam and members of religions not recognized by the Government. U.S. officials also raised concerns about discrimination against Egypt's Christians, Baha'is, and other religious minorities. The Embassy maintained excellent relations with representatives of Egypt's various religious communities. Embassy officers also monitored the trial of Ayman Nour, convicted in December of forging documents for the Ghad Party's registration.
Egypt was ranked in Tier 2 in the 2005 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report as a transit country into Israel for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Government is building upon cooperation with Bedouin tribes to prevent trafficking through the Sinai. In January 2006, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak brought attention to the issue of TIP at a conference in Greece coordinated by her organization, Women's International Peace Movement.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic, constitutional republic dominated by Shi'a religious leaders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dominates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, directly controls the armed forces, and indirectly controls internal security forces. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a four-year term after a flawed election in 2005 and heads the executive branch. Hard-liners dedicated to the maintenance of the Islamic Republic blocked the legislative agenda of the previous "reformist" government led by President Khatami, closed down many of the reformist newspapers, and banned an attempt to start up a nongovernmental satellite station. They also physically injured, arrested, or intimidated supporters in the streets, impeached or otherwise intimidated some of Khatami's ministers, and stripped sitting members of the legislature of their rights as deputies, including the ability to run for re-election. The process of silencing the national debate on civil reforms initiated by Khatami's election in 1997 was all but complete by 2005. Inevitably, the election of a hard-line legislature and government that emphasized revolutionary dogma negatively impacted the human rights of average Iranians. In 2005, the Government committed a number of serious human rights abuses. Summary executions, discrimination based on ethnicity and religion, harassment and arrest of journalists and bloggers, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread use of torture, and other degrading treatment remained problems.
Violence and a brutal crackdown in which dozens were killed or injured accompanied protests by ethnic Arabs in Khuzestan in April 2005 and by ethnic Kurds in northwestern Iran in the summer of 2005. The Government continued to detain and torture dissidents and individuals exercising freedom of expression, including scores of political prisoners. Imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, arrested in April 2000, was hospitalized on July 17, 40 days into a 70-day hunger strike protesting his six-year sentence on charges of collecting confidential state documents to jeopardize state security and spreading propaganda. He has reportedly been tortured. At the end of the year, he was being held in solitary confinement in a high security section of the notorious Evin prison. Iranian bloggers continued to endure arrest and stiff penalties for expressing their ideas on the Internet. On February 2, Internet writer and journalist Arash Sigarchi received a sentence of 14 years in prison on charges including espionage, aiding "hostile" governments, and insulting the country's leaders. He was released pending appeal on March 17 after posting $127,000 bail. There were also reports of executions based on charges of homosexuality, but details remained difficult to verify.
The Government continued to discriminate against and arrest members of the Baha'i religious community. Other religious and ethnic minority groups, including Jews, Christians, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims faced continued social, political, and economic discrimination. Reports of women sentenced to death by stoning continue, but there were no confirmed reports that sentences were carried out.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy centered on urging friends and allies to condition improvement in bilateral and trade relations on positive changes in Iran's human rights policies. The United States worked to advance UN and other international resolutions condemning Iran's human rights record and practices and publicly highlighted the Government's abuse of its citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms. Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, it continued a multi-faceted effort to support the Iranian people's aspirations to live in a democratic country where human rights are respected. The United States also supported in various ways the continuing efforts of the Iranian people to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms.
In 2005, for a third year in a row, the United States co-sponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 60th Plenary condemning the human rights situation in Iran. This sent an important signal to the Iranian people and their Government that serious concerns regarding Iran's overall behavior would not overshadow concerns regarding the internal human rights situation.
The United States also regularly raised concerns about Iran's poor human rights record during consultations with allies, urging that these be raised during any formal human rights dialogue or other bilateral contact with the Government. U.S. policy consistently called for Iran to respect the human rights of its citizens, and all public statements reflected this core issue. President Bush and senior-level U.S. officials repeatedly expressed support for the Iranian people in their quest for freedom, democracy, and a more transparent and accountable government. U.S. officials regularly met with individuals and members of various groups suffering human rights abuses in Iran, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Iran and the Report on International Religious Freedom. The Secretary of State also re-designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Under current law, Iran is ineligible for most assistance from the U.S. Government. However, in 2005 the United States renewed a grant to document abuses inside Iran under the limited special authority granted by Congress. This program provided sub-grants to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, NGOs, and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights. The project sought to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as an important component of democratization in Iran. In addition to this grant, other U.S.-funded programs promoted respect for human rights and advocacy for freedom of assembly, free speech, and political participation. During the past two years, the United States directed four million dollars to projects that promote respect for human rights and empower citizens in their call for more representative political participation.
In addition, the United States supported the advancement of democracy and human rights standards inside Iran through NGOs and funded Voice of America radio and television broadcasts into Iran, a website in Persian to speak directly to the Iranian people about U.S. policy, and Persian-language Radio Farda, which operated 24 hours a day.
Iran was believed to be a source, transit, and destination country for sexual exploitation and labor-related trafficking in persons (TIP). Although lack of access prohibited a full assessment of official anti-TIP efforts, Iran has taken measures to sign memoranda of understanding with source countries and international NGOs to prevent TIP. Victims of trafficking have access to counseling, legal, and health services. The United States has encouraged Iran to improve screening of TIP victims to distinguish them from illegal immigrants and to pursue cooperation with neighboring countries to monitor borders.
Iraq is a republic with a recently elected democratic government. After the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime and the interim administration of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Iraqi Interim Government assumed power following the 2004 transfer of sovereignty. Historic elections and the first step in the formation of the Iraqi Transitional Government took place on January 30. In two subsequent polls, voters not only adopted a Constitution on October 15, but also elected a new parliament under that Constitution on December 15. The elections and referendum were regarded as free and fair, and they were critical steps in Iraq's democratic process. During the past year, unsettled conditions prevented effective governance in parts of the country and the Government's human rights performance was handicapped by insurgency, sectarian violence, and terrorism. Elements of the security forces and those employed by the Government frequently acted independently of governmental authority; some committed serious human rights violations.
To combat these conditions, the United States supported the formation of a government and development of institutional safeguards for democracy and human rights, underscoring the importance of an inclusive and responsive government in preventing abuses and ensuring stability. Toward this goal, the United States employed a variety of diplomatic and programmatic tools in support of good governance, rule of law, institutional capacity, independent media, civil society, human rights, and democracy. Senior U.S. officials worked to ensure that different segments of Iraqi society, including minorities, women, and political parties not represented in the Government, remained constructively engaged in the political process.
The United States supported the Government's conduct of three major electoral events during the year: January elections for a Transitional National Assembly, the October constitutional referendum, and the December parliamentary elections. The United States helped build the capacity of political parties across the spectrum, trained and supported the deployment of accredited domestic monitors throughout the country for each election and for the referendum, and implemented a comprehensive, nationwide voter education and get-out-the-vote campaign with a special focus on women and outreach to Sunni Arab areas.
At the national level, the United States helped support the elected legislature's development of new processes, rules of procedures, and regulations. The U.S. also strengthened legislators' capacity to craft legislation, offer constituent services, and strengthen oversight of governmental institutions. The United States funded over 10,000 educational events on the Constitution involving over 300,000 participants, supported female National Assembly members and provincial and civic leaders advocating constitutional protections for women's rights, and fostered youth participation in the political process.
The United States promoted participatory, representative and accountable government in rural and urban communities nationwide, working to prevent and mitigate conflict across gender, ethnic, and religious lines. Often working through provincial and regional reconstruction teams, the United States supported local government capacity-building projects in Iraq's major cities and all 18 governorates. Reconstruction teams supported improvements in the rule of law, promoted political and economic development, and fostered improved service capacity in provincial administrations.
The United States supported the establishment of the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA), the first independent commercial news agency in Iraq. NINA covered the constitutional referendum, the elections, and Saddam Hussein's trial. NINA's website received over 100,000 visits per month. The BBC and other international media credit NINA as a news source for their own coverage.
The United States further promoted media freedom and development through training over 1,000 journalists and media managers on subjects ranging from investigative journalism to strategic media management. U.S. training focused on building skills to produce informative and responsible reporting by a professional, independent press. Programs included an October program for journalists in Baghdad and the visit of seven journalists to the United States in July. The Embassy sponsored regular events at the International Press Center. The United States also supported the development of "Iraqis for Public Broadcasting" (IPB), a civil society media watchdog group that monitors programming on the Independent Media Network. IPB successfully advocated for balanced reporting and for adjusting public broadcast program scheduling to ensure members of the opposition, including prominent Sunni personalities, had a voice in the political process.
Civic education programs supported by the United States promoted democratization and civil society development. Training, technical assistance, and outreach to civil society organizations benefited more than 2,400 NGOs and 40,000 citizens (38% of whom were women), resulting in organizations better equipped to advocate for good government and human rights protections. Four civil society resource centers were opened to reach out to all of Iraq's 18 governorates. These serve as regional hubs for capacity-building services for Iraqi NGOs, providing training to strengthen operational competencies, enable advocacy and awareness-raising on specific issues, encourage the building of networks and coalitions, and foster inter-institutional policy dialogues and productive engagement between NGOs and the Government. In partnership with local organizations, the centers sponsored a variety of anti-corruption, independent media, civic education, human rights, and women's advocacy activities. The United States also facilitated broad participation in public dialogues, promoted interaction between citizens and public officials to encourage responsive and accountable local government, and provided start-up resources and training to strengthen the institutional capacity of grassroots organizations.
