17 February 2006, Volume
JUDICIAL SECTOR REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ATTENTION
By Amin Tarzi
The international community and Afghan delegates emerged from the two-day London conference on Afghanistan with a clutch of documents. They include a five-year Afghanistan Compact that assures continued global support for Afghanistan until 2010. All sides celebrated agreement on various issues, but questions remain over the feasibility and measurability of tasks in the Afghanistan Compact.
Adhering To The Compact
The compact states that democratic "governance and the protection of human rights constitute the cornerstone of sustainable political progress in Afghanistan."
The Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (I-ANDS) -- which underpins the compact on the Afghan side -- is realistic about the country's problems in the governance sector. According to I-ANDS, Afghanistan "does not yet have the capacity or resources to govern effectively."
The realm of informal justice mechanisms -- while very important in the Afghan context and with some regulatory measures a viable means to solve disputes in lieu of state courts in certain circumstances -- requires more understanding before it can be fully utilized.
In the compact, Afghanistan pledges to adhere to a list of public administration reforms, including implementing anticorruption mechanisms and empowering women to participate "in all Afghan governance institutions," in its five-year plan. Such steps are feasible -- at least to a measurable degree -- if acted upon by the Afghan side in strategic coordination with the donors.
What seems unrealistic -- yet its implementation is crucial to Afghanistan's state-building process -- is the pledge to have "functioning institutions of justice" fully operational in each of the country's 34 provinces.
Lack Of Progress
Of all the vital sectors and issues in Afghanistan that need to be addressed -- military, police, judicial, counternarcotics, and disarmament -- the least progress -- perhaps, none -- has been made in the justice institutions.
Unlike the other issues -- where various degrees of reform has taken place since the Bonn agreement, Afghanistan's judicial sector remains more or less dysfunctional and, at the moment, no long-term nationwide plan to fix this problem has been debated -- at least not publicly.
In the I-ANDS, Afghanistan is taking on a lot when it pledges to "establish a sustainable and affordable system of justice" acceptable to all Afghans and "in conformity with international standards." The Afghan Justice Ministry plans within five years to regulate the role of formal and informal justice mechanisms and their areas of jurisdiction.
Fresh from winning the presidential election in October 2004, Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have lost an opportunity to appoint a reform-minded head of the Supreme Court instead of reaffirming ultraconservative Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. Shinwari seems to have enough support among conservatives in the National Assembly who, like him, view the judicial sector as their prerogative. They are likely to retain him as chief justice knowing that he is likely to undermine most of the reforms that do not fit his worldview.
Judicial-sector reform can only begin when Afghanistan starts in earnest to train judges, defense lawyers, and other court functionaries both in secular and Islamic legal systems.
Incidentally, the realm of informal justice mechanisms -- while very important in the Afghan context and with some regulatory measures a viable means to solve disputes in lieu of state courts in certain circumstances -- requires more understanding before it can be fully utilized.
While reform in the judicial sector is urgently needed, to achieve all that Afghanistan has agreed to in the I-ANDS -- and which the supporters of Afghanistan have accepted in signing their names to the compact -- seems overly optimistic.
While the compact is a political document rather than a binding treaty, it is, according to Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin of New York University, an attempt to make functional the governing institutions that the 2001 Bonn agreement reestablished. As such, rather than agreeing to benchmarks with a very low probability of completion on time, the compact might have planned a less ambitious but more realistic plan of action. The judicial sector problem appears to be a glaring underestimation of the amount of changes required.
The Afghan government wrote in the I-ANDS that Afghanistan "mobilizes less domestic resources as a percentage" of its gross domestic product than any other state in the world. As such, direct-aid money accounts for the bulk of Afghanistan's budget.
However, Kabul complains in the I-ANDS that less than 25 percent of that aid money goes through Afghanistan's national budget.
Under the new arrangement, Afghanistan is to receive larger portions of the aid that, in theory, should enhance Kabul's control of the country's fiscal policies.
More direct distribution power over the aid should also compel the Afghan government to aid its pledges -- something that Kabul also stated in 2003 and 2004 -- to downsize and professionalize its administrative system and to overtly and -- without regard to the culprit -- fight corruption, beginning with any senior government officials that may be involved in such activities. That, however, is something that cannot be accomplished without an accountable and functional judicial system.
