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(Un)Civil Societies Report: November 13, 2003


13 November 2003, Volume 4, Number 32
IN FOCUS
KRASNODAR ACTIVISTS LINK HUMAN RIGHTS, BUSINESS INVESTMENT... A human rights group in Russia's Krasnodar Krai is borrowing a page from the manuals of Western human rights groups in attempting to link business investment with human rights, hoping to draw attention to their reports of discrimination against a Muslim minority, the Meskhetian Turks. The Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee (http://www.kpd.nvrsk.ru) issued a report last month, "Systematic Violation of Human Rights in Krasnodar Territory Worsens Investment Attraction for Russia," in which they called on foreign companies and governments managing development aid to raise with the region's officials problems of discrimination, which they characterized as the worst in Russia after the Chechen Republic. The report is one of several efforts by human rights groups to try to publicize what they see as the widespread, chronic abuses that rarely gain the attention of high-profile cases, like that of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovskii.

For years, activists in Russia's southern region repeatedly tried to get the attention of Moscow as well as European officials to what they characterized as "xenophobic" and "anti-Semitic" statements by Krasnodar's previous governor, Nikolai Kondratenko. The region's current governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, is continuing in Kondratenko's footsteps, NGOs say, with the passage of regulations that contradict federal law and the constitution and comments that seem to incite ethnic hatred.

The Novorossiisk Committee has been active for some years since the break-up of the Soviet Union in trying to assist the families of Meskhetian Turks, who were forcibly deported from Georgia during World War II and wound up in Uzbekistan and other areas of the former Soviet Union, and then fled persecution during unrest in the Ferghana Valley. Today, they are still threatened with deportation and have suffered loss of land and homes they had rented in agreements no longer recognized as legal. Human rights activists say that in a climate of increasing Russian nationalism for which they hold their leaders responsible, non-Russian minorities are experiencing persecution at the hands of hate groups.

The arguments these human rights advocates make are the same used by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in attempting to deal in particular with oil-rich states of interest to the extractive industry. They say the judicial system is unfair and weak if it cannot protect human rights, and that by analogy, contract law and the protection of business investments and property are also shaky. The activists cite many cases of courts actually recognizing claims to property or citizenship in the case of Meskhetian Turks and other non-Slavic persons, and yet officials fail to enforce the decisions. "Not a single criminal case opened because of evidence of attacks by semi-military formations on members of ethnic minorities has ever reached trial, although the assailants are known," the Novorossiisk group says.

Vadim Karastelev, head of the group, has pointed out in the report that even the Kremlin has refuted the claims of Governor Tkachev about migration issues in Krasnodar, and yet the occasional discontent expressed in Moscow has not made a dent on the governor.

The idea for the report and an appeal to investors came in a training seminar provided by the Moscow Helsinki Group at a meeting in Sochi in 2001, where NGOs agreed, in a joint resolution, that the level of human rights was a factor for the level of investment in their country and in specific regions, and was also a good indicator of the general quality of the work of state institutions and legal protection as a whole. Such a relationship between business and rights was something that groups could draw on in trying to make their case about abuses in their region.

Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, elected in 2000 as a young and energetic parliamentarian with a seat in the State Duma, was at first expected to bring about improved human rights conditions along with other reforms in Krasnodar Krai, but NGOs says their hopes were dashed within a year. They began collecting his public statements in the press, which they say has encouraged discrimination against minorities and a general perception that they do not belong in Krasnodar. In July 2002, for example, according to a report from "Novaya gazeta," Tkachev said: "Illegal or legal migrants can be determined by their last names, or rather the endings of their last names. Last names ending in "yan," "dze," "shvili," "ogly," are illegal, just like their bearers," he said, citing typical Caucasian names.

