Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: March 20, 2003

20 March 2003, Volume 4, Number 5
ANTIWAR PROTESTERS LIGHT CANDLES, DRINK TEA, AND HOPE FIGHTING WILL BE OVER SOON. As the U.S. prepared to go to war with Iraq, antiwar protesters geared up around the globe, finding each other on the Internet as well as the street and using a variety of techniques to get their message across. Their efforts constitute the first worldwide effort to oppose a major war through new technology in "cyberspace." In New York City at the United Nations, as news of the breakdown in diplomacy filtered out of the Security Council building, Buddhists of different races silently walked in a prayer circle across the street, carrying portraits of goddesses, one monk slowly ringing a bell as onlookers snapped digital photos to upload to websites., an American group originally founded by two California software entrepreneurs to resist the attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton, has snowballed into an international antiwar movement in coalition with Win Without War and other organizations. They launched a rolling candlelight vigil Sunday around the globe, reporting 6873 events in 141 countries, enlisting enthusiastic if scattered participation from concerned individuals in such cities as St. Petersburg, Saratov, and Novosibirsk, who typed their Russian-language notices into website forms in Latin letters. Citizens of Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Prague, and Bishkek gathered in public squares or posted messages about the lights placed in windows or other activities, from lectures and book readings to simply "drinking tea" to discuss current events.

In Budapest, where half-a-dozen events were announced in Hungarian and English on, candle-lighters were invited for "hot tea at Edina's house" and students at the Central European University posted a warning to other would-be demonstrators in the dormitory courtyard that "we may have to move, but only 100 meters." In Homel, chilled vigil-goers were told to meet "Masha to drink some tea at the Bistro." A young man in Poland wrote: "I can't organize a public event alone. But I want to light a peaceful candlelight in Krakow," and soon had two others to join him. Elsewhere, peace activists hoped to get candles "in all the windows in Lubin" and urged readers to "please put candles in the window as a sign of solidarity with all the world." In Bratislava, interested parties were told, "We will gather on the main square, which is not that big, so people coming can easily find a group with candles." No vigils were reported in Romania.

In Tbilisi, the Georgian chapter of War Resisters International protested on Freedom Square, and a group called International Association Caucasus: Ethnic Relations, Human Rights, Geopolitics convened other local activists including the Greens, the Chechen-Caucasian Committee, and the Union of National Consolidation and Restoration of Justice at Mushtaidi Park to participate in the international candlelight action about Iraq but also to call for peace in the war-torn Caucasus.

In Almaty, several hundred people placed candles and flowers in front of the World Wars Memorial in Panfilov Park on 16 March. Earlier, on 28 February, 600 people of various religious backgrounds gathered at the Kazakh Concert Music Hall with an overflow crowd of 200 for a program of songs and speeches against the war in Iraq. In a statement released by the Visitoria Social Fund, Kazakhstan's role in renouncing nuclear weapons was cited and a call went out the few people "who have the power to determine the fate of the following weeks of the planet" with the wish that "the right words will open the minds even of those determined for war." Kazakhstan even supplied a few "naked women in the snow" who joined other protesters around the world who shed their garments and lay on the ground to form letters or symbols with their bodies.

About 1,000 people took part in a demonstration in Prague's Old Town Square and marched to the British and U.S. embassies on 16 March, CTK reported. More than 100 representatives of Ukrainian organizations including the Communist Party, the Greens Party, and the Russian Bloc protested in Kyiv on 15 March against the U.S. campaign, burning American flags and calling on the Verkhovna Rada to reject a resolution adopted by the Ukrainian government to send an antichemical battalion to the Persian Gulf, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Greenpeace activists managed to hang large signs reading "Veto the War" and "Stop War" opposite the Kremlin in downtown Moscow. On the evening of 13 March, some unidentified young people threw red paint at the McDonald's restaurant on Pushkin Square, reported. On a building adjoining the restaurant, the slogan "Peace in Iraq, War with McDonald's" appeared in red paint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003).