ANOTHER EXERCISE IN SIMULATED DEMOCRACY
By Jan Maksymiuk
Belarus will hold a presidential election on 19 March, in which incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seeking a third consecutive term. Even the most optimistic among the opposition concede it is unlikely the Central Election Commission will announce anything but a landslide victory for the incumbent. Over the years of Lukashenka's rule, elections in Belarus have steadily evolved into mere exercises in simulated democracy.
On 8 February, Belarus's Central Election Commission said its territorial branches in Hrodna Oblast annulled ballot-access signatures collected for united opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in 10 of the oblast's 17 districts. According to the commission, more than 15 percent of signatures collected for Milinkevich in these districts were false or otherwise defective, which under electoral regulations in force disqualifies the lists altogether.
Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, Milinkevich's election team manager, said the annulment is a deliberate step by the authorities to discredit the united opposition candidate in his native region and undermine public trust in him. "We have Xerox copies of all signature lists and we are ready to check the authenticity of all the submitted signatures jointly with territorial election commissions, but have been told 'no' everywhere," he added.
Milinkevich reportedly submitted 198,000 signatures to support his presidential bid; that is, well in excess of the 100,000 required for his registration as a presidential candidate. But it's hard to say whether he is on the safe side during the ongoing checks of ballot-access signatures. If territorial commissions in Belarus's other five regions and the city of Minsk follow the example of those in Hrodna Oblast, he may simply be denied registration and eliminated from the presidential race.
The checking of signatures is only one stage of the tortuous process that opposition candidates face in order to challenge Lukashenka. Since the opposition in Belarus has virtually no representatives in the power system, either at the central or regional level, it is completely at the mercy of the authorities, which not only set the rules of the electoral game but also interpret these rules in the way they want to. And no one can challenge these rules or their interpretations because there is no independent arbiter in the country. Belarus's judicial system is nothing more than a punishing arm of the executive.
Campaigning in Belarus is another problem. Campaigning is possible only after the registration of candidates, which is expected to take place close to 21 February, thus leaving the registered candidates only four weeks for promoting their bids among the electorate. Each of the registered candidates will obtain some $30,000 from the state to cover costs of his campaign. Exceeding this amount in campaign expenses is fraught with disqualification from the race.
Each of the candidates will also be offered two 30-minute appearances on state-run radio and another two on state-run television, where they may present their pre-recorded addresses to voters. If radio and television authorities deem the addresses inappropriate, they may ban them from being aired. Given Belarus's tight antidefamation legislation and lax rules of official interpretation of what defamation is, it is hardly possible for independent candidates to criticize the government of Lukashenka during these broadcasts. There is no legal possibility for presidential candidates to place election advertisements on state-run television and radio apart from the above-mentioned appearances.
Each of the registered candidates may also publish his election platform -- not exceeding 10,000 characters -- in seven nationwide state-run newspapers. And the Central Election Commission's Lidziya Yarmoshyna warned on 8 February that the candidates should not try to do so in nonstate press. Yarmoshyna argued that giving a presidential candidate the opportunity to publish his articles in a nonstate newspaper will be tantamount to providing illegal financial support, which in its turn may serve as a reason for the candidate's exclusion from the race.
And presidential candidates cannot meet with voters where they want. They may only meet at venues provided by local authorities. Of course, that's if the candidates are able to pay the rent without exceeding the authorized campaign fund.
Counting the ballots in Belarus is totally under the government's control. In theory, electoral law allows political parties and nongovernmental organization to be represented on territorial election commissions. But in the practice of the past decade, the authorities did not let any meaningful group of opposition representatives or democratic-minded NGOs to participate in these commissions. This year they were extremely uncompromising -- out of 74,107 people selected for 6,586 precinct election commission, only two individuals represent the opposition parties.
Election observers, either international or domestic, do not add much to making the ballot counting more transparent and reliable -- observers are not allowed into the room where the process is taking place and may observe it only through an open door from an adjacent room. It has never happened in the past 10 years of Lukashenka's rule that the authorities allowed election monitors to recount the ballots at some precinct in order to compare their result with the official one. Indeed, even obtaining information about the number of eligible voters in a given precinct frequently proves to be an impossible task.
The strict campaign rules do not apply, of course, to the incumbent president. Lukashenka may advertise his presidential bid whenever and wherever he wants -- he may always claim that he speaks on election issues as the head of state, not as a presidential candidate. And he does not need to bother himself about his election fund. He simply does not have to pay for anything. And he may habitually call his political opponents "thugs" (otmorozki) on television and describe them as mercenaries of the West, without bothering himself about defamation laws.