The NGO report also cites examples of federal officials and other public figures reacting to Tkachev. Anatolii Odeychuk, the chief federal inspector for Krasnodar Krai for the staff of the presidential envoy for the Southern Federal District, said federal migration law was being violated and that many regulations issued by local authorities had to be brought into compliance with federal law. Ramazan Abdulatipov, a former minister of nationalities in the Soviet era, has gone further, saying: "Tkachev has already ceased being a government official. He does not have the right to turn the problem of migration into an ethnic issue," NTV quoted him as saying. Yet no action has been taken against him.

The report details how Governor Tkachev has used his connections in Moscow and the national media to make statements that activists believe have increased enmity toward minorities in the region. In a 2002 "television bridge" between Moscow and Kuban, capital of Krasnodar Krai, accompanied by a demonstration of Cossacks in uniform outside the television studio, Tkachev said "a million" migrants come into his region each year. Yet experts say 10 years ago, the population of the territory was 4.5 million, and today is only about 5 million. He also said the number of Meskhetian Turks was 30,000, although groups working directly with them, who have lists of names of most everyone in the community, say the number is half that figure. Activists have given the list to police in an effort both to protect the families and also prove that authorities are exaggerating their numbers.

When the governor said, "Meskhetian Turks will be deported on planes to Uzbekistan," no one believes he will actually start loading people at the airport. But these types of statements serve as a signal to nonstate groups like the Cossacks that they are free to pressure minorities, NGOs claim.

On 18 March 2002, Tkachev openly promised to create "unbearable conditions" for "illegal migrants," according to a report by the International League for Human Rights, based on reporting from local colleagues. Tkachev claimed to have the support of the Russian president. The federal authorities have not denied the claim, nor have they intervened in the regional situation.

The NGO report claims that the territory's budget contains an item totaling $3 million for media, an expenditure they say is unjustified given the area's social problems. They say the governor has spent it on propagandistic films like "Turkish March" that have been aimed at the Turkic minority. Authorities have also used their powers to harass and temporarily shut down television programs or printing presses that have carried independent reporting and commentary on the Meskhetian Turk issue.

In the conclusions of the report, the Novorossiisk Committee says that suppression of freedom of the press, which has become financially dependent on the local government, coupled with a weak and unstable judicial system that cannot enforce basic constitutional guarantees, create a bad business climate. These are factors that led INDEM to characterize Krasnodar Krai in 2002 as having the highest level of corruption in Russia (see http://www.anti-corr.ru).

By "investors," the NGOs do not mean just businesses. For them, Western philanthropies and governments with democracy programs should also focus more on the region. The report includes an appeal to the U.S. Agency for Development to focus on protection of the children of ethnic minorities in particular and providing legal aid. The NGOs call on the European Commission, the Soros-funded programs in the region, and the Eurasian Foundation to support independent journalists and human rights groups covering discrimination. They list a number of transnational corporations doing business in the territory, including Bonduelle, Cargill, Chevron, Nestle, Philip Morris, Pepsi-Cola, Radisson, and others, and urge them to create charitable programs aimed at minority children in particular. They hope risk analysts will study the connection between human rights and investment in the region.

A "BISNIS Bulletin" published last year at bisnis.doc.gov, a report prepared by the U.S. State Department on business conditions in the former Soviet Union, says, "Beautiful Krasnodar, home of the Kuban Cossacks, with its wide fertile northern plains, its subtropical seacoast, and the slopes of the northern Caucasus, is high in economic potential, economic growth, and business risk." The region, the size of Ireland, is attractive for its ice-free ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, which account for 70 percent of Russia's trade turnover. The newly built Caspian oil pipeline, terminating in Novorossiisk, is likely to bring more wealth to the region. The State Department report notes that social dislocations from the wars in the North Caucasus have kept unemployment high and per capita production about half the national average.

Still, straddling Russia's "Black Earth" belt, its gross regional product is in 10th place among Russia's 89 regions, says the report, and it contributes to the federal budget rather than drawing from it as other poor regions do. The State Department says foreign investment as of 2000 stood at some $960 million, and the region ranks third after Moscow and St. Petersburg. While not making any special connection with human rights issues, the report notes that the U.S. Embassy "has recently been encouraging local and regional officials to improve the transparency of the investment climate and ensure that foreign investors are treated fairly."