Robert Fico, chairman of Slovakia's Smer (Direction), on 14 March called on Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to explain the disposition of the Slovak NBC unit deployed in Kuwait if the UN Security Council did not approve the use of military force against Iraq, TASR reported. Leaving the unit in the Persian Gulf, he said, would break international and domestic law and be "an expression of the deepest servility" toward the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003).

John Brown, a veteran U.S. diplomat who had served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kyiv, and Belgrade, resigned in protest over U.S. policy toward Iraq, becoming the second career foreign-service officer to do so in the past month, U.S. wire services reported this week. Brown, employed by the State Department since 1981, said he could not support Washington's Iraq policy, which he said was fomenting a massive rise in anti-U.S. sentiment around the world.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered on 15 March in Baghdad and other cities to protest the impending war. At demonstrations in the capital organized by the ruling Ba'ath Party, protesters carried signs denouncing war and supporting Hussein. The protesters included a group of women dressed as potential suicide bombers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2003).

In the ''Open Letter to President Bush'' published by on 17 March, Vladimir Bukovskii and Yelena Bonner, Soviet-era dissidents who have remained critical of human rights abuses of Russian leaders, said that military action against the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is long overdue, and that it would free the Iraqi people from brutal oppression. Rejecting the logic of many peace marchers, they say their experience "under the no-less evil regime of the Soviet Union has taught us that freedom is one of a few things in this world worthy of fighting and dying for."

Yet, write the dissidents, the U.S. did not have much company and credibility in its efforts. Citing what they felt was a muted U.S. response to Russian atrocities in Chechnya, they ask: ''Why is the U.S. government not as smart as its weapons are? Why does it always make it so difficult to support it, even when it fights for a just and noble cause?" Commenting on the "realpolitik" partnerships of the U.S., the Russians write: "After all, was not Osama bin Laden a by-product of similar 'marriage of convenience'.... Was it not true also in the case of Saddam Hussein...? Will the United States ever learn this lesson, or will it continue forever to build up new enemies while fighting present ones?"

HUMANITARIAN RELIEF AGENCIES POSITIONING FOR WAR. U.S. President George W. Bush said at a news conference at the White House on 19 March, "I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm." Even with the best intentions, wars mean wounded or killed civilians -- and most of all, refugees.

International relief groups scrambled to respond as U.S. attacks begin, their limited resources already stretched thin by other conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, facing often daunting logistics to get into place in or near Iraq. Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) already has a 6-person international medical team in Baghdad who will remain in the city to assess medical needs and opportunities to provide independent emergency medical assistance as the situation evolves, the group said in an 18 March press release. Such a small team could be overwhelmed, as Iraq's own 9,400 physicians are insufficient for the needs of the population of 25 million, but access has been highly restricted to foreigners up until now. Many foreigners are also now fleeing Baghdad, including even those who had vowed to remain as "human shields." Humanitarians will likely wait in neighboring countries, until the very U.S. armed forces that represent a policy they oppose in the first place will make it safe for them to deliver emergency supplies.

In February, Amnesty International appealed to the Security Council to consider the humanitarian impact of a war in Iraq, "including the risk that military action would lead to massive numbers of people being forced into flight, potential grave violations of international humanitarian law, including direct attacks on civilians, the use of human shields and the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons."

Although they have not announced yet whether they believe the numbers to be "massive," the United Nations humanitarian agencies and some 40 international nongovernmental organizations that are in part funded by the UN and the U.S. government are now assembling at the primary regional hub of Jordan, which shares a border with Iraq, although some 300 miles of desert must be crossed to reach it. Previous refugee flows into Jordan were far greater than current estimates (some 60,000 arrived in 1991 during the first Gulf War), but Iraqis were more prosperous then, able to travel in their own vehicles with goods and money, says IRIN, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network.

UN officials anticipate that the majority of population movement from Iraq to Jordan will gather close to the border crossing at Karameh, at which point they will be screened by Jordanian authorities. Officials expect two categories of refugees: some 34,000 Iraqis, and an estimated 60,000 others, primarily from Egypt and Sudan, who will be transiting through Jordan en route to their countries of origin. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, preparations are ongoing to prepare this site for up to 10,000 people now, although twice that amount could eventually be held.

