Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Watch


Lebanon’s patchwork of personal status laws: Failing the women citizens. Unhappy ever after?

All couples hope their marriages will work out and they will live happily ever after.

The truth is that many relationships end in divorce and Lebanese couples are no exception.

According to a 2012 study by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, there were almost 6,000 divorces in 2010. The issue for these couples and for society at large is how to ensure a fair separation that guarantees the rights of each spouse and protects their children.

Nadim Houry , deputy MENA director at Human Rights Watch, posted this March 13, 2015

(Un)happily ever after

Lebanon’s patchwork of personal status laws is failing women

On that front, Lebanon is failing miserably to ensure fair treatment of women.

It is widely known that Lebanon does not have a civil code regulating personal status matters.

Instead, there are 15 separate personal status laws for the different recognized religious communities, which are administered by separate religious courts.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reviewed 447 legal judgments issued by these religious courts to examine how they handle divorce, child custody and financial issues emanating from separations or divorce.

The cases, dating from 2009–2012, were selected at random.

Lebanon’s religion-based laws discriminate against women across the religious spectrum

The findings were troubling. Lebanon’s religion-based laws discriminate against women across the religious spectrum. Women had lesser rights than men to ask for divorce.

Under Lebanon’s Shia, Sunni and Druze laws, men can demand a divorce at any time — unilaterally, and without cause — while a woman’s ability to access divorce is limited, and often at great cost and after lengthy court proceedings.

In principle, Islamic laws allow women to have an explicit clause inserted into the marriage contract stating that the wife can also have an equal right to unilateral divorce, but this right is rarely exercised due to social customs.

Only 3 of the 150 divorce judgments before Islamic courts that HRW reviewed included such clauses.

While divorce is difficult for both men and women under Christian laws, Christian men find it easier to circumvent these restrictions, including by converting to Islam and remarrying without divorcing.

As a practical matter, many women who spoke to HRW said these restrictions meant that they were forced to stay in abusive marriages — at great risk to themselves and their children, and that in some cases they had to give up their financial or custody rights in exchange for a divorce.

Some women even had to pay their husbands to seek the divorce.

Women also face discrimination in relation to distribution of marital property after a marriage ends.

Lebanese law does not recognize noneconomic contributions to a marriage or the concept of marital property, so after a separation property reverts to the spouse in whose name it is registered — typically the husband — regardless of who has contributed to it or what role a wife may have played in supporting her husband throughout their marriage.

In addition, even though the Druze and Christian confessions require the spouse responsible for the termination of the marriage to compensate the other, in practice these amounts are usually not enough to allow women to support themselves.

In Lebanon’s Islamic courts, after a divorce, a woman is left with only the deferred mahr (dowry) stipulated in the marriage contract, but this is often just a symbolic figure such as one lira or one gold coin.

Discrimination also extends to one of the most difficult aspects of any separation: child custody.

The HRW review of court cases found that in many cases, judges removed children from their mothers, but not their fathers, on grounds of fitness due to ‘questionable’ social behaviors because of the mother’s supposed religious affiliation, or because she remarried instead of making these decisions based on the best interest of the child.

The fear of losing their children was so great that some women HRW interviewed stayed in abusive marriages, gave up their monetary rights, or did not remarry so they could keep custody.

“I forced myself to bear beyond what a human being can take, all the injustices and violence,” said a Maronite woman who endured years of physical abuse but only sought a divorce after her children became adults because she feared losing them.

The current system is not only unfair. It is broken.

Some couples are converting to different confessions to be able to get married while others are converting to get a divorce. And many couples are simply voting with their feet, getting on a plane to get a civil marriage abroad.

Ending a marriage or determining who a child should live with after a divorce are difficult enough decisions. The least Lebanon can do is ensure that the laws are fair.

It is time for the country to adopt an optional civil code that would ensure equal rights for all Lebanese who wish to marry under it. But it is also time to get the Lebanese state to exercise oversight over religious courts. Not all marriages last, but at least we should have laws that help to give them a happy ending.