The United States supported Iraqi efforts to strengthen the rule of law and ensure an independent and impartial judicial system. U.S. programs provided training to judges on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, international human rights law, and anti-corruption initiatives. The United States also provided technical guidance and support to the Ministry of Justice to enhance the judiciary's effectiveness. U.S. programs were directed at improving the skills of judiciary officials as well as more efficient judicial processes and a culture of lawfulness. The United States worked closely with the UN and the EU to establish a Rule of Law Working Group chaired by the Chief Justice of Iraq.
The United States assisted the Iraqi people in efforts to improve the climate for the protection of fundamental human rights and dignity in Iraq. In response to the recent discovery of serious prisoner abuse and torture in Iraqi security ministry facilities, senior U.S. officials encouraged and supported ongoing government inspections of all Iraqi detention facilities. The United States supported a strong human rights and rule of law component in the training of all Iraqi police forces, and U.S. police personnel mentored their Iraqi counterparts, reinforcing the importance of respecting human rights.
The United States worked to strengthen protections for human rights both in the Government and through NGOs addressing human rights issues. U.S. programs supported the opening of the Human Rights Education Center in Baghdad, sponsored human rights workshops for officials, and supported the National Center for Missing and Disappeared Persons. U.S. grants to NGOs allowed for the treatment and reintegration of victims of torture, collection and documentation of human rights abuses committed by the former regime, enhanced awareness of human rights standards throughout society, and the development and strengthening of human rights organizations.
The United States supported the Iraq Property Claims Commission (IPCC), established in 2004 as an independent commission designed to resolve claims for real property confiscated, forcibly acquired, or otherwise taken for less than fair value by the former regime for reasons other than land reform or lawfully applied eminent domain. U.S. support included training in public relations and a capacity building program managed by the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The IPCC operated under Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law, which addresses procedures to remedy injustices of the former regime including forced migration and the altering of certain regional demographic populations. Through bilateral assistance to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and multilateral assistance to UN partners, the United States also enhanced legal and physical protections for refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons.
The United States placed a high priority on the issue of equality for women in Iraq, supporting this goal through diplomatic advocacy and programming. The U.S.-funded Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative provided women with training and education in the skills and practices of democratic public life. The U.S.-Iraqi Women's Network, a public-private partnership, linked Iraqi NGO representatives and business leaders with American counterparts, strengthening Iraqi women's skills and participation in the political and economic life of their country. The United States held workshops for women political leaders, including members of the Transitional National Assembly, and sponsored more than 60 regional meetings and workshops across Iraq on women's rights and women in the political process and civil society. The United States also sponsored delegations of Iraqi women to two sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
U.S. officials regularly engaged with Iraqi religious leaders and officials to urge that legal protections for minority rights and freedom of religion be respected. The United States supported seminars, conferences, and interfaith dialogue aimed at uniting religious groups against violence and fostering an environment of tolerance, particularly between the Sunnis and Shi'a, as well as towards Christians and others.
The United States acted to prevent trafficking in persons (TIP) in Iraq, distributing information and working with officials to increase awareness of TIP issues. A component on TIP was developed for inclusion in basic police training, and trafficking assessments in various areas of Iraq were supported.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy; the Constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the King. During the year, three changes of government occurred. On November 27, King Abdullah Al-Hussein approved the most recent cabinet under Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who replaced outgoing Prime Minister Adnan Badran. King Abdullah charged the new cabinet with advancing reform while at the same time bolstering Jordan's security in the wake of the November 9, 2005, Amman hotel bombings, which killed 60 people. In 2005 the Government respected human rights, though its overall record continued to reflect problems. The National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), a human rights commission established by King Abdullah in 2003, produced its first report during the year, in which it ranked Jordan "good" at the planning and policy level, "acceptable" in economic, social, and cultural rights, and "poor" in civil and political rights. While the Government sought to promote social and political reform, progress lagged in some areas. Citizens' right to change their Government remained restricted. Official restrictions on the rights of women and social discrimination against women continued, as did restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Citizens participated in the political process through their elected representatives in parliament. The Royal Commission for the National Agenda completed a 10-year comprehensive reform plan; the Government is now studying the plan and preparing implementing legislation.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy strives to promote rule of law and legal reform, civil society development, civic participation in the political process, and women's rights. Through a broad portfolio of programs, the United States worked in close collaboration with its Jordanian counterparts to: increase citizen participation in the political, economic, and social development of the country; increase the capacity of the Parliament to promote transparency and accountability within the institution; strengthen independent media; improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial system; strengthen the rights of women; and increase religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and tolerance.
The United States implemented this strategy through direct dialogue with the Jordanian Government; through training; through civilian, government, and military exchanges; and through the publication of reports on human rights, labor, and religious freedom.
U.S. assistance programs served as a catalyst for democratic reform in Jordan. Programs helped modernize Parliament's research department. U.S. assistance improved the ability of the legislature to conduct meaningful monitoring and evaluation of public expenditures and increased transparency and accountability within key committees of Parliament. The United States funded programs to assist political parties in Jordan, improving the ability of the parties to develop platforms, diversify membership, and more effectively advocate for the passage of legislation in line with party values and objectives. A number of U.S. exchange programs facilitated the visit of Jordanian parliamentarians to the United States to study American legislative models and create partnerships with American institutions. Other U.S. efforts, such as the Millennium Challenge Account and the Forum, Foundation, and Fund for the Future, also advanced the human rights and democracy goals of the United States and provided incentives and support for reform efforts in Jordan.
U.S. assistance helped to develop and field-test civic education modules to educate Jordan's youth on the responsibilities of citizens in the democratic process. Jordanians improved their understanding of democracy and governance through exposure to and participation in three U.S.-funded comprehensive national polls conducted on democracy, the rule of law, and participation in the legislative process. Other U.S. programs supported training English teachers in the use of a content-based pedagogy that focused on civic education and social studies.
Several U.S. initiatives created linkages between American and Jordanian journalism training programs in order to enhance journalistic standards and to exchange experiences and expertise. These projects helped create new curriculum modules and developed the skills of a Jordanian university's journalism faculty and students. The United States also supported a half-dozen workshops and seminars over the year that helped participants broaden their understanding of how freedom influences the media's role in topics ranging from "Access to Information" to "Media and Good Governance." The United States also translated, published, and distributed a number of American books on the role of a free and responsible media in democratic societies throughout Jordan and the region.
U.S. programs aimed at promoting respect for the rule of law improved court efficiency while simultaneously promoting greater accountability and transparency in the judicial system. U.S. assistance facilitated the efforts of leading stakeholders to draft and adopt Jordan's first comprehensive code of judicial conduct. Technical assistance contributed to the Government of Jordan's development of a new Arabic-language case management system and to its implementation in over 60% of the courts in Amman. Approximately 500 judges, lawyers, and court staff received training on the new automated system, and cumbersome, manual filing procedures are being reengineered based on the new technology. The new system significantly reduced case backlogs in three pilot courts, and public opinion polls indicated that 70% of those surveyed expressed greater satisfaction with court services in the pilot courts, compared with a 43% satisfaction rate with courts overall. The number of litigants who received timely court notices increased by 84%.
U.S. programs promoted greater judicial independence in Jordan through the drafting of a detailed action plan for building the capacity of the Judicial Council to become the driver for legal reform in Jordan. Programs aimed at modernizing Jordan's judicial training facility succeeded in improving decision-making skills for the judiciary. Exchanges for lawyers, law students, and Shari'a court judges exposed Jordan's judiciary to American legal institutions and helped to introduce American legal models into the Jordanian system. One linkage program introduced alternative dispute resolution and presented a model for criminal justice reform.
The United States continued to work with the quasi-independent NCHR, which published its first report on the status of human rights in Jordan during the year. In April, the United States sponsored a capacity-building workshop at the NCHR to benefit local NGOs working to improve human rights in Jordan. Other efforts, including a number of U.S. exchange programs, worked to strengthen local NGOs. These programs focused on fostering networking and cooperation between groups working to promote democratic reform and human rights norms, and on strengthening their capacities to inform and communicate with national decision-making institutions to encourage reform. U.S. officials often received invitations to local NGO activities and regularly attended these events, regardless of U.S. sponsorship.
Programs designed to advance and promote the role of women in society succeeded during the year. As an example, women leaders established an organization in the Tafileh governorate with the cooperation of Jordan's only female mayor. The United States supported programs that reduced violence against women and funded an annual anti-violence campaign with events held across Jordan. The United States supported and organized numerous training and exchange programs that developed the skills of female trade union leaders. Several civil society roundtable discussions with female leaders were held during the year, usually coinciding with the visits of high profile U.S. officials and civil society leaders. Examples of these events included roundtable discussions held with the First Lady, former Ambassador Hunt, and the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations.
One of the primary purposes of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program in Jordan is to strengthen bilateral relations by exposing members of Jordan's military to the U.S. democratic system and to raise awareness and respect for human rights. With the exception of very short technical courses, all courses under the IMET program included seminars on U.S. Government, judiciary, and culture. Students in short-term courses visited local courthouses and state or local legislatures. Long-term students visited Washington and received briefings from Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. All Professional Military Education courses included a bloc of instruction on the Law of War. Additionally, the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program taught Jordanian military personnel how to combat terrorism while respecting the rule of law, human rights, and civil rights. In 2005, approximately 300 Jordanians received U.S.-funded training through these programs.