However, what the authorities are really concerned about is election turnout. The government does everything possible to show that Lukashenka's policies enjoy wide and enthusiastic popular support. Therefore, casting ballots in Belarus actually begins six days before the voting day, and people are encouraged by the government to vote early. And on the voting day the authorities at many polling stations offer vodka and sausages as well as other consumer goods at discount prices.
A poll taken by the Gallup/Baltic Surveys in the first half of January found that nationwide nearly 55 percent of Belarusians want to vote for Lukashenka and just 17 percent for Milinkevich. Practically, Lukashenka could win in a fully democratic ballot. But he has his own way of handling elections. His own pollster, the Institute for Social and Political Studies, immediately reacted by saying that in a poll it held in December, 77 percent of respondents said they wanted to vote for the incumbent. According to the presidential institute, support for any other presidential candidate did not exceed 2 percent.
Some Belarusian independent observers, leaning on the experience of previous election campaigns in the country, have opined that 77 percent is the minimum that Lukashenka would tolerate to see as his result in the Central Election Commission's protocol after the 19 March vote.
QOM AUTHORITIS CRACK DOWN ON SUFI MINORITY
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Human rights activists have expressed concern over the arrest on 13 February of some 1,000 Sufi worshippers in the Iranian holy city of Qom. The arrests followed clashes between the police and members of a Sufi group over the closure of a house of worship used by Sufi Muslims. Observers say the scale and violence of the crackdown on the Sufis is unprecedented in the Islamic Republic.
Officials say the Sufis had illegally turned a residential building into a center of worship and had refused to evacuate it. They have also said that some of the dervishes were armed. But representatives of the dervishes deny the charges and say they are being targeted due to an increasing popularity of Sufism.
The Iranian government has been showing signs of increasing antipathy towards Iran's Sufi community, but experts say the scale and violence of the clashes on 13 February is unprecedented.
Qom Deputy Governor Ahmad Hajizadeh, said 1,200 worshippers -- also known as dervishes -- were arrested as police sought to close a Sufi house of worship. Hajizadeh said 100 people, including more than 30 police officers, were injured in the clashes.
Qom officials say the Sufis had illegally turned a presidential building into a center of worship and had refused to leave it. Some of the dervishes were armed, they added.
Representatives of the dervishes deny the charges and say they are being targeted due to the increasing popularity of Sufism. Figures produced by sources close to the Sufi groups and human rights activists also differ from official accounts. They put the number of the arrests at 2,000 and say that 350 people were injured.
Following the clashes, the authorities demolished the house of worship as well as the homes of two leaders of the group.
Sufism is based on the pursuit of mystical truth and Sufis believe that mystical practices involving dance, music, and the recitation of Allah's divine names can give them direct perception of God.
Although Sufi Muslims strictly observe Islamic practices and beliefs, some conservative Muslim clerics see it as a danger to Islam. Some even argue that Sufism is a deviation of Islam.
In Iran, there have been always some tensions between Sufism and more orthodox traditions of Islam. However, observers say these tensions have worsened since the establishment of the Islamic Republic 27 years ago, and state tolerance for Sufi groups has diminished.
Never before, though, has there been an attack as strong as seen this week, says Abdol-Karim Lahidji, vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. "Unfortunately under the years of the rule of the Islamic government we have seen limitations on non-Muslims -- above all, Baha'is, Jews, and also Christians -- and on Sufi groups, and their meetings have been disrupted," says Lahidji, but "it is unprecedented in the modern history of Iran that a Sufi group should be treated" as it was in Qom.
Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, a Paris-based scholar who specializes in Sufism, says that the Qom clashes mark "a new phase...between dervishes and fanatics -- a phase of violent encounter -- because until now only the leaders of [Sufi] groups were under pressure. Now, though, there is a confrontation with ordinary people who are facing pressure merely because they are dervishes."
Qom Not A New Target
The Qom worshippers belong to the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufism, one of the largest Sufi groups in Iran and a strand of Sufism that Azmayesh represents outside Iran.
Azmayesh says that pressure on Sufis -- and "especially on the Nematollahi Gonabadi order" -- has increased "a lot" since hard-liner Mahmud Ahamdinejad succeeded Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami as Iran's president in June 2005.