The human rights activists of the region are hoping they and the victims they serve will also be treated fairly, and that the information they bring to the public and the recommendations they have for targeting special programs to minorities will be taken into consideration when investment in the region is made.

...AS ATTACKS ON MINORITIES, ACTIVISTS CONTINUE UNABATED. On 30 November 2001, 80 men dressed in camouflage and toting air guns, who said they were Cossacks, attacked the homes of Meskhetian Turks, who are predominantly Muslim, just as they were beginning to celebrate Ramadan. Five Meskhetian Turks were injured in the attack and taken to a hospital, where a hospital official, fearing trouble with higher-ups, stalled for two hours before admitting three of them. This is the type of incident that the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee and other local monitors say in recent reports is all too common and is occurring without any response from local law-enforcement authorities.

Police opened up a criminal investigation into the Ramadan attack, but it was eventually closed for lack of evidence. Two months later, a car returned to the home of one of the victims and men in camouflage fatigues, one of whom called himself a Cossack "ataman" or leader, threatened to burn the house down. Police continued to ignore the pleas of local residents to intervene, and, as the Novorossiisk activists say in their report, "impunity, as is known, provokes new crimes, which are not long in coming." Thus, under the current governor of the territory, attacks have continued against Meskhetian Turks and Moscow, while apparently aware of the situation and willing to recognize that violations take place, appears unable or unwilling to intervene.

Even before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Meskhetian Turks fled into the southern part of Russia from ethnic persecution they faced in Uzbekistan and other areas. Under various government decrees they were originally permitted to stay and are eligible under current Russian citizenship law for domestic passports, human rights lawyers say. Russian officials often speak of the need to return the Meskhetian Turks to their original homeland in Georgia, and European officials have obtained promises from the Georgian government that they will meet this obligation in the future. Yet no one realistically expects Georgia, already dealing with masses of refugees from Abkhazia and neighboring Chechnya and with poverty, political turmoil, and unhappiness from Armenian and other minorities, to be able to absorb one more needy group. Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center has made the point that eventual political resolution of the Meskhetians' case and their migration to Georgia need not preclude immediate recognition under the law of their Russian citizenship -- required if they are to own property, vote, send their children to school, and obtain health care and other social benefits.

The report goes on to cite fact-finding missions and studies of the issue made by national Russian NGOs; the UN's Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism, to which NGOs appealed this year specifically on the issue of the Meskhetian Turks; and various other bodies. The U.S. Embassy has sent officials to the region to see the situation of minorities and there have been some promises of help. Yet the outside interest has not yet stemmed the attacks, such as one by 50-60 men with brass knuckles and clubs on settlements in the Abin District who fell upon 20 dark-skinned youths, putting three in the hospital, and numerous similar incidents which have never resulted in a thorough police investigation, let alone prosecution.

In addition to the Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Assyrians, and Khemshils have also experienced discrimination, i.e. in not being able to obtain birth certificates and passports for their children, required to be eligible for medical care.

Groups that have tried to document the attacks and publicize them have themselves found themselves facing fabricated criminal charges and long drawn-out investigations as a method of wearing them down. If the human rights activists go so far as to name specific policemen they say are implicated in abuses, they face reprisals. They are demanding investigations into one death and several beatings and raids against human rights activists that they say are connected to their whistle-blowing.

Activist Yevgenii Grekov of Southern Wave was summoned to the prosecutor's office and interrogated about his group's activities, said to create "a negative image of the government." Now he is being told that his roundtables on human rights contravene his organization's charter and his group will be closed if it continues them. A group called School for Peace which had tried to help Meskhetian Turks found itself accused of "extremist activity" for claiming that they should continue to help clients and that authorities should cease their discrimination against them. After the Krasnodar Human Rights Center published a report on human rights in the region, justice officials tried to claim they had violated the associations law and had not furnished all the necessary information to the government.