‘Israel under renewed Hamas attack’, says the BBC.

Is More balanced coverage needed?

“Israel under renewed Hamas attack”: this was last night’s BBC headline on the escalating bloodshed in Gaza. It is as perverse as Mike Tyson punching a toddler, followed by a headline claiming that the child spat at him.
As Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli human rights activist,tweeted: “We are targeted by mostly shitty rockets. Gazans are being shelled with heavy bombs. We have shelters, sirens, Iron Dome. They have 0.”
The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life – this is the hierarchy of death at work
Israeli soldiers and tanks near the border with the Gaza Strip this week. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP
 published in, Wednesday 9 July 2014

There is no defence for Hamas firing rockets into civilian areas, and as sirens wail in Israel, the fear among ordinary Israelis should not be ignored or belittled.

But the media coverage hardly reflects the reality: a military superpower armed with F-15 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles (and nuclear bombs, for that matter), versus what David Cameron describes as a “prison camp” firing almost entirely ineffective missiles.

At the first day of this preemptive massacre, 27 Palestinians were reported to have died in Gaza – and, mercifully, no Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets – and yet the BBC opts for the Orwellian “Israel under renewed Hamas attack”.

The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life: here is the “hierarchy of death” at work.

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, 565 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since January 2009, while 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed. The asymmetry of this so-called conflict is reflected in the death toll, but it is not reflected in the coverage.

And so it goes for the events surrounding the abduction and vile murder of three Israeli teenagers. What was not widely reported by the western media was that – in the raids that followed their disappearance – six Palestinians, including a child, were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

As Amnesty International put it, these were “blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”.

Perhaps our media will excuse themselves on the basis of motive: whoever killed the three teenagers intended to do so, while Israel only kills civilians unintentionally. Read, then, the report of Human Rights Watch, not an organisation that can be accused of being a den of lefties.

Israel’s actions “amounted to collective punishment“, it declared, because of “unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions”. Human Rights Watch investigated two deaths and found “there was no evidence that the victim or anyone in the line of fire posed an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers or others”.

On 17 June, 20-year-old Ahmed Samada was shot dead in Jalazon refugee camp, and yet Israel did not even claim to have come under fire; the same for 17-year-old Sakher Abu Aal-Hasan, shot dead on 21 June.

The BBC is a public broadcaster, duty-bound to provide balanced reports that accurately reflect the reality on the ground. It is failing to do so, and it is up to licence payers – to whom it is accountable – to demand that it does.

Married couples got to pay the clergy institutions

Not happy about having to travel to Cyprus to get a civil marriage?

Last year, Lebanese couples applied an ancient law, from the French mandated period, which remained on the Books, in order to carry out civil marriage.

All they had to do is to demand that their religion be scraped from their civil records.

Lebanon’s justice minister may have an answer for modern couples to marry civilly and keep their religion on the civil records.

On Jan. 29, 2014, Shakib Qortbawi introduced a draft law that would allow couples in Lebanon to marry under a civil law, without leaving the country, or having to cross out their religion on their civil records.

With the obligation to pay about $350 for the clergy institutions in order to recoup the lost profit.

Paying the clergy is not the way to go. And it is too late, Mr. minister

Nadim Houry published in The daily Sta this feb. 7, 2014:


The draft law would not introduce a Lebanese civil code.

Rather, it would allow couples to choose any foreign civil law by which to marry, as long as the law does not contradict “public order and general morals.”

But there’s a catch: Each couple would have to pay the state the equivalent of $333 to be disbursed to the religious courts of the husband’s religion.

Is this draft law a step forward for supporters of civil marriage in Lebanon?

Should advocates of civil marriage go along with the payment of such a fee to religious courts to get the religious official bodies to agree to the proposal?

It is important to first understand how civil marriage currently works in Lebanon.

The law currently recognizes such marriages even though the country does not have a civil code.

Until recently, this has meant that anyone who wished to have a civil marriage would have to travel abroad to marry and get their foreign-enacted civil marriage recognized in Lebanon.