Working to promote religious freedom and tolerance in Jordan, the United States sponsored numerous exchange visits and two major regional conferences that encouraged interfaith dialogue and understanding. In November, one of these conferences brought together Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders from the region and from the United States. The conference culminated with an interfaith breaking of the fast to end Ramadan and with the endorsement of a joint message supporting tolerance and moderation in all religions. Another U.S. grant supported collaboration between Middle Eastern and American colleges and universities by creating a series of exchange programs, seminars, and workshops focused on the role of religion and on Islam in the United States.
A multi-year project to strengthen social dialogue and address labor administration and labor/management relations continued during 2005. The project included the successful creation of a Jordanian Economic and Social Council, and the establishment, within the Ministry of Labor, of a Tripartite National Committee. The United States informed the Government of Jordan of its concern over child labor and trafficking in persons.
Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the al-Sabah family, which governs in consultation with prominent families and community leaders. The 1962 Constitution grants the Emir executive and legislative authority and permits dissolution of the elected National Assembly by decree. The Prime Minister proposes candidates for ministerial positions, subject to approval by the Emir. Kuwait has a population of 2.9 million residents, approximately 970,000 of whom are citizens. The rest are expatriate workers and their dependents. During the July 2003 parliamentary elections, the electorate consisted of approximately 143,000 male citizens, and there were no political parties. Within these parameters and recognizing that the Government and the opposition reportedly bought votes, the elections were generally considered to have been free and fair. In a historic and long-awaited development, the National Assembly passed a law in 2005 granting women the right to vote and run for office; however, women were not eligible to vote in the June 2 Municipal Council elections because the annual February voter registration period had passed. The elected National Assembly at times influenced or overturned government decisions.
The Government improved its human rights record by granting women the right to vote; however, serious problems remained. The law provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial; however, the Emir appoints all judges, and the Ministry of Justice must approve the renewal of most judicial appointments. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. The parliament and press engaged in lively debate, although they are forbidden from criticizing the fundamentals of religion and the state, and the licensing of new daily newspapers was impossible in practice. Freedom of worship continued to be protected, though Shi'a Muslims and Christian groups have faced difficulties in obtaining permission to build appropriate places for worship. Expatriate laborers continued to face significant violations of their human rights due to Kuwaiti labor laws and practices.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in Kuwait was multi-faceted, involving study tours to the U.S., Embassy outreach, U.S. speakers, cultural events, and digital video conferences between Kuwaiti and American students, journalists, subject experts, and government officials. The United States worked to inculcate the values of democracy and participatory civil society, especially among youth and women, through support of NGOs, International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP), and educational and training programs. Trafficking in persons (TIP) continued to be a significant human rights issue in Kuwait. A major focus of the Embassy's activities in 2005 was raising awareness about this problem in Kuwaiti society.
In 2005, the United States implemented a number of educational and professional development programs to promote democracy and strengthen civil society. The "Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders" program helped emerging leaders to gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the democratic political process. The program taught young people about American social and political values through a combination of academic study, meetings, lectures, and roundtable discussions with American civic leaders and academics. Students also learned about civic participation through experiential learning, community service, and meeting average Americans. A similar program based in Kuwait, "Junior Achievement," exposed young Kuwaitis to the American system of commerce, rule of law, and participatory governance. To further young Kuwaitis' exposure to democratic values and the role of civil society, the Embassy sent 13 Kuwaiti high school students on the Partnership for Learning Youth Exchange & Study Program. The students spent their third year of high school in the United States, where they took civics and social studies classes to learn about American democratic values. An English-language micro-scholarship program for ninth- and tenth-graders helped to instill the values of democracy and civic participation through in-class elections and community service projects.
Parliamentary elections in 2007 are expected to mark the first time in Kuwait's history that women will fully participate in the political process. The United States, in cooperation with the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, provided training to Kuwaiti women and men on campaign strategies, including platform development, working with the media, and advocacy. This U.S.-supported training brought together women and activists from different backgrounds in support of women's political rights. A U.S. grant also funded the research and production of a brochure detailing discrimination against women in the law and encouraging their political awareness. Other efforts by the United States to promote the full participation of Kuwaiti women in society included recruitment of young women to participate in "U.S. Business Internships for Young Middle Eastern Women." This program's goal was to further empower women to be active and influential in their communities by participating in a month-long business administration course and a three-month internship with an American company.
Kuwait is currently considering a new Press and Publications Law. In an effort to encourage media freedom, the United States implemented programs to increase Kuwaiti reporters' exposure to U.S. counterparts and encourage objective reporting on people, policies, and events, as well as on American media practices and American society. The Embassy arranged for a journalist and parliamentary staffer to participate in an IVLP on the "Foreign Policy Decision-Making Process" in April 2005. The program addressed U.S. foreign policy formulation, including the role of the press, a free media and free speech. Throughout the year, U.S. officials actively engaged with the media by organizing visits to observe and accurately report on Coalition efforts in the Gulf, Coalition humanitarian assistance in Pakistan, and other cooperative efforts in the region. Journalists were regularly invited to the Embassy for interviews with U.S. officials and for video teleconference discussions on key foreign policy issues.
NGOs in Kuwait operate in a difficult environment. Dozens are allowed to operate, but NGOs must apply to the Government for the right to exist and operate, and the Government has used this power to restrict the reach and effectiveness of the NGO sector. To strengthen the country's NGO community, the United States funded a number of programs through a small grants program. In one project, a Kuwaiti NGO carried out a study on how the Government's budgeting affects women. Another NGO conducted a survey that measured support for women's political rights. In the interest of strengthening civil society, the Embassy awarded a grant to a local group to produce a series of civic-minded films by young filmmakers. Another U.S.-funded NGO created a summer entrepreneurial and civic action training program for youth.
The United States funded several projects to support the rule of law in Kuwait through IVLP exchanges. The Embassy sent a female lawyer on a program entitled "Promoting Rule of Law and Judicial Reform," not only to learn about the U.S. legal system but also to observe it in practice. The program stressed legal programs to safeguard the rule of law and fundamental human rights. The Embassy arranged for Kuwaiti participation in other exchanges that focused on promoting rule of law and international security, including a program titled, "Combating International Crime."
More informal means of promoting democratic values and practices included movie nights, representational events, and roundtable discussions at American Corners at local universities. The Embassy screened several films that showcased community activism and civic participation to young people and political activists. The events have been among the Embassy's most popular outreach activities, and the Embassy purchased extra copies of the films for distribution. The Ambassador hosted a series of representational events on the themes of religious freedom, human rights, and women's political rights. The events brought together a cross section of Kuwaiti society and helped to create professional links among individuals and groups that did not have a history of working together. A variety of U.S. officials spoke at universities and high schools on U.S. history and politics, human rights, and cultural issues.
The Embassy worked with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs to send two Kuwaiti imams to the U.S. on a Single-Country IVLP titled "Religion in the U.S." This formed part of our effort to develop a dialogue with moderates in Kuwait. The project showed Kuwaitis the scope of religious freedom in the United States and encouraged the promotion of tolerance and inter-religious understanding. A third official of the Ministry participated in an exchange on "Interfaith Dialogue in the U.S." Both programs consisted of three-week visits to five representative cities in the United States. Participants had the opportunity to meet with counterparts of different religious backgrounds and to discuss issues related to their vocation. All three participants commented that the visit radically transformed their preconceived notions about life in the United States. They gained a significant appreciation for the inter-religious dialogue in the United States and for the tolerance of diversity they discovered in their interaction with American clergy.
Expatriate laborers, who form a majority of Kuwait's labor force, face significant problems. They often arrive in Kuwait to find that working conditions and salaries are not what they agreed upon in their home countries. In practice, many expatriate laborers who are exploited have difficulty redressing their grievances. Domestic laborers (maids) face a particularly difficult situation in that they are not covered by Kuwait's labor laws, which afford other workers some degree of protection by setting a minimum wage and establishing standards for conditions of work. The Embassy arranged a digital video conference between Kuwaiti reporters and columnists and the U.S. coordinator for trafficking in persons (TIP) issues to raise awareness of the problems faced by domestic laborers, increase the profile of this problem, and explain the issues included in the U.S. TIP Report. The video conference received extensive press coverage in all of the country's Arabic and English newspapers. The Embassy also arranged a press roundtable discussion with the Ambassador, in which he called upon the Government to address deficiencies and areas of non-compliance. The Ambassador's message resonated loudly in Kuwait. U.S. pressure contributed to the Government's highly successful campaign to eliminate the use of children as jockeys in camel races.
Although Lebanon made significant improvements in democracy and promoting respect for human rights, the Government's overall human rights record remained poor. During a momentous year, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in a terrorist bombing that took the lives of 21 others, including MP Basil Fuleihan, served as a catalyst for massive pro-independence demonstrations and led to the withdrawal of Syrian military forces. Generally free and democratic parliamentary elections—the first in decades without Syrian interference—resulted in a new, pro-independence parliamentary majority. Lebanon's judiciary enjoyed greater independence, moving to arrest four former Lebanese security chiefs identified as suspects in the Hariri assassination by the UN Independent International Investigation Commission.