Groups promoting peace and tolerance have found themselves in the curious position of being accused of "extremist activity" for their support of Meskhetian Turks, and have even been threatened with prosecution under the law on extremism, which was supposed to deal with hate crimes. National human rights leaders have said the law was never intended to be used in this manner and have appealed to the president's Human Rights Commission and other state bodies to try to get some action to prevent the worsening ethnic situation on Russia's southern flank. To date, like many other situations beyond Moscow's ring road, the problems of the Meskhetian Turks remain invisible.

SLOVAKIA
EUROPEAN OFFICIALS, NGOS CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT'S CLAIM ON STERILIZATIONS. In a 28 October statement to the press, the Slovak government said that no serious crimes were found during a recent large-scale investigation by police and health officials into allegations of forced sterilization of Romany women.

Slovakia's claim was greeted by a flurry of objections from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and European officials. Although the Slovak government says the issue "is a closed matter," it is being kept alive by NGOs promoting reproductive rights. After making a trip to Slovakia to meet with officials as well as Romany women and groups assisting them, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles said Slovakia must bear "objective responsibility in the matter for failing to put in place adequate legislation and for failing to exercise appropriate supervision of sterilization practices, although allegations of improper sterilizations have been made throughout the 1990s and early 2000s."

In a 4 November 4 interview with "The Slovak Spectator," Deputy Prime Minister for Integration and Minorities Pal Csaky said, "In no case can we agree with such a statement." Although Gil-Robles presented victims' testimony, Csaky said: "Illegal sterilizations did not take place in Slovakia and so there is no failure to admit or take responsibility for something that did not take place. There really is not a reason to doubt the results of the investigation," Csaky said. Gil-Robles has said that sterilization was not a deliberate national policy, but the government still bears responsibility for existing cases of malpractice.

The Council of Europe report -- the strongest official commentary on the issue to date -- shares the concerns of a number of local and international NGOs who have publicized in recent years the practice of involuntary sterilization of Romany women in Slovakia. While Gil-Robles cautioned that he did not perform a formal fact-finding mission, based on his meetings in Slovakia, he said nonetheless "it can be reasonably assumed that sterilizations have taken place, particularly in eastern Slovakia, without informed consent," according to the report published on the Council of Europe's website (see below under "Recommended News Links").

The Council of Europe report validates the findings contained in a report issued earlier this year by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the Center for Human and Civil Rights (POLP) in Slovakia. (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 20 February 2003). A report prepared by CRR and POLP, "Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia," recounts the stories of women who said they were not given the opportunity to make informed decisions before they were sterilized, often while under anesthesia during cesarean-section operations in childbirth. Civil-society representatives who met with the Gil-Robles "largely corroborated" the information contained in "Body and Soul" as well as a report issued by the European Roma Rights Center last year which cited "a serious issue of racially based contraceptive sterilizations of Romany women, taking place without acceptable -- and in many cases even rudimentary -- standards of informed consent."

Gil-Robles said that not only Romany women, but other women of poor socioeconomic status had suffered involuntary sterilization. While not a deliberate policy, Gil-Robles said the Slovak government "never clearly issued orders that the practices conducted during the previous regime had to be stopped." The Council of Europe report notes that attitudes of doctors, who are public employees working under poor conditions, can often be paternalistic.

In response to the NGO reports, media coverage, and prompting from the Council of Europe, the government of Slovakia ordered both police and Health Ministry investigations of the operations, but they found no serious wrongdoing. "The whole process was tainted," Christina Zampas, CRR's European legal adviser, told "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies." Police entered Romany settlements without prior notification in some cases, and ordered women to face interrogation, she said. The police warned women that they could be charged with the criminal offense of "spreading false rumors" if they gave fabricated reports -- punishable by one to three years in prison. Minors under 16 were told that the fathers of their children could be arrested for statutory rape. Ordinarily, police said, they did not prosecute underage sexual relations, but if facts came to light during an investigation, they were bound by law to investigate them, regardless of whether a woman decided to press charges.