Lebanese have resorted to such foreign civil marriages in large numbers, with data from the Cypriot Embassy in Lebanon indicating that more than 800 Lebanese couples married in Cyprus in 2011.

When I got married in Cyprus in 2009, the couples that were married before and after us in the office of the Cypriot public official were Lebanese.

Despite the increasing popularity of civil marriages enacted abroad, this approach has limitations.

Traveling abroad is inconvenient and some couples cannot afford the trip. And many people are unaware that if both spouses are Muslim, Lebanese Islamic courts may not recognize the civil marriage and may apply their own rules in divorce or child custody cases based on a 1939 official decree.

In a breakthrough for civil marriage in Lebanon in February 2013, the Lebanese authorities approved the registration of a civil marriage contracted in Lebanon between Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish after the couple removed their religious affiliation from their civil records.

This couple, acting on the advice of a longtime activist for civil marriage, argued that by removing their religious affiliations from their civil records, they had the right under Lebanese law to a civil marriage and that Lebanon’s failure to enact such a law did not revoke that right.

The couple notarized their marriage before a Lebanese public notary and chose to have it governed by French civil law. The Lebanese authorities recognized the validity of their legal reasoning and registered the marriage.

More couples have now removed their religious affiliations from their civil records and filed to have their locally enacted marriage contract recognized in Lebanon.

Qortbawi’s draft law seeks to allow couples to marry in Lebanon using a foreign civil code of their choice without removing their religious affiliations from their civil records, as Succariyeh and Darwish had to. The draft law would also repeal the 1939 decree that limits the ability of two Muslims to have a civil marriage in Lebanon.

The draft’s main shortcoming is that it fails to introduce an optional civil personal status code for Lebanon that would cover marriage, divorce, custody and other family law provisions.

Activists and civil society organizations have long demanded this, in part because of the systematic discrimination against women in all of Lebanon’s religious personal-status laws.

In fact, a draft code proposed by local civil society groups has been sitting in parliament since March 2011.

In statements to the media, Qortbawi recognized the inherent limitations of his proposal, but argued that in the “current atmosphere in the country, it was not possible to put forward a complete package for civil marriage.”

The minister’s remark raises a question relevant to reform attempts from electoral law to women’s rights.

Given the dysfunctional nature of politics in the country today, should reformists restrict their ambitions to partial and imperfect advances that appear feasible?

There is no evident answer to that question and reasonable people can disagree in their assessments.

My own view is that when it comes to civil marriage in Lebanon – a recurring idea since at least 1951, when the Beirut Bar Association went on strike to demand an optional civil marriage law – the time has come for a concerted push to adopt an optional Lebanese civil personal status code.

If anything, there is an urgent need to counter the country’s sectarianism by enacting laws such as the civil code that would treat all Lebanese equally.

Regardless of one’s position about the best strategy to advance civil marriage in Lebanon, what to make of the proposal in the draft law that the state collect a $333 marriage fee and give it to the religious courts of the husband’s confession – unless the husband is not Lebanese, in which case the fee goes to the religious court of the wife’s confession?

The draft law does not explain the rationale for such a payment.

In a recent media interview, Qortbawi said, “It’s not our job to cut everything from them [the religious courts], because also, they need money. This is to tell them, ‘This is not against you.’

But we should reject payments to sweeten the deal for religious courts.

Religious courts in Lebanon already get a great deal of support from the state, with little or no oversight from the state’s judicial bodies.

For instance, Lebanese citizens already pay the budget of Islamic courts – a tradition going back to the Ottoman times – with no effective government supervision.

The reason many Lebanese say they support civil marriage is to reduce the influence of religious institutions on their lives, to promote equality among Lebanese citizens and to eliminate discrimination against women under the current religious personal status codes.

For many Lebanese couples, the choice to seek a civil marriage is a way to reject the imposition of religious laws and institutions by Lebanon’s confessional system.

So why would a law meant to facilitate civil marriage actually fund religious courts, instead of the civil courts that will oversee such civil marriages?