U.S. and international assistance sought to help Lebanon rebuild as a sovereign and independent country founded on respect for human rights and democratic principles after decades of Syrian occupation and civil conflict. Sectarian tensions, however, compounded by a fragile economic, political, and security environment and ongoing interference from neighboring states and their proxies, continued to threaten Lebanon's reform efforts. The United States worked with the Government and international allies to support the goals outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and worked with a broad coalition of international partners, known as the Core Group, to support Lebanese plans for economic, fiscal and political transparency, and reform.
U.S. programs enhanced Lebanese efforts to promote transparency and accountability in government, strengthen civil society, build greater independence of the judiciary, promote respect for the rule of law, and support the conduct of free and fair elections. U.S. diplomatic and program support promoted freedom of the press, women's rights, and universal education.
In May 2005, in close coordination with the United Nations, the United States provided technical support to the first independent parliamentary elections in Lebanon in nearly 30 years. The United States called for these elections to be held on time despite pro-Syrian elements seeking indefinite delays. The United States also supported the presence of international and domestic election observers. The May-June parliamentary elections were considered generally free and fair, despite concerns with inherent inequities in districting and the electoral law. The subsequent cabinet was the first cabinet voted into power by the Lebanese people without Syrian oversight in nearly three decades. U.S. programs also promoted the development of cross confessional, independent political parties. The United States identified a diverse representation of rising young Lebanese political leaders for local, regional, and U.S.-based training programs and seminars that included discussions of independent platform-based electoral politics. The United States also supported a municipal reform program that has been credited with successfully rebuilding essential local government foundations. This assistance has focused on enhancing administrative and financial capabilities, expanding social services, encouraging public participation, and increasing accountability.
The Lebanese press is one of the most independent and free in the Middle East. In the wake of the Syrian withdrawal, journalists were emboldened to speak out to a degree previously unimaginable, encouraging and documenting rallies such as the massive pro-Lebanon and anti-Syria demonstration of March 14. But some of Lebanon's most courageous voices for democracy paid the highest price. The murder of An-Nahar columnist Samir Kassir and An-Nahar publisher and editor and Member of Parliament Gebran Tueni, along with an assassination attempt on news anchor May Chidiac of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, were clear attempts to intimidate the press and the Lebanese people. The United States strongly condemned all three attacks and diplomats visited media outlets and those injured in the attacks. In public and private statements, U.S. officials emphasized the importance of protections for freedoms of speech and the press and noted the critical role of journalists in advancing democracy and human rights protections. The Lebanese press benefited from a number of U.S.-funded programs to strengthen press freedom and independence of the media, which included training for the media and civil society in the role of the press and on the importance of free expression in promoting democracy and human rights.
Massive street demonstrations in the weeks and months following the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri demonstrated the value Lebanese citizens place on freedom of assembly and their willingness to play a role in affecting changes in their government and society. As the role of civil society grows in Lebanon, the United States has expanded its support of local advocacy groups and NGOs promoting transparency in government and civil society organizations. U.S. programs worked to build civil society networks in isolated and underserved municipalities in northern Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa valley.
Since the end of Syrian occupation, Lebanon's judiciary has demonstrated increased independence, although it remains subject to political pressure, particularly in appointments of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. The United States has supported greater independence and transparency in the judiciary, sponsoring several in-depth civil society assessments on the rule of law and the judiciary, with a focus on sentencing trends and judicial autonomy.
The Government's sovereignty over its own territory and its ability to guarantee security and stability within its borders continues to be hampered by Syrian proxies and Palestinian and Lebanese militas. Despite the end of the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, armed groups, particularly Hizballah, retained significant influence over parts of the country in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. The United States, through support of this resolution and other multilateral means, has supported the Government's efforts to assert its control over all of its territory. At the request of the Government, the United States provided technical support for investigations into a number of last year's car bombings and assassinations, improving Lebanese capacity to successfully investigate, prosecute and deter terrorist attacks. By the end of the year, the Government had begun taking steps to isolate and limit Palestinian armed groups; it had not yet, however, taken steps to disarm extra-legal armed groups or to disarm Hizballah, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life continues to be a serious problem in Lebanon. Over a dozen car bombs in 2005 targeted reform leaders and the general population, resulting in scores of deaths and injuries. The United States, through diplomatic efforts and cooperation with the Government and international community, has made efforts to stop the bombings and bring their perpetrators to justice. The United States supported UN Security Council Resolutions 1595, 1636 and 1644, which placed the full weight of the international community behind the search for justice in Lebanon.
The law provides for equality among all citizens but in practice, some aspects of the law and traditional custom discriminated against women and other disadvantaged populations. The United States supported a wide range of programs to support the legal rights and access to education and health care of women in the country. The United States worked to protect the rights of people with disabilities through a March 2005 grant to a Lebanese NGO working with persons with disabilities. The United States also advocated on behalf of the rights of refugees in Lebanon and supported a research training and Internet access program for Palestinian youth in both Bourj el Barajneh and Dbayeh refugee camps and a diversified skills program for women and youth in Bourj el Barajneh refugee camp.
To underscore U.S. support for religious freedom, which is protected under the Lebanese Constitution, U.S. officials met regularly with religious leaders and members of the Council on Religious Understanding and facilitated an International Visitors Leadership Program, including an interfaith dialogue.
The United States pressed the Government at all levels to acknowledge trafficking in persons (TIP) as a serious issue and take immediate steps towards eliminating it. In January 2005, the Immigration Service of Lebanon formally began working and coordinating with a local NGO to protect TIP victims, a first for the region. Official interviews with victims were held with the support of social workers, special status was accorded to abused workers cooperating with investigators, and screening and referral procedures were established for TIP cases. The United States supported the funding of safe houses for victims under governmental protection.
The Embassy met regularly with labor leaders to reiterate U.S. support for labor rights and for economic liberalization and reform. U.S. officials encouraged these leaders to engage in dialogue with the private sector and government to promote reforms, and programs provided the country's labor unions the chance to train with American unions on labor organization, labor law and workers' rights. The United States, in cooperation with the American Federation of Teachers, worked to strengthen the leadership skills and awareness of the labor rights of Lebanese private and public school teachers, most of whom were women.
The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime led by Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi since 1969. The Government's human rights record remained poor, and the Government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. The country maintains an extensive security apparatus that monitors and controls the activities of individuals and includes police and military units, multiple intelligence services, local Revolutionary Committees, People's Committees, and "Purification" Committees. Security forces have the authority to impose sentences without trial, and various security forces committed serious human rights abuses, including the use of torture, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado detention. Many political detainees were held for years without charge or trial. The Government controls the judiciary and has used summary judicial proceedings in many cases; citizens do not have the right to a fair public trial or to be represented by legal counsel. Official impunity continued to be a problem. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights; restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion; imposed limits on freedom of movement; continued to ban political parties; and continued to prohibit the establishment of independent human rights organizations. The Government continued to repress banned Islamic groups and discriminated against women and ethnic and tribal minorities. The Government denied basic worker rights and discriminated against foreign workers.
Following the country's historic announcement that it would eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, in 2004 the United States lifted all sanctions except those related to the country's continued placement on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. On June 28, 2004, the United States formally reestablished direct bilateral ties with Libya by opening a Liaison Office in Tripoli. Promoting improved respect for human rights and the implementation of political reforms remained integral to the process of normalizing relations between the United States and Libya. The ability of the United States to support remedial programming in Libya was very limited; full diplomatic relations have not been established. Despite statements by high-level Libyan officials, including Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi, acknowledging the need to improve the country's respect for human rights, there have been no major changes in the human rights situation.
The United States has called on Libya in recent years to close down the People's Courts, adjunct institutions within the judicial hierarchy notorious for their lack of due process guarantees. The General People's Congress abolished them in January 2005. The Government indicated plans to re-try members of the Muslim Brotherhood previously sentenced by these Courts; this had not yet occurred by year's end.
The United States regularly raised human rights issues at senior levels with Libyan officials, urging adherence to international human rights conventions and protocols and publicly condemning Libya's human rights abuses. U.S. diplomats in Tripoli worked with EU counterparts to encourage fair trials, humane treatment, and the release of five Bulgarian medics and a Palestinian doctor. A Libyan regional court had sentenced these individuals to death in 2004 on charges of infecting over 400 Libyan children with HIV-tainted blood in a Benghazi hospital. The United States also participated in the 2005 establishment of the International Benghazi Families Support Fund to assist the infected children. The United States consistently raised the issue of the continued detention of Fathi al-Jahmi, who was released and then re-detained in 2004 after he continued to call for democratic reform.
Morocco, with a Constitution and an elected parliament, is ruled by a hereditary monarchy; the Constitution ensures that ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI. The King presides over the Council of Ministers and appoints or approves members of the Government, including the prime minister, who need not be a member of parliament or a political party. The King may terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve parliament, call for new elections, and rule by decree, thus restricting citizens' right to change their government. Theoretically, the parliament has the ability to change the system of government, but the Constitution may not be changed without the King's approval. The lower house of parliament may dissolve the Government through a vote of no confidence.
