- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

Human rights should play bigger role in election

Thank you for your recent articles relating to human rights, "A lonely passion for religious rights" (Oct. 20) and "Labor bait and switch" (Oct. 24).

Human rights violations are on the rise in many countries. People are being persecuted, tortured and killed for no reason other than their religion. However, we, the American voters, have not had a chance to hear what the presidential candidates plan to do regarding this critical issue. It is time the candidates define their stance on the following matters:

• The State Department's report on international religious freedom documents severe persecution of religious minorities notably Christians in a number of Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt. At the same time, some immigrants from countries that practice persecution not only enjoy complete freedom of religion in America, but often use it to lobby against U.S. policies that call for religious tolerance in their native countries. Our next president must not let their intolerance be imported into the United States. He must ensure that our policy is to promote freedom and tolerance in other countries.

• President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and other politicians deny that the Christian population in Egypt suffers any persecution. Mr. Mubarak thumbs his nose at the United States, saying these are internal affairs and it is not our business to interfere. He forgets that Egypt is legally bound by U.N. human rights declarations to respect the human rights of all citizens. He is concerned only with getting the more than $2 billion dollars of foreign aid the United States gives every year. We must elect a president who is able to put Mr. Mubarak's feet to the fire to make him understand that the United States means business when we talk about human rights.

• Some feel that in places such as China, Egypt and Turkey, the United States is putting U.S. economic interests above human rights issues. We must choose a candidate who will bring changes to U.S. foreign policy regarding these issues. The next administration must rank human rights above our economic interests.

• The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on July 28 to recommend that Saudi Arabia be listed among "countries of particular concern" under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Saudi Arabia has funded numerous mosques, Islamic centers and Islamic schools here in the United States and is considered a reliable U.S. ally. Yet, it refuses to allow Americans and other foreign nationals living and working in Saudi Arabia to meet in their own homes for prayer or even to carry a Bible into the country. One Christian recently reported that his personal Bible was put into a shredder once he entered customs. The next president must deal with Saudi Arabia regarding these issues.

• Members of Congress already have seen a petition signed by more than 3,000 foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia asking for their basic rights. We must elect a president who is willing to press King Fahd to announce publicly that Christians are guaranteed these three basic rights: to meet with other Christians in their own homes, to bring in Bibles and Christian literature for their own use and to have clergymen from outside the country come in and provide religious instruction.

• The next president must be able to work with U.S. allies to influence them to watch carefully for and act upon human rights violations against Christian minorities in countries such as Egypt.

• We must choose a candidate who will take measures to deny immigration quotas or visitors visas for those countries that violate the International Religious Freedom Act. The United States must defend and support the IRFA and encourage private companies and other countries to do the same.

• The number of Christians is decreasing rapidly in the Middle East because of different forms of persecution by governments and Muslim extremists. The next president must lead the United States in helping them.

In short, we must elect a president for whom securing human rights is a personal value that would drive his foreign policy decisions.

NAGI A. KHEIR

Spokesman, American Coptic Association

Member of the International Coptic Congress

Director of Middle East Affairs, Advocates International

Fairfax

Tenley tower builder too big to be victim

I would like to respond to the Oct. 23 Op-Ed column "Politics towers above," written on behalf of American Tower Corp. by its vice president and general manager, Robert Morgan.

In its cry that the D.C. government has treated it poorly in revoking its permit to build a telecommunications tower in Tenleytown, American Tower has omitted some key facts:

• The company has only spent $4 million on partial construction of of this tower, yet it is suing the District for $250 million in taxpayer money. How can this company portray itself as acting for the benefit of D.C. residents with one hand while suing the taxpayers for a quarter of a billion dollars, including a whopping $100 million in punitive damages, with the other?

• It is up to the judge, not American Tower, to determine whether its permit was issued validly and whether it violates federal height restrictions, setback limits or the numerous D.C. zoning laws governing structures such as this. Even if there were an error, no company can expect a gigantic cash windfall as a result of an honest mistake.

• American Tower already owns and profits from more than 45 towers throughout the District, and its attorney, Robert Cooper, is a former member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission. If there were an error, a company with that many existing towers in our city and expert lawyers versed in D.C. law and policy should have known it from the start.

American Tower would love to portray itself as the victim of the political clout of a few Ward 3 residents. This is laughable. Concerned residents vs. a multimillion-dollar corporation from another state and its expert lawyers who is David and who is Goliath in this picture? Make no mistake, this Boston company does not seek to build a huge tower in Washington out of a sense of charity for our city. It is looking for profit and, as evidenced by Mr. Morgan's letter, is willing to play the tired game of D.C. division politics to get it. Its other claim, that the District is not business-friendly and is unwilling to embrace technology, seems disingenuous when one considers that the company already profits from 45 towers spread all over our city. Tenleytown already bears the burden of four enormous broadcast towers serving the entire metropolitan area, including Maryland and Virginia.

Towers might be a way to develop technology, but companies that would profit from them have an unequivocal duty to build them in a responsible way and with input from the community and the proper authorities. Jumping all over a permitting mistake is hardly the responsible approach.

Mr. Morgan's posture of indignant shock simply is not credible to anyone who considers that his first contact with the residents of Washington was looking at us down the barrel of a lawsuit. Indeed, it is the residents of Washington who are shocked, Mr. Morgan, when we see the disproportionate size of your project, when we hear about the money you are trying to take away from needed city resources, when we know that 45 of your towers already are in our city and when we read about your attempts to prey upon our city's already painful divisions, all for your company's profit.

DAMIAN DIDDEN

Stop the Tower Citizens' Coalition

Chevy Chase

Fishing for votes

Will the old saying "Catholics who eat fish on Friday vote Democrat on Tuesday" hold true for Vice President Al Gore?

Mr. Gore is shamelessly pro abortion, opposes school vouchers and is vague about his plans to revise the marriage penalty tax laws. Mr. Gore spoke with contempt for the Vatican at the U.N. Cairo Conference on Population and Development. When Pope John Paul II recently and in dogmatic tones condemned homosexual pride festivities in Rome, Mr. Gore stood his ground and continued to extend his benediction on the festivities. Are we better off morally today than we were eight years ago?

When Mr. Gore asks for the Catholic vote on Tuesday, Catholics may tell him to go fish.

DANIEL J. YATES

Pittsburgh

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