These civil courts are grossly underfunded, and their workload will presumably increase as a result of additional civil marriages.

The minister may be right that Lebanon needs to take gradual steps to enact a civil law. But these gradual steps should be guided by a clear strategy of building up civil institutions and promoting equality among Lebanese citizens.

To ask the Lebanese to pay religious courts for the right to a civil marriage will not bring us closer to those goals.

Nadim Houry is head of the Beirut office of Human Rights Watch and is its deputy Middle East and North Africa director. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 07, 2014, on page 7.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Is Libya starting to face up to Gaddafi regime’s sex crimes?

The young woman introduced as “The Revolutionary” was breaking a taboo in Libya: She is speaking out about how she and other women had been raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s men in the early months of the country’s uprising.

Of all the crimes committed during Muammar Gaddafi’s rule and the revolution, rape is perhaps the most difficult to address because so few are willing to testify about it

On Time Lives this July 3, 2013, Bahiya Kanoun, former deputy minister of social affairs, recalls:

Bahiya Kanoun is pictured in her office in Tripoli May 13, 2013. Image by: ISMAIL ZITOUNY / REUTERS
“They arrested me publicly at Nasser University,” she said, recalling how guards in Tripoli came for her and two other young women who expressed support for the revolution that led to Gaddafi’s overthrow.

“They told me, ‘We are only going to take you away for questioning, and then we will bring you back’.”

Instead, a local official told the men: “Take these girls to Mu3tassim and enjoy them tonight.” Mutassim was one of Gaddafi’s sons and a military commander in the capital; he was later captured and killed.

The two unmarried women were taken away and never seen again. The Revolutionary, who was married and pregnant, was taken to a prison near Tripoli, where she was stripped and raped. She miscarried in prison.

The three victims’ crime had been to criticise Gaddafi in a video clip broadcast on an international television channel.

Many people, male and female, were raped as punishment for opposing Gaddafi’s government, but The Revolutionary is one of the few who agreed to talk about her suffering.

In Libya, rape victims are often ostracised, and discussion of the crime remains taboo.

There are small signs of change, with the government promising action to help victims, but the issue remains so sensitive that aid groups sometimes hide their efforts to help victims to avoid causing an outcry.

The Revolutionary, a woman in her 20s, spoke on condition of anonymity from behind a black veil, only her eyes showing. With the pain of recollection, her voice gradually rose to a shrill pitch.

“Our captors wanted to insult us and to take away our dignity,” she said. “The youngest girl there was 14; the oldest was my mother’s age. The women were stripped and subjected to all kinds of torture.”

The torture included electrocution, she told a conference session attended by Reuters. She gave her account at a hotel in Tripoli as part of an event earlier this year organised by the Libya Initiative, a project that brings together various rights groups to promote healing and a just society in post-war Libya.

“Imagine how many women put up with this. It should be recognised,” she said. “But the country is not paying attention to any of these criminals. Maybe they are outside now, standing guard at checkpoints.”

Campaigners say it is important to acknowledge the crimes committed during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule and the revolution that led to his downfall in 2011. They say the painful process is “necessary for stability and the construction of a society based on truth, justice and democracy”.

Souad Wheidi, an activist creating an archive of the sex crimes committed during the revolution, stood next to The Revolutionary as she addressed the conference, comforting her when the girl broke down as she reached the end of her story.

The activist has campaigned for government action and such efforts appear to be having an effect.

Shortly after the Tripoli meeting, the Libyan prime minister proposed a new law to recognise rape and the need for resources to be allocated to victims as a matter of urgency.

“At last, it is a major victory,” said Wheidi, who is confident the law will be passed. “It will bring huge psychological relief after years of stupid injustice against the many people, both male and female, who have been touched by this reality.”


The victims of rape during Libya’s uprising may number in the hundreds, according to the International Criminal Court, which has collected evidence that forces loyal to Gaddafi used rape as a weapon to spread fear among the opposition.

Of all the crimes committed during Gaddafi’s rule and the revolution, rape is perhaps the most difficult to address because so few are willing to testify about it.