"Now unfortunately, when the pressure groups and fanatics want to repress the Sufis, those who enforce the laws are not stopping them," says Azamayesh.
Several anti-Sufi books have been published in Iran over the past year and several clerics have also harshly condemned Sufism, Azamayesh says, noting that the recent clashes in Qom erupted after a speech by a cleric, who blasted Sufism and called for restrictions on the Sufi community.
Iran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" on 14 February quoted senior clerics in Qom as saying that Sufism should be eradicated in the city, while the Reuters news agency reported that in September one of Iran's hard-line clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani, called for a clampdown on Sufis in Qom, which is considered to be one of the centers of Shi'ite Islam.
Qom Governor Abbas Mohtaj has reportedly accused the dervishes of having links to foreign countries.
However, Azmayesh believes that Sufis are being targeted because of their "more open interpretation of Islam" and also because Sufism is picking up more followers.
"More than before, people are running away from a totalitarian interpretation of the religion, they are having doubts, and they have lost faith in the work of those who consider themselves custodians of religion," he maintains. "By contrast, they feel very close to the Sufi teachings and its customs, which are based on love."
Azmayesh says there is currently an "inverse trend" in Iran. "As mosques empty," he says, "[Sufi houses of worship] are expanding and being filled."
Iranian officials have said that the arrested dervishes will be interrogated and those who were not among the "main elements and instigators" will gradually be released. Some have already been freed, many of them women.
OUTRAGE PROMPTS NEW EFFORT TO ROOT OUT HAZING
By Robert Parsons
Prosecutors in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan have opened a criminal investigation into the death of a conscript in Ufa. Russian news agencies report that Nursullah Dautov was taken to hospital last week, two days after allegedly being beaten by fellow soldiers. His death comes soon after the savage beating of another Russian serviceman shocked Russian public opinion and prompted Russia's parliamentary Defense Committee to discuss the problem of hazing in the military today.
Old habits, it seems, die hard. A cloud of secrecy has descended on Ufa in the wake of the death of 23-year-old Dautov.
A phone call to the Bashkortostan clinical hospital where Dautov died brought a curt response. "It's a closed matter...end of story," a doctor who declined to identify himself said.
In Ufa, at least, nobody appears to be listening to President Vladimir Putin, who had some strong words to say on the subject of hazing less than two weeks ago.
"We should seriously heighten our attention to the protection of the personal rights and social guarantees of military personnel and react in the firmest way to any facts of violence and hazing and attempts by commanders to cover up such incidents," Putin said.
Putin spoke as Russia reacted in horror to the fate of Private Andrei Sychyov, an 18-year-old soldier beaten so brutally by six fellow soldiers that his legs and genitals had to be amputated.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov ordered a military commission to look into the attack and said its findings would be made public.
Fifty-four service personnel died in January as a result of crimes and accidents in the Russian armed services -- 14 of them allegedly through suicide, according to mil.ru, a Defense Ministry website.
Dautov's mistake was to refuse to wash the Ufa barracks floors on the morning of 8 February, a fatal act of insubordination that led to his death three days later in a city hospital.
Doctors subsequently confirmed that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage, damage to his abdominal organs caused by a blunt instrument, and facial damage.
'Rule Of The Grandfathers'
The abuse of conscripts -- known in Russian as the "rule of grandfathers" ("dedovshchina") -- has become endemic in the Russian military as conditions in the armed forces have deteriorated over the last 10 years.
Poor morale, a shortage of qualified officers, low pay, and the demoralizing effects of a long and brutal war in Chechnya have all played their part.
Precise figures on the problem remain elusive because of a military establishment that is still reluctant to admit that it exists at all. Yet even the armed forces concede that 6,000 soldiers were victims of abuse last year alone and that 1,170 soldiers died as a consequence of crimes and accidents.
The Soldiers' Mothers Committee, which has done more than any other organization to bring public attention to the degeneration of life in the Russian military, insists the Defense Ministry is concealing the true extent of the problem. The committee claims as many as 3,000 conscripts die from hazing each year.
No Longer Acceptable
Yet social attitudes are clearly changing. What was accepted without comment a few years ago today causes a nationwide furor to which even the president must respond.
"When you speak with generals they claim the army is just a mirror of the whole of Russian society, which is basically not true anymore, because the army is lagging behind the changes society is going through," says Aleksandr Petrov, the Moscow representative of Human Rights Watch.
