Amnesty International, which turns 40 years old this year, publishes today its annual report for the year 2000. The human rights watchdog continues to publicize -- and condemn -- human rights violations in former communist countries and in Western democracies alike. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill reports that the organization finds cause for concern in virtually every nation.
Prague, 30 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International, or AI, castigates Russia today for what it says were "grave crimes on a massive scale" last year in Chechnya.
In its Year 2000 annual report on human rights violations around the world, the human rights watchdog finds widespread crimes against human rights not only in nations in transition from communism but also in the Western democracies.
AI singles out for particular concern police misbehavior, executions, the mistreatment of Roma and other minorities, and a category of violations that it calls "impunity" -- that is, the failure of nations to protect their citizens from violators of human rights.
AI says that Russian federal forces in separatist Chechnya killed thousands of Chechen civilians in indiscriminate attacks. It refers to, in the words of the report, "widespread reports of torture," incommunicado detention and summary executions.
The report cites three specific examples: the execution of 60 civilians in a suburb of the capital Grozny in February, a multiple-fatality attack on a group of civilians in Samashki village in March, and the secretive detention of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky early in the year.
The report says that Chechnya formed the backdrop for a general disregard for the rule of law and for increased restrictions on civil liberties throughout Russia in 2000.
In the transition nations of Eastern and Central Europe, a common thread runs through the report's findings. That is the continuing frequency of complaints of police misbehavior and police inattention to civil rights. From Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia came citizen and international complaints of police brutality, beatings and indifference.
From most of the above countries also came complaints either of the official mistreatment of the Roma minority or of a failure by the authorities to protect Roma from attacks or to properly investigate attacks and to prosecute the assailants.
Amnesty International has joined with local governments in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and elsewhere in offering training programs for police and others on racial tolerance and intercultural relations.
Ivan Fiser is a constitutional lawyer by training and a native of Belgrade. He joined AI's staff when, he says, the Slobodan Milosevic regime left no place for him to practice his discipline. He worked on the Year 2000 report as the analyst for the non-CIS countries of Eastern and Central Europe. In a telephone interview from London, Fiser explains the AI concept of impunity:
"Impunity to us means the failure to bring to justice those who are responsible for torture and ill treatment, the most serious human rights violations that we work on."
From its beginning, Amnesty International has been concerned mainly with violations of human rights committed by governments and their representatives. Fiser says that the principle of impunity extends that concern to violations in which governments acquiesce. A victim in such instances is twice mistreated, he says: once when the violation occurs, and again when the violation goes uninvestigated and the violator goes unpunished.
When the violators are police, he says, the problem intensifies: "The violation that is widespread, not just in countries in transition but throughout the continent, is impunity of law enforcement officials. Amnesty International is concerned that this not only lets the perpetrator off the hook but also is a slap in the face of the human rights victims, who are denied justice."
The analyst says that in most of the former communist nations, mechanics for investigating police misconduct have not yet been reformed. Most often, he says, the agency charged with investigating complaints of police misbehavior is the same authority that stands charged with committing the violation.
AI found and protested against cases of extra-judicial executions, but it also condemned the legalized use of the death penalty. The report says that at least 1,457 people are known to have been executed in 18 countries last year, and adds that the actual number may be far higher. It says that 88 percent of known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Amnesty International reports approvingly that the death penalty has been all but wiped out in Europe, including in the transition nations of Eastern and Central Europe. Analyst Fiser attributes this development to the influence of the Council of Europe, to which most of the countries belong, and to the European Union, to which many aspire.
Worldwide, the report says, 75 countries had abolished the death penalty by the end of last year. Thirteen others have abandoned it for all but exceptional crimes, and 20 have avoided use of the death penalty for 10 or more years.
A country-by-country summary of AI's findings follows:
Armed conflict dragged on last year in Afghanistan between the ruling Taliban militia and opposition forces. Reports of arbitrary detention and torture were commonplace. In addition, AI says, the Taliban imposed in territories it controlled harsh restrictions on personal conduct. These restrictions fell with extra force on women. The report says that many thousands of people were displaced by the fighting. Neighbors Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan closed their borders to Afghan refugees, leaving thousands stranded with inadequate food and shelter.
The report says that in Albania last year police subjected scores of people to ill-treatment and torture, most often in police stations following arrests. The government appointed in February the nation's first ombudsman, and he is reported to have intervened in some cases of police ill-treatment. A number of police charged with misconduct were dismissed or suspended. The report says that more than 1,000 political opposition supporters were detained in November demonstrations and some remained imprisoned at year's end.