The World Food Program has food stocks for up to 40,000 people for 2 1/2 months already in place in Amman and the World Health Organization has pre-positioned emergency supplies for an estimated 40,000 refugees for an initial period of three months, according to the agencies' reports published at All are strapped for cash but believe they are sufficiently prepared; although $123.5 million was requested a month ago in preparation for an Iraqi conflict, only $45 million had been pledged so far and only $34 million received.

News reports indicate that far more movement than expected is already occurring inside the country. Tens of thousands of people are pouring into northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region from government-controlled areas, described by the few aid workers still there as a potentially catastrophic humanitarian emergency that the UN has failed to prepare for, AFP reported on 19 March. In northern Iraq, Kurds have evacuated cities near the front lines with Saddam's troops. In Erbil, a city of around 1 million, up to 40 percent of the population has left, mainly Kurds, said a correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 19 March.

Oxfam, the British-based charity often attendant at the world's major humanitarian crises, vigorously opposes the war in Iraq and announced on 7 March that it will not accept any funds from any "belligerent governments" for its operations in Iraq. "We will not take funds that might allow a government to use a humanitarian operation as an instrument of foreign policy, thereby increasing the chances of war or prolonging it once it starts," a spokesman was quoted as saying on Unlike the more cautious UN spokesmen, Oxfam estimates that as many as 10 million Iraqis may need immediate food aid in the event of war, of which 5.2 million are children under five or women in some stage of childbearing or infant care. They cite the United Nations as saying 500,000 casualties are expected, although the UN itself has not placed such estimates, if made, at the forefront of their public response to the war.

The UN children's agency UNICEF is quite concerned about the affects of war, given that half of the population of Iraq are children, with some 400,000 malnourished children already being served by the agency, although the estimates are that as many as a million may suffer lack of nutrition. Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said in an agency press statement on 19 March that there was no way of knowing how many children might perish during war or its aftermath, and that would depend on the length of the war and the affects on civilian infrastructure. "Conflict could very well have disastrous consequences for Iraqi children," Bellamy said. UNICEF has withdrawn its foreign nationals with the expiration of the deadline given by President Bush to Saddam Hussein, and has left 160 nationals to care for the children.

The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) in New York, an advocacy group that has generally selected countries for study that serve as examples of what they see as failures of U.S. foreign policy, appears much more worried than the UN. CESR said in a statement released on 7 March that international agencies are not adequately prepared to the humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq, especially if infrastructure is damaged. "Military attacks against electricity, transportation, telecommunications, and other necessities of modern civilian life would cause the immediate collapse of Iraq's water-purification, sanitation, public-health, and food-distribution systems, leading to increased hunger, sickness, and death, especially among children. Similar attacks in the 1991 war contributed to 47,000 excess child deaths within eight months," CESR said, citing a study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine."

Projections of refugee numbers and numbers of civilian casualties have often been politicized by critics of U.S.-led military action in conflicts from the Balkans to Afghanistan. Humanitarian groups like Save the Children predicted 100,000 Afghan children would starve due to America's air strikes in October 2002, but after the dust settled, the fears proved to be unfounded. Still, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations argued among themselves about whether the coalition's bombing in Afghanistan helped relief vans to gain access to vulnerable populations that were previously kept in the thrall of the Taliban, or harmed them. With so much international resistance to military action in Iraq, such debates are likely to resurface, especially if civilian casualties and refugee flows mount in Iraq. A long-debated question that may be finally definitively answered if the U.S. gains control of the Iraqi government's files and is able to interview people independently is whether international sanctions or Hussein himself were primarily to blame for the poor health of Iraq's children.

DJINDJIC 'VICTIM OF POLITICAL UNDERWORLD' SAY CIVIC GROUPS. Civic groups responded to the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March with a wave of protests. They see the chief culprit for human rights abuse and obstruction of democratic reform in their country as organized crime, metastasized from the old security apparatus of the previous regime. The Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said in a statement released on 12 March that they were "shocked by the contrived brutality that swept away from the Serbian political scene a young, modern, and dynamic politician."