The country's human rights record remained poor in some areas despite some notable progress. This included implementation of the 2004 Family Status Code, efforts to address past human rights abuses through an equity and reconciliation commission, and the suppression of international sex tourism. The police and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators. Five demonstrators set themselves on fire, and two died of their burns. The military used force against illegal migrants that resulted in at least several deaths. Prison conditions continued to be inadequate. The judiciary lacked independence and transparency, and restrictions on freedom of the press and speech continued. Journalists practiced self-censorship, although several publications pushed the boundaries of press freedom. Trafficking in persons (TIP), particularly for prostitution and child labor, remained problems.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy incorporated public diplomacy and assistance programs to strengthen the rule of law, support the development of civil society, promote freedom of the media and speech, strengthen human rights principles and core democratic values, and support human rights and democratic reforms implemented by the Government over the last six years.
At the highest levels of government, U.S. officials promoted democracy and democratic values, working to assist the country's development of a more competent, effective, and responsive government. Working in partnership with local NGOs, the United States focused on integrated capacity building for parliament and political parties, including ongoing in-depth training of parliamentarians and their staff members on budget analysis and oversight. In September 2005, seven parliamentarians and key staff members participated in a study tour, learning how to strengthen legislative committees, improve budget oversight, and increase interaction between legislators and constituents. Visiting U.S. congressional delegations met regularly with parliamentarians to share ideas and experiences. U.S. initiatives also included support for local good governance, promotion of regional and municipal efforts to respond more effectively to citizen needs, and improvement of the long-term financing capacities of local government.
In support of the country's political reform initiatives, a U.S.-hosted roundtable of parliamentarians, academics, and members of civil society discussed the political party law enacted in December to expand participation and democratization in political parties by eliminating age and gender inequities and mandating broad-based parties that are neither regionally or religiously exclusive. Anti-corruption programs supported by the United States worked to improve the audit and oversight capacity of the Audit Court and executive branch in monitoring administration of public resources, thus ensuring greater accountability in government.
U.S. officials and programs actively promoted interactions and partnerships between the Government and civil society organizations. The United States assisted and participated in the October meeting of the "Democratic Assistance Dialogue" in Rabat, which brought together government and civil society representatives from the Middle East and North Africa region. The event promoted a stronger role for civil society in the second G-8/BMENA "Forum for the Future" held in Manama.
English-language training of teachers and students promoted an inclusive, informed, and democratic society. U.S. programs offered training to 54 English teachers in 2005. Because of increased U.S. program funding, 573 disadvantaged young Moroccans enrolled in the English Access Micro-Scholarship language-training program. Students completed courses at ten American Language Centers and two Amideast offices across the country. These educational programs strengthened participatory democratic values while focusing on specific subjects and skills. With student-centered classrooms where initiative and interaction were encouraged, students learned fundamental skills for participation in a modern, democratic nation.
U.S. officials regularly discussed freedom of the press and speech, advocated the release of imprisoned journalists, and actively supported the reform of the press code at the highest levels of government. U.S. outreach programs throughout Morocco promoted these freedoms and discussed journalistic ethics, professional standards, and research skills. Five Moroccan journalists were sent to the United States for training; two other journalists participated in a Foreign Press Center tour for Arab journalists. Thirty-eight Moroccans, including thirteen teenaged boys and girls, participated in U.S.-based training programs directly related to promoting human rights and democracy. These programs included training on participatory governance and pluralistic societies. In 2005, 107 members of the Moroccan military received human rights training.
U.S. assistance was also directed at developing a positive relationship between civil society and the Government, promoting gender equity, educating youth, and developing an informed, participatory citizenry. In preparation for the 2007 elections, women interested in candidacy for parliament participated in a regional "campaign school" training program. Over 3,500 middle and secondary school students, teachers, and university students also received training on citizenship and how to participate in their Government. U.S. programs concentrated on effective dissemination of the Family Status Code, enacted in 2004, and on educating the population about the changes. Educating the public about the code proved to be an effective tool to help citizens understand and protect their civic rights and to combat illiteracy among rural women. U.S. regional programs enabled Moroccan participation in seminars on Islam and governance and the rule of law.
U.S. officials frequently held roundtable discussions and consultations with members of NGOs to increase understanding of societal changes. These discussions enabled adjustments to existing U.S. programs, demonstrated U.S. commitment to fostering reform, and informed the bilateral dialogue between the United States and the Government.
U.S. officials advocated the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and judicial and penal reform at the highest levels of government and through programmatic interactions with civil society. U.S. programs targeting the education of the judiciary on the Family Status Code progressed significantly in 2005. The United States focused on judicial independence and transparency, as well as on legal education. A U.S. program worked closely with the Government, universities, and lawyers to strengthen institutional capacity. This same program actively supported civil society, building capacity in a local NGO advocating judicial independence.
The Government's reform agenda included penal reform and the institutional recognition and implementation of laws to support human rights, including gender equity legislation and safeguards for the physically and mentally impaired. To complement this agenda, the United States supported a program, in partnership with a local university law school to develop a human rights law clinic. This included development of curriculum and teaching modules and encouraged law students to provide legal assistance under the supervision of the law faculty and private human rights lawyers. U.S. officials worked closely with the government to provide professional training, including human rights awareness, for public security officials.
U.S. officials strongly advocated at the highest levels of the Government for the application of human rights protections in all regions of the Kingdom, including the disputed Western Sahara, and for unauthorized migrants. U.S. officials raised allegations of torture and lack of due process with the Government. The United States worked with Morocco and Algeria to secure the August release of the remaining 404 Moroccan POWs held by the Polisario Front on Algerian territory.
Women's rights remained a significant concern. Female NGO leaders participated in programs to enhance their leadership skills. Many U.S. programs relating to the Family Status Code were directed towards women to help them advance their legal rights under the new Code. U.S. NGO partners also used the Code in literacy classes to increase women's literacy rates and to educate women about the Code.
Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution, which also recognizes Islam as the state religion and the King as the commander of the Muslim faithful. U.S. officials met regularly with members of all religious communities to promote religious tolerance and freedom. Officials facilitated meetings between the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and visiting Christian and Jewish leaders. U.S. programs enabled one university professor, two journalists, and two religious leaders to study the relationship between religion and civic education, and a U.S. Speaker program showcased religious tolerance and freedom in the United States.
U.S. officials met regularly with local NGOs working to eliminate child labor and TIP, and with those supporting the reintegration of children and trafficked persons into society. Many trafficked noncitizens were returned to their home countries at the expense of the Government and international organizations. U.S. programs supported workers' rights, including collective bargaining, arbitration, and conflict resolution, and supported capacity building to more effectively enforce the 2004 Labor Code. The United States continued to support NGOs working to end child labor and provided alternative educational programs for children in the labor force.
The U.S. - North Africa - Middle East Labor Dialogue was held in Rabat on May 23 and 24. Its purpose was to share the experiences of Morocco and Jordan in negotiating and implementing the labor provisions of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with the United States. Topics included the labor provisions of bilateral free trade agreements; international core labor standards; labor law administration, enforcement and compliance; and dispute prevention, mediation, and arbitration. Participants included experts from the ILO and governmental and private sector participants from the United States, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.
For a second year, the United States funded a consortium of Moroccan and international NGOs working to end child labor, including developing laws against child labor and, in the interim, providing alternative educational programs for working children. A four-year project implemented by an international NGO continued to improve access to education for working and at-risk petites bonnes (little maids), as well as child laborers in sectors such as auto repair and handicrafts. This assistance targeted more than 6,000 children in the areas of Rabat/Sal�/Temara, Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca, and enrolled them in non-formal education and vocational training programs. The project included a joint child labor awareness raising campaign to mainstream child labor concerns into broader education and development strategies. During the year, the United States also supported a four-year program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor; an estimated 5,000 children work in or are at-risk of entering hazardous agricultural activities or exploitive child labor.
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud served 23 years as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, acting as regent during the last 10 years. Since assuming the throne on August 1, following the death of his half-brother King Fahd, he has continued to foster a reform agenda. In early 2005, as Crown Prince, he supported the country's very limited elections for municipal councils, which were the first such elections since 1963. The King appointed half the council members in December. Saudi women did not vote or run in these polls. Freedom of the press improved with more frequent press reports and articles on controversial issues and those containing criticism of the Government. Despite these important steps forward, the Government's human rights record remained poor. Security forces continued to abuse detainees and prisoners and to arbitrarily arrest, detain, and hold persons incommunicado. The Mutawwa'in (religious police) continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners with impunity, although to a lesser extent than in the past. Strict limitations on women's rights continued, including harassment and highly restrictive dress codes, travel restrictions including denial of any right to drive, severe discrimination in family law and other legal proceedings, and extraordinary segregation in schools, most workplaces, and public facilities of every kind. Violence against women and children, as well as discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, continued. Most trials were closed, and defendants usually had no legal counsel. The Government continued to infringe upon privacy rights and restricted freedom of speech and the press. Freedom of religion did not exist. The Government restricted freedom of assembly, association, and movement.
The Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Dialogue in November, which reinvigorated the bilateral relationship and raised the profile of key issues through this new process. The Dialogue's Education, Exchange, and Human Development Working Group was established to address improving citizen participation in decision-making and human rights issues such as religious freedom, trafficking in persons (TIP), and promoting tolerance.
