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This is the beginning of the end of our military engagement in Afghanistan. We started with a legitimate mission to remove the threat of al Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11. We can argue about whether Bush took his eye off the ball because of Iraq or not, but the reality is that what became an anti-Taliban war strategy has failed. It has failed militarily, they have not been defeated and both NATO and the Afghan Government now want to negotiate a peace with them. It has failed politically because we have invested in an Afghan Government that is weak and corrupt.
It was perhaps over ambitious when, from the 2001 Bonn conference onwards, commitments were made about human rights, particularly women's rights and democracy, as part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It was certainly disingenuous to talk the talk but not invest the political and economic resources to walk the walk. A generation of Afghans who believed in trying to build a better future for their country feel betrayed.
The so called “realpolitik” that preferred to invest in warlords rather than the rule of law was a huge strategic mistake from the earliest months of the international presence.
Mexico: Adam Shapiro reports on the killing of women in Chihuahua - 56 women have been killed so far in 2012.
I flew into Chihuahua, Mexico after the sun had retreated behind the rolling hills to the west. After dark, this city of almost a million people becomes a different place. Lucha, an extraordinary human rights defender was waiting for me in the arrivals lounge bio Brief Bio of Lucha,
I was surprised she was alone. But then again, she is a veteran of the war here - that is what she called it, "La Guerra".
When my father started his current hunger strike, he was already weakened as he had just ended a seven-day hunger strike 48 hours before. On the 10th day of this hunger strike my father was taken to the hospital, having collapsed in prison. He was taken back to the hospital on day 13, again on day 17 and again on day 24. Each time the doctor pleaded with him to just eat something, anything; each time my father refused, reiterating that he would only leave the prison free or dead.
That previous seven-day strike, undertaken with his 13 co-defendants/co-inmates, was made to protest the ongoing imprisonment of those who had taken to the streets last February and March and were being punished for demanding civil liberties and democracy. For my father, it was personal as much as political — his younger brother was sitting in the same prison as him. His two sons-in-law were arrested with him and also subjected to torture. His wife was fired from her job of 10 years by order of the Ministry of Interior.
This evening I am writing from my hotel in Guatemala City, where my mission partner Annalisa Mauro, of the International Land Coalition, and I have just been making our own dinner.
Report from Honduras where human rights defenders face threats from the state, narco-traffickers, land owners
I am just back in Tegus after three days at the International Encuentro in Tocoa, Aguan with participants from Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador.
Amidst the destruction and abuse going on in Syria, Anthony Shadid, a friend, died in an effort to tell the story of what is happening to people under fire. Anthony was in there without approval of the regime, and died tragically from an asthma attack when heading for the border with Turkey (this touches me personally on another level, as I suffer from asthma too).
Bahrain seems to have come to an impasse. Brutal repression, torture, killings, unfair trials and media censorship has not been able to silence a mass movement for change as was clear from the huge numbers demonstrating in Manama in the last days and weeks. And yet the Government is apparently paralysed and unable to engage in serious reform.
The mass demonstrations reinforce the fear and loathing of a privileged elite who have done so well out of autocratic rule. The longest serving unelected Prime Minister in the world is clearly an obstacle to any progress and yet he clings grimly to power. And the Saudi Arabians pull the hardliners strings.
It is in this context that human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja announced a hunger strike unto “freedom or death.” Abdulhadi is my friend and former colleague at Front Line Defenders. I know him to be a person of the greatest integrity and courage. He was arrested, brutally tortured and subjected to a show trial last year. He was sentenced to life in prison. He has already subjected his torture weakened body to four hunger strikes.
Today Noeline and I visited a prison, survived an earthquake, had a taxi ride with a mad driver over black ice, ate a typical Kyrgyz meal, saw a Kyrgyz wedding party, and are now looking at Kyrgyz snow. What a day!
We spent over two hours talking to Azimjan Askarov. He was agitated and anxious. He said he was sentenced but he couldn't find any peace, and was working day and night on his defence.
He has developed asthma, and is held in an underground cell with no natural light, with a “lamp that isn't sufficient for my weak vision.” He told us that apart from the difficulties associated with the underground cell where he “has no air”, the employees treat him well - “this gives me real moral support.” He gets medical assistance when he needs it in this prison hospital.
As we talked, there were a few loud bangs, which startled even the prison officer. It turned out that we had just had an earthquake!
Azimjan reminded us that he is an innocent man, on whom a life sentence was imposed, after an unfair trial. He doubts the political will of his government to look fairly at his case.
Surrounded by the most magnificent snow covered mountains and looking out over a fairy tale winter landscape, it is hard to believe that Azimjan Askarov is being held here in Bishkek, in prison serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit. Subjected to torture and an unfair trial, his case has become a political football and from talking to people here there seems no possibility of immediate release despite the huge international outcry and the embarrassment of the government.
One year and a half later, this 60 year old human rights defender "has sustained severe and lasting injuries since his arrest" according to Dr Sandra Crosby, a consultant to Physicians for Human Rights who visited him recently, to carry out an independent medical assessment at the request of Open Society Justice initiative.
Last night I sat with his lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov and 5 others who work for human rights in Kyrgyzstan, all of whom have known him for many years. They discussed the events in Bazar Korgan which led to Azimjan's arrest and what strategies remain open to them to secure his release.