Like Western governments responding to the tragic news, they believed Djindjic's efforts to democratize Serbia and turn over war criminals to international prosecutors was the reason behind his murder. "His murder is the tragic, and for Serbia fatal outcome of the pressure he has been under for long because of his attempts to make a final break with the structures and elites that had actually ruled the country in the dark for over a decade, to meet all the obligations Serbia had undertaken to The Hague tribunal in particular and to take Serbia along the road of true, rather than sham transition." Djindjic is credited with the arrest and transfer or surrender of a number of indicted war criminals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

A group of 14 civic groups, including the world-renowned Women in Black, famous for their visible widows' antiwar protests, as well as the Humanitarian Law Center and the Association of Independent Electronic Media, released a joint protest on 14 March under the slogan "Enough Crime and Violence!" Calling Djindjic a "victim of the political underworld," the groups said: "The bosses of criminal gangs and political extremists have dreams of restoring dictatorship. To them we say: There are more of us who know that democracy has no alternative, and we will not allow you plunge us back into darkness and despair. We shall continue without hesitation along the path of democracy and reform in Serbia, the path blazed and personified by Dr. Zoran Djindjic."

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a policy organization with offices in Washington and Brussels, said in a report on the assassination released this week, "Belgrade must restart the long-stalled reform process and clean out the interlocking nexus, believed to be behind the killing, of organized crime, war criminals, and police and army officers hiding behind 'nationalist-patriotic' slogans and organizations." ICG warns against rewarding Djindjic's assassins with any softening of the international community's terms of conditionality on economic assistance to Serbia or its admission to international institutions.

EBRD WARNS GOVERNMENT ON RIGHTS. With two months to go before its annual meeting in Tashkent, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has released its latest strategy overview for Uzbekistan (see, "The Guardian" and "RFE/RL Newsline" reported on 17 March. The EBRD goes farther than other international financial institutions in explicitly linking improvement of human rights conditions with increased lending. While not conditioning immediate concessions to the holding of the meeting in Tashkent, the EBRD says that within a year, Uzbekistan must liberalize its society and economy to benefit from bank loans. It warns, "There are serious concerns regarding the development of genuine multiparty democracy and pluralistic society and the situation with the rule of law and respect for human rights remains difficult."

The EBRD's decision to convene its meeting in Uzbekistan's capital was criticized by international as well as some local human rights groups who thought it was an undeserved gift to the autocratic government of President Islam Karimov, who has rounded up thousands of religious believers and other dissidents and jailed them under cruel conditions recently inspected and condemned by the UN's special rapporteur on torture. The government of Uzbekistan acknowledges some isolated "incidents" of torture but denies the practice is systematic, AP reported on 20 March.

The EBRD's public position on Uzbekistan also represents an increased integration of the findings of the human rights institution of Europe with a lending body's traditional concerns of mainly economic issues The recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) rapporteur on freedom of the media as well as the UN's special rapporteur on torture are mentioned by name in the EBRD statement. With its confrontation of Uzbekistan's persistent failure to reform even with closer Western involvement in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the EBRD has more explicitly pursued the often unseen but integral links between a liberal society and a liberal economy, rather than making democracy an add-on after economic prosperity is achieved.

Despite "certain positive measures" such as the registration of an NGO and the punishment of law-enforcement officials guilty of torturing prisoners, the EBRD says: "The overall political environment in Uzbekistan is not conducive to criticism of government policies.... The executive power is not sufficiently balanced by the legislature or judiciary. The judiciary is weak...."

Human rights groups would have liked to see more stringent conditionality for the holding of the conference itself (see "(Un)Civil Societies," 18 December 2002).

In May 2002, Human Rights Watch joined 53 other nongovernmental organizations from 24 of the shareholder countries in writing to EBRD President Jean Lemierre to express concern about the impact that holding the meeting in Tashkent could have on human rights in Uzbekistan and on the bank's credibility, saying Tashkent could exploit the prestige attached to the meeting "as an endorsement of its repressive policies."