There are good reasons for this: victims who speak out risk being shunned or even killed by their families.

Human Rights Watch notes that even after the war, a number of centers in Libya continue to provide havens for women “for no other reason than that they had been raped, and were then ostracised for ‘staining their family’s honour'”.

Victims are also reluctant to come forward because bringing a charge of rape to a Libyan court may be seen as an admission of having had unlawful sex. A rape claim can even result in the victim being prosecuted.

The prevailing, dismissive attitude to rape is reflected by a government ministry set up to support victims of the civil war. The ministry has never offered any help to rape victims. The ministry said such aid was beyond its remit, which is to search for missing people and support families of those killed in the war.

The head of Libya’s human rights commission, congress member Amina Al-Mghirbi, said a draft of a new law to help rape victims was “almost ready”. She added: “It will be approved as soon as possible and contain compensation for treatment as well as settlements.”

In the absence of government support, a number of local groups have pursued their own initiatives. One project is led by Bahiya Kanoun, who escaped from Libya during the revolution after she was branded an enemy of Gaddafi for feeding information from the wives of military men to rebels in the east of the country.

Kanoun began working in refugee camps set up in Tunisia, where thousands of other Libyans fled during the fighting. Kanoun’s training in psychology and her Libyan origin put her in the rare position of being able to help rape victims. Clinics at the camps started calling her in regularly.

One of the privileges Libya can afford – thanks to pumping 1.6 million barrels of oil a day – is to send thousands of students to university abroad on higher education scholarships or business courses. Kanoun wants the government to place rape victims in these existing sponsorship programmes – without revealing what happened to them to anyone, including their families.

Part of the reason Kanoun, who comes from a prominent Libyan family, hopes to succeed is her credibility with the government. She briefly served as a deputy minister of social affairs before deciding she preferred to work independently.

To promote her ideas, Kanoun met Libya’s Minister of Higher Education with a colleague, Maria Nicoletta Giada, who is president of Ara Pacis Initiative, an organisation dedicated to conflict prevention and resolution that is backed by the Italian foreign ministry. Both women said the minister’s response was encouraging.

But Giada cautioned that the road from promises to implementation on a significant scale would be long. “We will have to see if his words translate into actions,” she said.


In Tripoli, it is still difficult to offer social services to women, much less advertise them. Another group, Phoenix Libya, is experimenting with ways to protect women from violence under the guise of other forms of assistance.

It advertises economic support, like classes in English or marketing, and activities for children. But its underlying aim is to give help to women who either have been, or are, subject to abuse of one form or another – without agitating their husbands or fathers, who may even be the perpetrators.

“It’s difficult to build trust. There’s no culture of speaking out,” said Ibtihat Nayed, one of the founders. “We don’t advertise psychological or social support. We are trying to be discreet about that.”

Women’s rights groups say the attitudes of ordinary men are a greater obstacle to helping women than government inertia in a country where many women have to answer to male relatives.

Amnesty International, along with other international organisations involved in Libya during the eight-month civil war that ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, said it had not documented a single case of rape because victims would not speak out.

“We think (multiple rapes) might have happened but do not have any evidence,” said Amnesty International. “Everyone said, this happened, but not in our town. It was in the town next door.”

Crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery: Saudi monarchy style

One of 7 Saudis is due to be crucified on Tuesday and the other 6 are to be put to death by firing squad for armed robbery that didn’t generate in any injuries to anyone. The juvenile to be crucified spoke over a smuggled mobile phone from his prison cell, and has appealed for help to stop the executions.

Most of the 23-ring members were juveniles at the time of thefts and had no weapons and killed no one.

They were arrested in 2006. Seven of them received death sentences in 2009, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

Were they robbing a Saudi Prince by hazard?

The Associated Press reported from Cairo this March 5, 2013: “Seven Saudi face crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery”

Nasser al-Qahtani told Associated Press from Abha general prison on Monday that he was arrested as part of 23-member ring that stole from jewellery stores in 2004 and 2005. He said they had been tortured to confess and had no access to lawyers.