Amnesty International says that Armenia last year did not live up to its commitment to the Council of Europe to allow conscientious objectors to military service. The report says the government continued to prosecute, imprison, or forcibly conscript objectors. It also says that torture and ill-treatment in custody continued in Armenia during the year.
In Azerbaijan last year, the main human rights complaints were that several opposition activists were detained for short periods. There were some reports of torture and ill-treatment in custody.
Amnesty International says that the year 2000 brought no improvement in Belarus' human rights record under the rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. A prominent journalist disappeared during the year and no progress was reported in investigations of the disappearances of opposition figures the previous year. The report says the death penalty continued to be imposed secretly.
The report says that international involvement in the administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina resulted in increased stabilization and reform last year. But, AI says, it remains concerned over a lack of commitment by local authorities to protect human rights and address past violations. In the words of the report: "Most perpetrators of the massive and grave abuses of human rights committed during and in the wake of the civil war continued to enjoy impunity."
AI says that incidents of police brutality and racist discrimination against Roma were reported last year in Bulgaria and their perpetrators acted with virtual impunity. Also, the report says, provisions of an amended penal code were used to suppress freedom of expression.
AI charges that Czech police arbitrarily detained and ill-treated dozens of people during protests against World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Prague. It says a new law on the residence of aliens drew criticism for giving police arbitrary powers. Racist attacks on Roma continued to be reported.
Reports last year of torture and ill-treatment in custody headed the AI report on Georgia. At least one death was attributed to mistreatment in custody.
AI reports that the government of Hungary rejected appeals for anti-discrimination legislation despite evidence of widespread racist discrimination, especially against Roma.
Scores of political prisoners continued to be held last year in Iran. AI reports that authorities executed at least 75 people, and that many more may have been executed. The nation underwent what the Year 2000 report calls an unprecedented clampdown on freedom of expression.
The report says that hundreds of people, including political prisoners, were executed in Iraq last year. It says torture was widespread and new punishments such as cutting off tongues and beheading were reported to be in use.
AI says that reports of torture in police custody in Kazakhstan continued last year. President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in April that torture and other ill-treatment was widespread.
The report says that in Kyrgyzstan authorities responded to armed incursions by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan by clamping down on supporters of Islamist opposition parties.
Amnesty International says Latvia last year was working to reform its treatment of conscientious objectors to military service.
The AI report on Macedonia focuses on an incident at Aracinovo village near Skopje in January last year in which three police officers were killed. The report says that many people were beaten and threatened, exacerbating racial tensions between Macedonians and the nation's ethnic-Albanian minority.
In Moldova, AI's report described what it called "arbitrary detention and ill-treatment by police [and] inhuman and degrading treatment in prisons, alcoholic treatment centers, and orphanages."
Pakistan made public commitments to human rights protection. But the AI report says that violations, including torture in custody, actually increased. It says violence against women and children was also on the rise.
AI says there were reports of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in sobering-up centers in Poland. Also, it says, some Roma were inadequately protected from violence.
In Romania last year, the AI report says, there were many reports of torture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement officials. Proposed reforms to improve police procedures had not been adopted by year's end.
Human rights violations in Slovakia registered in the Amnesty International report continued to be dominated by attacks on Roma by skinhead gangs and the police.
AI cited reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers in Slovenia last year for what it called inadequate and, in at least one case, degrading treatment.
Tajikistan's criminal code lists 15 offenses which can merit the death penalty. The AI report for Year 2000 says at least 38 people were recorded as executed. It says the true number is far higher.
Amnesty International says torture, harassment and intimidation remained widespread in Turkey last year. Writers, politicians, religious leaders, human rights defenders and others were imprisoned, particularly when they expressed opinions about the Kurdish minority.
In Turkmenistan, AI's report centered on the harassment of unregistered religious denominations. It says authorities broke up religious services in private homes, confiscated religious materials and destroyed places of worship.
Amnesty International cited with approval Ukraine's abolition of the death penalty last year. AI's report took notice also, however, of the disappearance and slaying of critical journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. It also listed harsh prison conditions and excessive use of force by the Ukraine coastguard.
The AI report says that reports of torture by law-enforcement officials of the members of independent Islamic congregations continued last year in Uzbekistan. It says human rights groups there reported several cases of deaths in custody.
The report says the period last year preceding the ousting of President Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia was marked by a great increase in the frequency and severity of many kinds of human rights violations -- unfair trials, illegal detention, police torture, disappearances and suppression of free expression.