The groups asked for further registration of civic groups, genuine legal reform, access for UN monitors, free and fair national elections, the functioning of a free media, and an end to the persecution of "independent Muslims, their families, and those who advocate on their behalf." They believed the year leading up to the meeting provided an opportunity to gain progress on some of these issues; so far, only the access for one UN monitor has been achieved, along with the registration of one group.

The EBRD has set its sights a little lower than the human rights activists, although still asking for what may seem impossible for today's rulers in Uzbekistan, by making public their call just two months before the meeting for "greater political openness of the system and freedom of the media," "registration and free functioning of independent local NGOs, including those involved in the area of rule of law and protection of human rights," and general improvement of Uzbekistan's human rights record, including implementation of UN recommendations. The UN special rapporteur on torture, like the separate UN Committee Against Torture before him, called for access of lawyers to detainees, the right to receive medical treatment and make reports of torture, and to have judges discount confessions obtained through torture, among other reforms to the Soviet-style criminal justice system in Uzbekistan.

Human rights groups have not called for a boycott of the EBRD meeting as such by their governments, but they are hoping to gain access to Tashkent to voice their concerns. The EBRD says they have obtained from Uzbek authorities "commitment to provide free access to the annual meeting for the participants and the guests, including the representatives of the NGOs and the media, invited by the bank" -- thus thwarting an attempt by the Uzbek government to pack the meeting exclusively with government loyalists disguised as civic groups. As the time for the meeting gets closer and the Uzbek government expresses the usual concerns about security for an international meeting and reluctance to face outspoken critics, there could be some wrangling over the bank's invitation list, especially when it comes to local groups.

One way or another, the NGOs will use the occasion of the meeting to keep a spotlight on failure to make progress as they see it. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has chosen an innovative technique to dramatize human rights abuses, publishing a glossy booklet that looks at first glance to be a typical travel brochure, with photos of famous sites and monuments in Tashkent. Upon closer examination, the reader can see the touting of tourist spots has a darker side, as various symbols of persecution are also contained on the map. For example, next to a notation about the EBRD's office in the Chilanzar district, HRW describes the case of Ravkhat Usmonov, sentenced to 14 years in prison by the Chilanzar district court for his religious affiliation. Ten of his family members were also arrested on similar charges. His brother, Farkhod Usmonov, died from torture in police custody in 1999. The brochure, titled "Tashkent: An Interactive Guide" can also be found at HRW's website at

Responding to the EBRD's pronouncements this week, HRW said in a press release on 18 March, "Finally we see a public acknowledgment by the bank that things are seriously wrong in the country" but complained that a lot of valuable time had been lost due to the bank's failure to use the run-up to the conference to gain progress. "Setting these same benchmarks a year ago and attaching them to the annual meeting would obviously have been far more effective," HRW said.

AZERBAIJAN. On 16 March the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), a grouping of nine of the largest opposition parties, held a scheduled sanctioned protest. Some 10,000 people were observed marching from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba Square, calling for free elections, freedom for Nagorno-Karabakh, and the resignation of the president.

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. Experts such as officials from the education ministries of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Republika Srpska as well as the OSCE gathered at RFE/RL to discuss how to drive politics out of schools, reverse segregation and discrimination, and create such educational curricula that will provide the young people in Bosnia-Herzegovina with the education they deserve.

INTERNATIONAL. Forum 18 News Service (F18News), a new Christian e-mail initiative, was launched this week to report on threats and actions against persons of any religious affiliation. Stories include coverage of a possible return of a new controversial religion law in Serbia and Montenegro and persons in Uzbekistan's western region of Karakalpakstan.

IRAQ. RFE/RL has launched a new website providing breaking news and in-depth analysis on the situation in Iraq.

RUSSIA. According to official statistics, some 12,000 women a year are killed in Russia by their spouses as a result of domestic violence. Local NGOs have set up psychological support groups and hotlines, as well as six shelters for abused women. But domestic violence has not abated. NGO leader Elena Schitova discusses the scope of the domestic violence problem in Russia and her groups' response.