I killed no one. I didn’t have weapons while robbing the store, but the police tortured me, beat me up and threatened to assault my mother to extract confessions that I had a weapon with me while I was only 15. We don’t deserve death.”

A leading human rights group added its appeal to Saudi authorities to stop the executions.

Last Saturday, Mohammed al-Qahtani said, Saudi King Abdullah ratified the death sentences and sent them to Abha. Authorities set Tuesday for the executions. They also determined the methods.

The main defendant, Sarhan al-Mashayeh, will be crucified for three days. The others will face firing squads.

Qahtani faced a judge three times during eight years in detention. He said the judge did not assign a lawyer to defend them and did not listen to complaints of torture.

“We showed the judge the marks of torture and beating, but he didn’t listen. I am talking to you now and my relatives are telling me that the soil is prepared for our executions tomorrow,” he said.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law under which people convicted of murder, rape or armed robbery can be executed, usually by sword.

Several people were reported to have been crucified in Saudi Arabia last year. Human rights groups have condemned crucifixions in the past, including cases in which people are beheaded and then crucified. In 2009, Amnesty International condemned such an execution as “the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.

Abha is located deep in the south-western province of Asir. Southerners face systematic discrimination and people and are perceived as second-class citizens compared with those in the most powerful central region, where the capital and Saudi Arabia’s holy shrines of Mecca and Medina are located. Political analyst Mohammed al-Qahtani said the central region gets the best services and treatment.

“The verdict is very harsh, given all the circumstances of detention and trial with no access to lawyers, but part of the problem is selectivity,” he said. “If one person belonged to political heavyweight regions, the verdict wouldn’t have been harsh. The south is marginalized.”

He said no minister in the Saudi government, current or past, came from the south. He said he was born in the south, did not know the family of the man who talked to AP, but was familiar with the case.

The Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs, which is campaigning for suspension of the executions, said in a statement addressed to the UN high commissioner for human rights, that “among the reasons for the execution is that they hail from the south, a region that is heavily marginalized by the Saudi monarchy, which views them as lower class citizens”.

Ali Al-Ahmed, the head of the institute, said that in Saudi Arabia, people refer to the south as “07, which is derogatory, since it refers to the last area code phone number” in the kingdom.

“The south is very poor, and that is why rebellion comes from there,” he said, “and this is why sentences are harsh, because Saudi authorities want to scare them.”

Human Rights Watch in a statement on Monday appealed to Abdullah to halt the executions. It said there was “strong evidence” that the trials of all seven men violated basic principles of rights to a fair trial.

“It will be outrageous if the Saudi authorities go ahead with these executions,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time for the Saudis to stop executing child offenders and start observing their obligations under international human rights law.”

Is Iran the West Stalwart Ally in War on Drugs?

Iran may be the most efficient State in combating the trafficking of drugs, but the USA is still the primary country consuming drugs.

Without the heavy consumption in the US market for all kinds of drugs, the cartels will be in a bad shape and revenue will drastically dwindle.

Sitting next to the half-open door of a Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopter, the general who leads the Islamic Republic’s antinarcotics department pointed toward the rugged landscape of Iran’s volatile southeast, where its border meets those of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Abedin Taherkenareh/European Pressphoto Agency

Iranian border guards displayed packets of seized drugs near the border with Afghanistan.

 published on Oct.11, 2012 in the HIRMAN JOURNAL:

HIRMAN, Iran —

“This is where the drug convoys for years crossed into our country, almost with impunity,” Brig. Gen. Ali Moayedi said in Persian. Below him, sharp-edged mountains gave way to desert lands scarred for mile after mile by trenches nearly 15 feet deep and concrete walls reaching a height of 10 feet.

The earthworks were built by his men in recent years in a determined effort to stop the most prolific flow of drugs in the world, a flood of heroin and opium bound for the Persian Gulf and Europe.

