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Group Says Lawmakers' Rights Violated in at Least 16 Countries

The international association of parliamentarians says the human rights of national lawmakers are under attack in at least 16 countries.

Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs says governments from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe are suppressing the rights of elected parliamentarians for offenses as small as promoting the views of those who elected them. Carstairs is a 25-year member of Canada's parliament, and president of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the IPU conference, Carstairs named Eritrea, Burma, Afghanistan and Israel as among the violators. She called on Eritrea to clarify the whereabouts of 11 MPs who disappeared without a trace in September, 2001.

"It is clearly of grave concern to us when parliamentarians simply disappear from the face of the earth. Have they been murdered? Are they in detention? And we are calling upon the African Union and their president Moammar Gadhafi to do whatever they can to intercede with the Eritrean government in order to find out what has happened to these 11 parliamentarians," she said.

Carstairs also appealed to Afghanistan's government to reinstate Malalai Joya, who was suspended from parliament nearly two years ago for insulting the country's warlords.

"I think it is fair that in calling some of the warlords in her parliament 'dogs' probably wasn't a very popular thing to do. On the other hand, she had been called a 'whore', on the floor of the parliament of Afghanistan. So we have a situation in which the parliament decided to give her a temporary suspension. Well that temporary suspension began in May, 2007, and that temporary suspension is still continuing today," she said.

Carstairs also criticized Israel's detention of 37 members of the Palestinian parliament who were elected as representatives of Hamas, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group.

"The Israelis would argue that being elected on the Change and Reform List, they are therefore members of Hamas, as members of Hamas, they are therefore terrorists, and as terrorists they deserve to be so charged. Your committee is concerned that in not one single case of a trial that has taken place to date, have they actually been charged with a terrorist act. They have been charged with being elected on the Change and Reform list, and this causes us grave concerns," she said.

Carstairs also mentioned the cases of elected legislators in Burma who have been in prison or otherwise harassed for years, and of several members of Parliament in Zimbabwe who have suffered violence and whose basic rights have been violated.

She says the IPU prides itself on being what she called a 'talking shop', and does not impose penalties on countries accused of violating parliamentarians' rights. She says the rights committee's only function is to bring cases to public attention, so the plight of victims is not forgotten.