Not surprisingly, little evidence was gathered. Ten women came forward in response to media ads about the investigation, but four then withdrew their complaints.

For some months, the Slovak authors of "Body and Soul" were themselves investigated for possible commission of a crime for "spreading false rumors," but the investigation was eventually dropped. Gil-Robles reiterated to government officials during his September trip to Slovakia that the publication of such reports was an issue of freedom of information and not a criminal offense, despite the sense some doctors had of being insulted.

When the Interior Ministry announced that it had not found any evidence of forced sterilizations, Csaky said the government was rejecting the findings documented in the 110 cases in "Body and Soul" and it appeared as if the matter was closed. CRR and POLP immediately issued a press release denouncing what they said was "harassment and intimidation" of victims that "shatters any notion of credibility" of the government's investigation.

The police first began with the designation of "genocide" in the criminal investigation under the theory that the worst possible offense should be chosen until the crime could be recategorized when more evidence was gathered. They later changed the offense under investigation to medical malpractice. The Interior Ministry created a team of four people, three of whom were women, but they said they had difficulty in contacting Romany women. In the end, they never asked women about the conditions of their sterilization -- citing confidentiality regulations regarding health records.

The Health Ministry then retained experts who did review the files. They visited 12 hospitals in eastern Slovakia and looked at 3,500 medical records of sterilization, and 18,000 records of cesareans for the last 10 years. But they also failed to interview patients themselves, and hospital administrators hid behind laws on the confidentiality of patient records. The ministry found that prenatal and postnatal care were worse for Romany women, but they claimed it was not the fault of medical institutions, but the poor socioeconomic level of the women themselves and their lack of knowledge of health care. They also concluded that the practitioners' claims of a medical indication for sterilization were "plausible." Even if not all the administration requirements were fulfilled, it did not mean the operations were not done "professionally," doctors told Gil-Robles.

Rather than trying to press for an immediate judicial solution, Gil-Robles recommended harmonizing Slovak health-care legislation with the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, stipulating "free and informed consent" as to the purpose and nature of any medical intervention and "its consequences and risks." He also urged the use of standardized consent forms in official and minority languages, human rights education for medical university instructors and hospital staff, training on cultural diversity, and the establishment of a system of medical assistants in Romany communities.

Gil-Robles reiterates in his report the findings of NGOs that there were sterilizations of Romany women taking place where consent was signed after operations, not before, or as women were already in labor or under anesthesia.

"The Slovak investigators missed the point," "Body and Soul" author Barbora Bukovska of POLP said in a press release issued on 28 October. "The issue is whether these women gave their informed consent to sterilization. Just because doctors can point to a woman's signature doesn't mean she wasn't coerced or forced into providing it."

A number of the cases involved minors who had had repeated cesarians. There is a widespread belief in the Slovak medical community, as elsewhere in the world, that normal childbirth is not possible after a cesarean operation, although Western practice has now discounted this notion. Many women have safely delivered babies without having repeat cesarean sections when their doctors used the low transverse incision instead of the "classical" vertical incision. Gil-Robles found that Slovak doctors denied that the "classical" procedure was used, but women were found who had the scars from such operations. The practice persisted despite the fact that obstetricians in the capital Bratislava and in university teaching hospitals said these types of incisions were no long made as a regular practice. The World Health Organization still provides instructions to doctors to use the "classical" incision in certain cases of complications and emergencies.

While there was no deliberate government program to force sterilizations on Romany women, as there was under the communist government, Gil-Robles found that an attitude persisted that Romany women "have too many children," and doctors were doing them and society a favor by performing the sterilizations. The NGOs have characterized this attitude as widespread, and racist. They say Roma are deliberately discriminated against, not receiving sufficient prenatal care, and shunted into substandard conditions when giving birth. Doctors claimed that hospitals were not segregated, and that the architecture of the medical facilities would not allow such separation. Yet lawyers who traveled to hospitals to see conditions were shown "the toilets for the Roma to use," Zampas said, describing the discrimination she and her team found. Gil-Robles also heard accounts that hospital personnel were separating some people, but hospital personnel claimed to him the measure was taken because "like any ethnic group there are those who are unhygienic."