Iran, as the first link in that long and lucrative smuggling chain, has for decades fought a lonely battle against drugs that its leaders see as religiously inspired, saying it is their Islamic duty to prevent drug abuse.

Nearly a decade ago Sistan va Baluchestan Province was an active battlefield, where more than 3,900 Iranian border police officers lost their lives fighting often better-equipped Afghan and Pakistani drug gangs along nearly 600 miles of Iran’s eastern border.

In those days, smugglers with night-vision equipment would roll over the border in all-terrain vehicles with heavy weapons, actively engaging Iranian law enforcement forces wherever they found them. Security forces were at times dying by the dozen each day.

Now, the country has made a huge turnaround. Its forces are seizing the highest amounts of opiates and heroin worldwide, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which has advised Iran through out the period.

Tehran has long been shy about inviting reporters to these borderlands, particularly during the difficult years when the police were dying in droves. But now, with the prospect of negotiations with the West over Iran’s disputed nuclear enrichment program, experts say, Iran’s leaders are eager to grab credit for their efforts.

During previous negotiations Iranian diplomats often pointed at Iran’s high human costs from trying to stop the drug trade, and one influential political adviser, Hamid Reza Taraghi, said that Iran expected to be politically “rewarded” for its efforts.

Up in the air, General Moayedi pointed to the Pakistani-Afghan side of the border, which he said once crawled with smugglers. “Do you see?” he exclaimed, pointing through one of the round windows of the helicopter. “There is nothing there!”

White watchtowers stood like chess pieces at mile intervals along the Iranian side of the border, facing the complete emptiness of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The smugglers still can come all the way to Iran; nobody stops them on their side,” Mr. Moayedi said as his aviator sunglasses reflected the intense sun. “But we have made it nearly impossible for them to enter our country.”

Squeezed between a tall plainclothes officer and General Moayedi’s personal bodyguard, Antonino de Leo, the Italian representative for the United Nations drug office in Tehran, showered the Iranians with praise — “because they really deserve it,” he said.

Mr. De Leo, in mountaineering shoes and backpack but remaining true to his stylish Italian background with a white flannel scarf around his neck, is very different from his uniformed Iranian counterparts. But, he said, “I need these people and they need me.”

At the same time that the Iranians were netting eight times more opium and three times more heroin than all the other countries in the world combined, Mr. De Leo said, his office was the smallest in the region and he had to cut back some programs, like drug sniffer dog training, because Western nations had cut back on financing.

“These men are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country,” Mr. De Leo said.

While his colleagues in Afghanistan received $40 million a year in direct aid for counternarcotics programs, he said, they treated 100 addicts last year while Iran was treating hundreds of thousands. His budget was barely $13 million stretched over four years. “It’s all politics,” he said.

When the helicopter landed here at a fort in this desolate landscape it was too close to a party tent, blowing off its roof and setting off panic among the soldiers who had spent four days preparing for the V.I.P. visit.

Zahra, the 11-year-old daughter of one of the 3,900 policemen killed on border duty, welcomed the general, saying she missed her father but was happy that he was with God. Her mother, dressed in a black chador, nodded approvingly.

Armed soldiers stood guard as General Moayedi and Mr. De Leo inspected intercepted packages of opium, heroin and morphine. “There are 100,000 NATO troops based in Afghanistan,” the general said. “Why are they not stopping the flow of drugs into our country?

He gestured at the latest models of pickup trucks, used to patrol the long straight roads along the fortified walls, and said Iran could easily fend for itself. “But as others sleep comfortably in other countries, my men are here during the hot desert days and cold nights, trying to intercept drugs that would otherwise end up in the West. We are making a sacrifice.”

Mr. De Leo, who is one of the very few Westerners in Iran in direct, daily contact with top law enforcement officials, said his office was under pressure from Western activist groups like Human Rights Watch, which have expressed alarm over the sharp increase in hangings of convicted drug dealers.

Hundreds have been executed in recent years, making Iran the second leading country in the world in death sentences, after China. Mr. De Leo said that he, too, was bothered by the increase in executions, but that the punishments were meted out by Iran’s judiciary, not by its police force.