The United States frequently engaged the Government on issues of political participation, transparency, accountability in government, religious freedom, and rights for women and workers. Numerous high-level U.S. officials-including the Vice President, influential members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs-used visits to the Kingdom to discuss these and related concerns with King Abdullah and senior officials. The United States continued to raise concerns on human rights at all levels of the Government, notably on religious freedom, TIP, and women's rights. In September, the Government established the Human Rights Commission (HRC) headquarters in Riyadh. U.S. officials met with and encouraged the work of the HRC, the National Society for Human Rights, and the still unrecognized NGO Human Rights First Society.
In June, the United States, working with the U.S.-based Center for Civic Education, provided training to Saudi school principals and Education Ministry officials in civic education. In September and December, the Riyadh-based King Faisal School Director General organized a series of U.S.-sponsored, one-week training workshops for 25 female and 50 male teachers from throughout the Kingdom. The training focused on skills and concepts for teaching civic education, including activities to promote community involvement and grassroots democracy.
U.S. officials participated in civic organization meetings and press roundtables to discuss internal political reform, as well as the rights of women and minority groups. The United States also participated in weekly majlis gatherings, open-door meetings held by the king, a prince, or an important national or local notable during which, in theory, any male citizen or foreign national may express an opinion or a grievance. U.S. officials were invited to accompany Saudi citizens to voter registration centers in advance of Jeddah's landmark municipal council elections and observed campaign rallies for female candidates seeking election to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Board of Directors.
In December, the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue held the Fifth National Dialogue Forum in Abha called "We and the Other: A National Vision for Dealing with World Cultures." Then-Crown Prince Abdullah started the National Dialogue in 2003 in response to calls for real and practical reform in the Kingdom. The December meeting was the culmination of 13 preparatory meetings held in Saudi Arabia between April and November, during which men and women scholars and civil society members discussed political reform, religious tolerance, and the role of women and youth in the country. It brought together more than 700 men and women scholars, intellectuals, and government officials to produce a national vision paper with recommendations that were presented to the King for consideration. For the first time, its proceedings were broadcast live on Saudi television.
Through the International Visitor Leadership Program, the United States sponsored participation by members of Government and civil society in U.S. seminars such as the rule of law in judicial reform, religious and public education in the United States, NGO administration, and volunteerism.
The United States recruited and obtained funding for two U.S. business and communication professors to conduct workshops for Saudi businesswomen at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce in Dammam and Qatif. Approximately 40 Saudi women attended these workshops, which focused on leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Overall, the inclusion and participation of women in grassroots and business organizations increased during the year. In November, two Saudi women were elected to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, followed by the December appointments of two additional women. In December, a woman was elected to the Saudi Engineers Council Board of Directors. These women joined the two women elected to the Saudi Journalists Association Board of Directors in 2004. There is also one female advisor to the Majles al-Shoura.
The United States continued providing International Military Education and Training Assistance for the Saudi military to increase its awareness of international norms of human rights and foster greater respect for the principle of civilian control of the military and the rule of law.
The United States strongly advocated for religious freedom, which does not exist in the Kingdom. In November, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Ambassador and other senior officials raised the issue of religious freedom with the Foreign Minister and other senior Saudi officials. The Ambassador also protested raids on private homes and the detention of Christian worshippers. The United States encouraged Saudi officials to honor their Government's public commitment to permit and protect private religious worship by non-Muslims, eliminate discrimination against religious minorities, and promote tolerance towards non-Muslims and those Muslims who do not adhere to the official Salafist tradition of Islam. A group of 30 Saudi religious educators, consisting of supervisors, professors, and teachers, traveled with Education and Higher Education Ministry officials. The group visited mosques, churches, synagogues, and public and parochial schools throughout the United States in cities including Washington, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and Los Angeles.
In December, King Abdullah hosted a ministerial summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Mecca, which produced the communiqu� "A Ten Year Plan of Action for the Muslim World." The United States supported provisions calling for religious tolerance, improved human rights standards, and state accountability.
In 2005, the United States ranked Saudi Arabia on Tier 3 for failing to take significant steps to address TIP, including coercion and involuntary servitude of foreign domestic workers. In the interest of national security, the Secretary of State decided to waive sanctions. In September, the Government issued a new labor law and began writing an addendum for domestic workers. The United States encouraged the Government to raise public awareness of abuse of foreign domestic workers and to extend labor protections to domestic workers, advocating long-term improvements in the status and legal rights of foreign laborers under Saudi labor law. In coordination with source-country embassies, the United States worked to promote better legal protections for foreign workers, the prevention and protection of trafficking victims, and the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. The state-controlled press carried some stories on the abuse of maids and other domestic workers, including the prosecution and punishment of citizen employers who abused foreign domestic employees. While most cases were settled through mediation and settlements, in the prominent case of an Indonesian maid who was severely abused by her employers, the wife of the employer was sentenced to 35 lashes.
In 2005, Syria's human rights record remained poor. The Government prevented any organized political opposition and severely limited civil society anti-Government activities. Open political life was stymied by the Government's continued detention of political prisoners, including six Damascus Spring activists, as well as the arbitrary arrest and long-term detention of other civil society activists such as Kamal al-Labwani, Nizar al-Rastanawi, Habib Saleh, Riyad Drar al-Hamood, and Mahmoud Sarem. The Government also continued its repression of civil society groups, including the Al-Atassi Forum, and refused to recognize the citizenship of the Kurdish minority.
As a state sponsor of terrorism, Syria remained ineligible for all forms of economic assistance from the United States in 2005. U.S. officials, however, encouraged the development of democracy and respect for human rights through bilateral discussions, regular contact with Syrian and international human rights and civil society advocates, and public diplomacy programs designed to strengthen civil society and stimulate dialogue on key issues for promoting human rights and democracy.
At every opportunity, U.S. officials emphasized to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the importance of respecting human rights, including the freedom of assembly, association, speech, and the press. U.S. officials also actively participated in a diplomatic monitoring group that exchanged information on the human rights situation in Syria and coordinated diplomatic responses and related assistance programs. A Syrian education official participated in an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) that focused on curriculum development and civic education.
During 2005, the United States sponsored a number of training programs for both aspiring and established journalists active in a variety of media. Program topics included professional skills and ethics, a lecture by a Fulbright Scholar on how to create a blog, a presentation and discussion session about documentaries and press freedom. One Syrian journalist also participated in the U.S.-based State Department Foreign Press Center Working Journalist Program.
The United States developed strong contacts with a variety of NGOs and civil society activists throughout the year. The Embassy closely monitored the Government's repression of organizations and democratic activists that sought to peacefully assemble and associate.
The United States managed the majority of its democracy and human rights activities through public diplomacy channels. Through a visitor's exchange program, Syrian civil society activists met with a variety of NGOs and officials in the United States. Three local NGOs were also recipients of small grants in 2005.
The U.S. Information Resource Center distributed materials and electronic information in both English and Arabic on rule of law, anti-corruption, and antiterrorism topics. A working-level government official traveled to the United States as part of an IVLP on promoting the rule of law and judicial reform. The Embassy regularly monitored political prosecutions, including attendance at trials.
Several groups of private Syrian citizens also participated in IVLPs in the United States. One group learned about enhancing women's rights and fostering the development of women entrepreneurs while visiting a variety of NGOs throughout the United States.
The Embassy also sponsored a number of public events to promote religious freedom in the country, including a Fulbright lecture on religion in the U.S. political system, as well as a speaker on Islamic Studies in the United States. As part of its outreach to the Muslim community, the Embassy hosted a social event for the Grand Mufti of Syria and other Muslim leaders, as well as Ramadan Iftaars for religious and business leaders and NGO activists.
Syria was a destination country for women trafficked from South and East Asia and Ethiopia for the purpose of labor exploitation and from Eastern Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. There were no statistics available on the scope and type of trafficking in persons (TIP) that may exist. Reports by NGOs and the press indicated that Iraqi women may be subjected to sexual exploitation in prostitution in Syria at the hands of Iraqi criminal networks, but those reports have not been confirmed. The United States closely monitored the TIP situation in Syria, cooperating and sharing information with international organizations that worked in the field.
Tunisia's human rights record remained poor, and the Government continued to commit serious abuses. While progress continued in protections for the religious freedom of minorities and the rights of women and children, an authoritarian system of government exercised significant control over political participation and freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and the press. The Government remained intolerant of public criticism and used a number of coercive methods to discourage that criticism, including harassment of journalists and widely condemned legal actions against outspoken dissidents and human rights and opposition activists. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and tortured prisoners and detainees.
The U.S. democracy and human rights strategy in Tunisia recognized the country's achievements on social and economic issues, particularly its advancement of equal rights and opportunities for women, and called for similarly bold steps on political process reforms and respect for human rights. The United States made it a priority to work with the Government and civil society to increase the pace and substance of critical political, economic, and human rights reforms. The Embassy maintained a regular dialogue on human rights at all levels of the Government, and monitored and reported factually on prison conditions and human rights developments. U.S. officials maintained contact with all elements of Tunisian civil society and media, placed opinion pieces in the local press, raised inquiries regarding specific cases, and worked to strengthen civil society organizations supporting economic, media, and political reform through small grants. The United States monitored political trials and visited activists who staged a well-publicized hunger strike to protest limits on freedom of expression and association and demand the release of political prisoners. High-level U.S. officials raised human rights, democracy, and good governance issues with the Government throughout the year.