The Council of Europe cautioned that it was not making a fact-finding mission as such, but Gil-Robles did interview women as well as NGO members and lawyers, and spoke with officials in eastern Slovakia. He raised the issue of the intimidating tactics that were alone enough to discredit the government's claim of good faith in pursuing the matter. The Romany community has had a long history of distrust of police and human rights groups have made allegations of police abuse.

As Slovakia formally joins the European Union in May, more attention is expected to be focused on the issue. "If they weren't in the accession process, I don't think they would have even started an investigation," Zampas said. She does not believe the heat will be off Slovakia after May; as a new EU member, it will be expected to abide by the EU's human rights law.

Meanwhile, Slovakia's POLP expects to continue pressing individual lawsuits on behalf of some of the women who were sterilized. They have already won a minor victory by finally obtaining the medical records in three cases -- hospitals were denying lawyers access to them despite Slovakia's regulations about availability of files to patients and their representatives.

Yet they still face an uphill battle. Before a civil case for damages in medical malpractice can be filed in Slovakia, the plaintiff must have a medical expert assess the damages using a standard table of values, i.e. for loss of a limb. Only doctors may make the evaluation. So far, the NGOs have been unable to find an obstetrician willing to come and evaluate the cases and testify in court. The task is further complicated by the requirement that the doctor must come from the region where the claim is being filed. Lawyers are concerned that even if they do eventually get a court decision finding damages, it will be very hard to enforce. If they encounter difficulties over time, they plan to take the cases to the European Court of Human Rights, after first exhausting local remedies.

Given the pressure put on women by authorities, as well the problem of some accounts not being able to meet the test for evidentiary standards, another option to address the claims is a commission to hear complaints and find remedies. Gil-Robles urged, in addition to legislative improvements, that Slovak authorities should "undertake to offer a speedy, fair, efficient, and just redress" through the creation of an independent commission to deal with compensation and an apology -- without waiving claims before the courts. Zampas, who is based in Stockholm, said Sweden created a similar commission to deal with its own past cases of forced sterilization, and the model may be applicable to Slovakia.

Some Western officials believe that police and court proceedings are not going to address the issue effectively, given the state of the judicial system, still undergoing reform. They fear that the plaintiffs run the risk of investigations turning up nothing, or having their claims declared invalid -- a fear borne out by the government's closure of its most recent investigation. The alternative resolution, through a commission, holds the prospect of both providing victims reparations and keeping the issue focused on the damage done to victims, rather than on their circumstances or their ability to provide reports.

RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKS
GEORGIA. "Chess, Poker, or Roulette?" In the wake of the disputed 2 November parliamentary elections, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is struggling to prevent control of the legislature passing into the hands of the Georgian opposition who, he alleges, will "devastate and destroy everything." Whether he succeeds in doing so will depend primarily on the tactical and strategic skills of both parties, and the cohesion of the various interest groups currently backing them. http://www.rferl.org/caucasus-report/2003/11/40-121103.html

RUSSIA. "Meskhetian Turks as a Particularly Vulnerable Group," a report by the Moscow Helsinki Group. http://www.mhg.ru/english/1FD0794

SLOVAKIA. "Recommendation of the Commissioner for Human Rights Concerning Certain Aspects of Law and Practice Relating to Sterilization of Women in the Slovak Republic" (17 October 2003). http://www.coe.int/T/E/Commissioner_H.R/Communication_Unit/ Documents/CommDH(2003)12_E.asp

Latest press releases and report, "Body and Soul: Forced Sterilization and Other Assaults on Roma Reproductive Freedom in Slovakia," by the Center for Reproductive Rights. http://www.crlp.org/pr_03_1029sloak.html

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