And though Iran routinely puts drug dealers to death, it also has a range of modern drug rehabilitation programs for its hard-core addicts, who number 1.2 million by official count. The addicts are treated as patients and given methadone and other treatments rather than prison sentences, Iranian families of addicts and foreign diplomats say.

General Moayedi said that he did not concern himself with politics, and that in any case he considered the fight against drugs to be a religious duty.

“But,” he said, “imagine if we just let all those drugs flow freely through our country, toward the West. I guess then the world would understand what we have been doing here for all these years.”

“Secrets are not sacrosanct.  We prefer to keep them; that is true”; a sentence from John Le Carre in “A little town in Germany”

The Washington Post undertook an investigation into the US intelligence agencies that lasted two years.  Twenty journalists were mobilized along with Dana Priest, twice awarded the Pulitzer on her investigative reporting in the secret prisons of the CIA and in the military hospital of Walter Reed where most of the injured soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving below standard health treatment.  The other renown journalist is William Arkin who served in the military intelligence for four years and is currently working with NGO, Human Rights Watch, and Greenpeace.

After the 9/11 attack on the twin Towers and the Pentagon, Bush Jr. Administration decided to coordinate the functioning of the semi-autonomous agencies.  It turned out that no coordination was instituted but 263 new agencies were created to multiply redundancy, confusion, rivalry among the agencies, and the siphoning of over 400 additional billions from 2002 to 2009.  The Congress still add 20 billion dollars each year for this behemoth of labyrinthine structure.  Cloudiness in responsibilities, limits in any agency authority, and redundancy in gathering intelligence and analyzing trillion of pieces of information are the norm.

The ex-director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, declared: “We thought that if it was worth undertaking it then, it must be worth overdoing it.”  The Pentagon Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) increased from 7,500 employees to over 16,500 since 2002.  The budget of the National Security Agency (NSA) doubled.  The number of special units in the FBI jumped from 35 to 106 units.

First,  a few data before we embark on this interesting story.  The USA has 860,000 people carrying top-secret clarification to access secret service agencies.  The US has 1,271 secret agencies and about 2,000 private societies working on secret programs for gathering and analyzing pieces of intelligence.  The bouquet that clouds everything are the 50,000 published reports per year, on daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis by the various secret agencies.  How many top people in the hierarchy should be hired to exhaust reading all these “serious” reports?  Obviously, redundancy is the norm in these reports and the interesting information are mostly ignored by boredom, exhaustion, and self-sufficiency.

Second, a few information on the various agencies to set the background for the reported story.  You might think that you heard about the CIA and FBI and I will not bother you about further nasty details on both of these huge agencies.  Suffice to know that the FBI was created in 1908 and is part of the Justice department.  The CIA was created in 1947 and depends of No ministry (strange, isn’t it?)  Do you know that the Department of Defense manages two third of the secret agencies?  For example, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  Let us focus on the newly created agencies.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started its activities in january 2003 and is directed by the minister of internal security. Originally, this agency was to coordinate and develop a global national strategy to combatting “terrorism”.

Office of the Director of national Intelligence (ODNI) was created in 2004 with mission of figuring out how to putting order among the 16 agencies specially designed to intelligence gathering (good luck).  Congress didn’t vote on attaching any judiciary or budget to the ODNI.  Consequently, he cannot have any power on the other secret agencies that he was meant to control.  Before Negroponte assumed his activities, the ministry of Defense transferred billions of dollars from one budget into another and the CIA increased the level of security access to preventing this agency from accessing “sensitive” intelligence. When the ODNI started its activities in the spring of 2005, it had 11 employees. A year later, this agency occupied two floors of a building.  By 2008, it settled on the humongous Headquarter of Liberty Crossing.

National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was created in August 2004 and depending on the Bureau of ODNI.

US Secret Services (USSS) depends on the minister of internal security with two main missions: fighting financial frauds and assuring the security of the President and the high dignitaries.

(to be continued)




February 2023

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