U.S. initiatives in support of democracy and human rights showed mixed results in 2005. The Government continued to invoke a variety of laws and regulations to obstruct implementation of U.S. and internationally funded reform projects and initiatives, including those promoting media freedom and opinion in the political process. While some activities could be successfully completed, restrictions imposed by the Government delayed or led to the cancellation of others.
Following the November UN World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, the United States released a statement noting "disappointment that the Government of Tunisia did not take advantage of this important opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression and assembly in Tunisia." This was in reference to the Government's harassment of journalists, attempts to suppress or control NGO meetings at the summit site, and restrictions on full participation by NGOs during the summit. The U.S. worked to strengthen civil society and its ability to influence and communicate with the Government and urged the Government to remove onerous NGO registration and funding restrictions.
The United States made full use of exchange, cultural, and professional programs to promote the Freedom Agenda. Thirty Tunisian men and women in fields of government, human rights, judicial reform, education, and the media participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program to meet international counterparts and gain exposure to the United States. The Embassy also brought high profile speakers to Tunisia to discuss human rights and democracy issues with Tunisian think tanks, government officials, journalists, and university classes. The United States fostered outreach programs on human rights and democracy through the extensive distribution of resource materials, including U.S. reports on human rights, religious freedom, and trafficking in persons; independent NGO reports on regional human rights issues; and electronic journals and articles on rule of law and transparency in government. Many of these resources were translated into French and Arabic. The Embassy also created a targeted packet of outreach materials directly linked to the U.S. and international celebrations of Human Rights Day. Six Tunisians were among the 42 Arab student leaders who participated in Student Leaders Institutes in the U.S. and a subsequent Alumni Conference in Tunis.
The United States promoted media independence and professionalism through monthly programs for Tunisian journalists and regular interaction with media professionals. One U.S. official worked full-time on press and media outreach, vastly increasing direct journalist access to International Information Program material and other U.S. sources of information. The Embassy actively supported a "University Linkage" program between Bowling Green University and the Institute de Presse et des Sciences de l'Information Universite de la Manouba, the only Tunisian journalism institute for enhanced professional journalism. A subsequent small U.S. grant allowed the institute to start a student newspaper. Five Tunisian journalists attended U.S. exchange programs, returning with greater insight into American culture and renewed appreciation of the value of a free press and freedom of expression. During the year, 46 Tunisian journalists participated in two sessions of training on media ethics and human rights conducted by a U.S.-funded NGO.
Local press outlets frequently published human rights and reform-related press releases, letters to the editor, and op-eds from the Ambassador and other high-level U.S. officials. The Ambassador and other officials consistently highlighted the U.S. commitment to human rights, transparency, and freedom of expression in their speeches, media interviews, and publications. As part of the U.S. mission to promote democracy through freedom of expression, a U.S.-funded NGO organized a September 2005 conference in Tunis on the role of public opinion in the political process.
To promote greater awareness of the importance of the rule of law and human rights protections, the Embassy continued its support for the Common Law program at a Tunisian law school, identifying and sponsoring guest American professors. A U.S.-funded Commercial Law Development Program continued to promote judicial competency, transparency, and independence in Tunisia, as did other regional technical assistance programs that emphasized rule of law. In 2005, 87 Tunisian military personnel took part in U.S. International Military Education and Training, which included components on respect for human rights and rule of law.
Additional projects focused on increasing opportunities for women, including the Business Internship and the Middle East Entrepreneurship Training programs held in the U.S. In May 2005, more than 100 veterans of these programs joined more than 100 aspiring women entrepreneurs for the region's first "Businesswomen's Summit" in Tunis, which gathered women from 15 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Organized by the Office of International Women's Issues, this summit featured the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs as a keynote speaker and focused on the role of women in advancing reform throughout the region. The United States also worked to ensure the active participation of Tunisian women in all assistance programs, including the "Women and the Law" regional network.
Embassy officials maintained close contact with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities in Tunisia and promoted visitor exchanges on U.S. traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism. The United States funded the Arab Civic Education Network program, including a "Project Citizen" component that taught Tunisian secondary students how to identify civic issues, express their opinions, and influence decisionmakers.
Tunisia may be a transit country for trafficking in persons (TIP) of Africans and South Asians into Europe for sexual and labor exploitation. Although the extent to which TIP was a problem was unclear, the Embassy maintained links with and provided training and equipment to Tunisian border security forces to increase their ability to detect TIP and immigration flows and protect the country's borders. U.S. officials worked to raise awareness of TIP patterns and concerns with the Government and local NGOs in coordination with international organizations.
West Bank and Gaza
The year 2005 marked a pivotal time for Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority (PA), with a series of landmark elections at the presidential, legislative, and municipal level. In January, PLO Chairman Mahmud Abbas won approximately 62% of the popular vote in elections deemed free and fair by international observers. Throughout 2005, the PA conducted a series of vigorously competed municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marking the first local council elections since 1976 and drawing a large voter turnout. Hundreds of Palestinian candidates on 11 national lists and in 16 constituency races competed in Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections on January 25, 2006. These were the first such elections in 10 years. International monitors praised the professionalism displayed by the Palestinian election commission, the high degree of enthusiasm from the Palestinian public, and the absence of serious violence during the polls. Despite the establishment of a democratically elected legislature and presidency, the PA's overall human rights record remained poor. This was due in part to the Government's failure to fully establish control of public security, including insufficient measures to prevent attacks on targets within the occupied territories and in Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups, which operated with impunity. There was also widespread public perception of corruption, notably within the security forces. The Government of Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories also remained poor during 2005, due in part to actions by Israeli soldiers and settlers that resulted in death and injury to Palestinian civilians. In August, the Government of Israel began the evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank, culminating in the removal of more than 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza and the official transfer of security responsibility to PA security forces.
The goal of the United States was to reform Palestinian political, economic, and security institutions in accordance with the Quartet Roadmap and the President's vision for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States, in partnership with democratic actors committed to non-violence, continued to support consolidation of key democratic institutions and institutional protections for human rights, including provision of support for adoption of a political party law, judicial reform, free elections, and a constitution. U.S. efforts focused on promoting the rule of law and strengthening civil society and a responsible and independent media as a bulwark for civil liberties. The United States worked through diplomatic initiatives, public outreach, and assistance programs to advance democracy and human rights.
The United States provided critical support for democratic Palestinian elections with technical and in-kind assistance to the Palestinian Central Election Commission (CEC), and the Higher Commission for Local Elections. Support for CEC media centers during the January presidential election enabled the Commission to publicize results and other election-related information in a timely and professional manner. This success contributed to a generally favorable domestic and international perception of the legitimacy of the electoral process. Technical assistance to the CEC also strengthened its capacity to respond rapidly to emergent electoral administration needs and demonstrated unambiguous U.S. support for Palestinian democratic elections.
U.S. programs also supported the deployment of international observers for presidential, municipal, and parliamentary elections, focusing public and international attention on the conduct of those elections and enhancing the credibility of their results. U.S. technical assistance facilitated campaign polling and surveying, supported voter education and information campaigns, and assisted democratic political parties in building management skills.
A small grant to the Association of Women Committees for Social Work supported increased voter-education activities among village women and training for women candidates. A larger grant built on this initiative, enabling training for women elected to municipal councils on their responsibilities and the process of government. Other small grants supported training for female NGO managers in Gaza and a series of civil society lectures for women in Shu'fat refugee camp.
The United States sponsored a regional school in Jordan that taught women, including participants from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, how to run a modern and democratic political campaign. This program provided leadership, communication, and skills training to both current and aspiring women leaders. The United States helped improve civic education and sponsored tolerance classes in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), sponsored public service announcements regarding voter responsibilities, and broadcast live coverage of legislative debates in order to educate Palestinian voters. The United States supported capacity building through international exchanges and human rights training for the staff of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights.
The Consulate General also hosted speakers and digital video conferences (DVCs) on democracy for women and youth. In July, the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs moderated a DVC on women's rights and political participation that included nearly two dozen U.S., Palestinian, and Israeli NGO leaders. The United States also provided human rights and democracy books and other publications in Arabic and English to local schools, libraries, PA officials, and other contacts. Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip regularly participated in International Visitor Leadership Programs, the Salzburg Seminar, and Fulbright Summer Institute Programs that focused on democracy and human rights and provided media professionalization opportunities to enhance the media's role in informing women in a democratic society. U.S. officials regularly offered interviews on democracy and human rights issues, in addition to providing Palestinian journalists with background materials on democracy and human rights to broaden public awareness.
In the run-up to the January 2006 legislative elections, the United States launched an intensive outreach effort including two DVCs for audiences in the West Bank and Gaza on youth participation in politics and two DVCs on media responsibilities in an election campaign. The United States showed a film on citizen participation in voting and sponsored a workshop on campaign tactics for young aspiring politicians, as well as two speaker programs for journalists examining the role of international observers in elections.