That may also be the conclusion of Putin, who has said that ending the practice of hazing is one of the keys to raising morale in the armed forces, and the State Duma, whose Defense Committee today discussed what measures need to be taken.
In March, the Defense Ministry and the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office are to work together on a joint action plan.CAN SERGEI IVANOV END HAZING?
By Claire Bigg and Victor Yasmann
Sergei Ivanov was appointed defense minister by President Vladimir Putin in 2001 and charged with the task of breathing new life into Russia's crumbling army. Abuse against young draftees, however, appears to continue unabated. The outrage sparked by the brutal hazing of Private Andrei Sychyov has put the spotlight on Ivanov, and raised questions about his commitment to reforming Russia's demoralized and violent armed forces.
Ivanov is the first high-ranking state security officer to be appointed to the post of Russian defense minister. A former KGB officer, Ivanov has no military background -- in fact, he has never even served in the army. In addition, he spent his formative years inside a state structure that has a longtime tradition of antagonism toward the army.
The army he inherited in 2001 was plagued by poor morale, low pay, physical and psychological abuse, and corruption.
The task Ivanov was given -- to put the armed forces back on its feet -- was therefore a heavy one, especially considering his limited knowledge of military matters.
A Job Well Done?
As far as army hazing and bullying is concerned, recent events suggests that Ivanov has largely failed to meet expectations.
Russians reacted with shock and outrage at the story of Andrei Sychyov, a young draftee who was so brutally beaten by older servicemen that his legs and genitals had to be amputated.
Russian news agencies are reporting that another young conscript died on 13 February in the city of Ufa after being beaten by fellow soldiers.
Ivanov fanned public anger at Sychyov's fate by first seeking to play down the incident, saying "nothing serious happened."
Over the next few days, however, Ivanov struck a different tone, vowing to punish the offenders and accusing officers of covering up the incident.
"How is it that we in Moscow found out about this incident only two days ago?" Ivanov said. "These disgraceful facts actually happened on New Year's Eve. So our first question to our own officers and generals is: Why did you fail for 25 days to report to Moscow about what had happened?"
Fighting The 'Rule Of Grandfathers'
Not all, however, were convinced by Ivanov's ostensible commitment to combating the entrenched tradition of brutalizing conscripts, known in Russian as "dedovshchina," of the "rule of grandfathers."
Aleksandr Golts, a leading military analyst, describes Ivanov's promises to fight hazing as "hot air." Ivanov, he says, has on many occasions rejected the army's responsibility for hazing.
"He said many times that 'dedovshchina has long existed and will have to be fought for a long time. Dedovshchina has always existed, it has taken such a cruel character because our society has become so cruel, and society is to blame, not the army and the commanders,'" Golts said. "We have often heard this concept of things, starting from the generals and ending with Putin."
Like many other observers, Golts suspects Putin and Ivanov of deliberately turning a blind eye to hazing in order to maintain submission in the ranks -- and, later, in civilian life.
"I think that in the eyes of Putin and Ivanov, this army in its current form plays the role of an important social institution -- a place where citizens are taught obedience, are taught that the government is all-powerful and can use your life in an absolutely irresponsible manner. You can die and no one will be held responsible for it," Golts said.
Dozens Of Deaths Each Month
Ivanov, however, can be credited with one positive step towards raising awareness of violence in the army -- he ordered the defense minister to publish statistics of noncombat deaths in the Russian army on its website.
According to the Defense Ministry, 53 servicemen died in January as a result of crimes and accidents in the army, 14 of them allegedly by suicide.
In 2005, official statistics put the number of noncombat deaths at 1,064. The Soldiers' Mothers Committee, however, estimates that the real number is about three times higher.
Besides failing to stem army brutality, Golts says Ivanov has largely botched the projected reform of the armed forces.
Plans to abolish the compulsory draft and switch to a professional army have proved relatively unsuccessful so far. Ivanov announced last year that by 2008, only one-third of the army's 1.1 million soldiers will be serving on a contract basis.
Cash-strapped and unpopular, the Russian army is only able to recruit 9 percent of conscript-aged men eligible for service every year.
In order to fill the army's ranks, Ivanov in September 2005 announced that the majority of cadet faculties -- which enabled youths to avoid service -- would be closed down by 2008. The move sparked angry protests from students and their parents.