U.S. programs continued to sustain Palestinian civil society and nurture new Palestinian NGOs. Through Tamkeen, an umbrella civil society initiative, the United States was able to identify new, alternative NGO partners and support key think tanks undertaking public opinion surveys. The United States promoted policy and legislative change and organized grassroots forums to determine the needs and priorities of Palestinian citizens. U.S. programs strengthened reformist civil society organizations, including a special project offering internal financial transparency and accountability training to over 40 civil society partners. A core group of democratic Palestinian civil society leaders benefited from U.S.-sponsored training in advocacy skills and assistance in forming a network of advocacy practitioners from a broad cross section of medium-sized groups in the West Bank and Gaza. U.S. initiatives supported political party development, enhanced understanding of local and national elections, and promoted increased participation.
U.S. programs supported the efforts of popular radio personalities to emphasize themes of moderation, tolerance, and individual responsibility. These programs also promoted Palestinian-Israeli local dialogue, created new classroom tools and aids for Palestinian teachers in the field of conflict resolution, and equipped journalists with new skills for addressing conflict-related themes in their work. With the support of the United States, moderate voices in media imparted a message of reconciliation, mediation, anti-incitement, and non-violence for thousands of people throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
U.S. programs were designed to promote the rule of law and reform. Anti-corruption activities formed a critical component in democracy and governance programs, including civil society initiatives promoting citizen participation in policy making and governmental accountability. In September, a new program called "Netham" was launched to assist the Ministry of Justice, court administrators, and elements within the judiciary responsible for the enforcement of court decisions. U.S.-funded workshops and conferences on judicial, legal, and other reform matters stimulated debate and raised awareness in the legal community and among the Palestinian public. Participants discussed a wide range of topics such as future judicial training and the legal consequences of Israeli disengagement from the Gaza.
U.S.-funded programs trained judges and public prosecutors. Through the Judicial Training Bridge Project, the United States offered education for judges and public prosecutors in topics including labor and traffic law, civil and criminal procedures, the penal code, and ethics and professional responsibility. Palestinian judges and prosecutors can now apply newly learned legal concepts and skills in those critical areas, and are better prepared to advance modern, progressive concepts of justice. U.S. programs also provided five Palestinian law schools with tools to provide better legal education for their students, allowing them to become more effective advocates for legal and judicial reform. A U.S.-supported program called "Arkan" provided training in interactive teaching methodologies for 25 law professors.
The United States provided grants to support conflict mitigation and advance reconciliation, respect, and tolerance between Palestinians and Israelis. The new grants are part of a global initiative to promote reconciliation programs in post-conflict and/or conflict zones. One grant supported joint training, research, and cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli physicians, nurses, and social workers working to assist needy Palestinian and Israelis. The second grant sponsored the production of a joint Israeli-Palestinian dramatic television series aimed at creating a gradual transformation in the beliefs and perceptions of both Israeli and Palestinian societies.
The United States continued to support a special tolerance project to promote respect for human rights, democracy, and gender equality and build conflict resolution skills among Palestinian refugee children in the region, including the approximately 250,000 youth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enrolled in primary schools run by UNRWA. U.S. programs helped produce educational materials for all 273 UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza and training for the teachers and administrative staff. Illustrated storybooks funded by the United States introduced human rights and tolerance concepts in grades five through eight, together with related worksheets that link human rights and tolerance concepts to various parts of the Palestinian curriculum. The United States provided supplemental teaching materials and additional training in human rights and conflict resolution concepts for all UNRWA teachers, school supervisors, vocational training instructors, and students in UNRWA's teacher-training programs. It supported the establishment of elected student parliaments in UNRWA schools.
Yemen is a republic with an active elected legislature. The Constitution calls for power to be shared between the elected President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the 301-seat House of Representatives. In practice, however, power lies squarely with the executive branch. An appointed 111-member Shura Council advises the President on policy but has no legislative authority. Against the backdrop of a sporadic insurgency in the north of the country, Yemen's human rights record remained poor in 2005. While there were some improvements in prisoners' rights and a substantial decrease in reports of torture in prisons, there was a substantial rise in restrictions on freedom of the press. Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and in many cases, the Government of Yemen failed to hold members of the security forces accountable for abuses. Members of the Political Security Office and Ministry of Interior police forces continued to torture and abuse persons in detention. Despite constitutional prohibitions against such practices, security officers routinely monitored citizens' activities, searched their homes, detained them for questioning, and mistreated detainees. Prolonged pretrial detention, judicial corruption, and executive interference were rampant and undermined due process. Problems remained with discrimination against women and child labor. The Government, at times, limited freedom of assembly and, in response to tensions in the north, imposed some restrictions on freedom of religion.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Yemen focused on supporting the Government's efforts to strengthen its human rights record, enact additional democratic reforms, and improve the administration of justice. The United States also pushed to strengthen civil society, give women a greater voice in their government, and further the process of democratic development. The United States aggressively advocated democratic reform and continued or undertook several long-term projects in 2005, while playing a key role in uniting the international donor community to press the Government on implementation of long-delayed reform commitments. High-level visits during the year underscored the U.S. commitment to consolidating and institutionalizing respect for human rights and democracy in Yemen.
The United States continued support to strengthen and democratize political parties, improve election administration, and foster fair elections. Throughout the year, U.S. officials met with government and political party officials to press for critical electoral reforms, working in close cooperation with an international donor working group. The United States helped expand the capacity of the Supreme Commission for Electoral Reform (SCER) to effectively and fairly regulate the 2006 presidential and local council elections. To help foster even-handed and competitive elections, the United States also funded reports on electoral and political party law reforms. The conclusions and recommendations of these reports were debated at U.S.-sponsored policy roundtables for leaders from major political parties and civil society.
Bound by tradition, many Yemeni women were politically and socially marginalized. With limited access to education, health care, and judicial redress, they enjoyed only minimal political representation in parliament and local councils. An initiative to establish a female candidate quota made some headway this year, with the President and the country's ruling party making public commitments to enact a 15% quota before the 2006 local council elections. Part of this momentum came from a U.S.-sponsored program working to increase women's political participation. This program also helped establish a unit within the SCER to promote women's electoral participation; this initiative trained women from the four largest political parties on how to run campaigns and lobby for reform.
Women also took center stage with the opening session of a regional women's conference, where the address of a high-ranking U.S. official underscored continued U.S. support for women's rights. During his speech, the official announced a substantial 2006 grant, to be implemented through the Ministry of Human Rights and the UN Development Program. This project will help Yemeni women take a more visible role in lobbying for reform, running for elections, and gaining access to justice, and will also assist women prisoners.
In 2005, the United States continued to expand efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, decentralize authority, and assist with elections in Yemen. One program strengthened core legislative skills, including constituent outreach and executive oversight functions, and established a Parliamentary Resource Center to help Members understand their responsibilities and draft more responsive legislation. This support prompted some steps towards asserting a stronger legislative role in the government. Another U.S.-supported program worked to bring democratic government closer to the people, improving the capacity of constitutionally mandated local councils.
During the year, a string of legal, psychological, and in many cases physical attacks against journalists critical of the Government marred the country's reputation as a bastion of relatively free press in the Middle East. The United States strongly pressed government, journalist, and civil society leaders on the need to counter this with support to a free and professional press. In July, the United States sponsored two legal experts to work with government officials and over 40 journalists for one week. These experts moderated a well-attended workshop that was organized in cooperation with other international donors. Its recommendations on how to protect press freedoms were publicly presented to the Government and civil society.
Many times throughout the year, embassy officials met with members of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate as well as individual victims of harassment. In October, the Ambassador expressed concern over the deterioration in freedom of speech to a local newspaper, provoking a heated debate in the press and in civil society circles. While government-controlled papers billed the Ambassador's comments as "interference" in Yemen's internal affairs, independent and opposition press praised them. Civil society leaders also publicly thanked the United States for having the first embassy to openly raise the issue.
In 2005, the United States actively engaged NGOs on the issues of rule of law, human rights, and political freedom, encouraging them to take a lead in pressing for needed reforms of political and social institutions. The United States supported several Yemeni NGO initiatives during the year, including a very successful project teaching children about democratic principles, the importance of participation in government, and freedom of speech. Another U.S.-funded initiative helped a local NGO work with counterparts to establish a coalition network. U.S. support for civil society in Yemen was underscored at the highest levels in the February visit of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs. The Under Secretary met with Government officials and held a roundtable discussion with local NGOs to explore ways to support civil society.
The judicial system coexisted with more traditional means of dispute resolution such as tribal mediation. There were numerous problems within the court system, including tampering by the executive branch, corruption, inefficient court administration, and the failure by authorities to enforce rulings. In January 2005, the United States supported an extensive assessment of the judiciary, a first step in developing programs to galvanize legal reform. The Embassy also sponsored "Qualifying Young Lawyers in Human Rights," a program that introduced 160 Islamic law students and law faculty members to the precepts of human rights law.
Through the International Visitors Leadership Program, more than 10 Yemenis participated in U.S. exchange programs on issues such "Promoting Rule of Law and Justice," "Human Rights Advocacy and Awareness," "Role of the Media," and "State and Local Governments." Throughout the year, the Embassy worked to disseminate information on democracy and human rights through the donation of more than 600 Arabic- and English-language publications to numerous Yemeni universities, NGOs, schools, and civil society institutions.
In 2005, the United States provided International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance for 26 members of the Yemeni military, including training to promote greater awareness of international human rights norms and foster respect for rule of law and the principle of civilian control of the military. The Counter-Terrorism Fellowship worked to train military officers and Ministry of Interior and Defense civilians on the importance of respecting human rights, and three participants from Yemen completed training during the year.