6 March 2002, Volume
TAJIKISTAN FACES BOTH MIGRANT EXODUS AND REFUGEE INFLUX.
The attention of the international community has focused more intently on Tajikistan due to the ethnic Tajik component in Afghanistan's postwar reconstruction effort, as well as the pleas of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan to cross the border into Tajikistan, where they have faced obstruction from Russian troops deployed there. According to a report released this week by Amnesty International on Tajikistan, authorities suspended an order to remove existing Afghan refugees from Dushanbe by 31 July, then put it on hold until September. Then after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, and the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, Tajikistan once again faced harsh criticism from the international community for its failure to absorb refugees or legalize those who had already crossed on to its territory. Back in July 2000, President Imomali Rakhmonov had banned refugees from obtaining residence permits in certain towns and regions to "ensure security and public order" and then in April 2001 announced that they would be relocated to "predetermined areas." Since the permits were needed to access employment, education, housing, medical care, and government protection, their situation was highly vulnerable.
By the end of 2001, around 10,000 refugees reportedly remained stranded in particularly harsh conditions on islands or promontories in the Panj River, which marks the Tajik-Afghan border. They are now camped on the border with Tajikistan but are set to return to their homes after the Nouruz holiday (the vernal equinox, 21 March), Asia-Plus news agency reported on 18 February. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the refugees are now awaiting warmer weather before returning to homes that may or may not be habitable, and that the relief agency is working with the interim government in Kabul to construct acceptable homes, hospitals, and schools in their villages. The peaceful and mostly unnoticed return of refugees from Central Asian borders comes in stark contrast to last fall's predictions, by UN aid agencies, that the proximate result of war in Afghanistan would be humanitarian catastrophe with 50,000 displaced persons flocking to the Tajik frontier (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 25 October 2001).
In the "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" released this week, the State Department said many of the 10,000 refugees seeking entry to Tajikistan consisted of Northern Alliance combatants and their families fleeing Taliban advances in Afghanistan. When the Taliban began to be defeated in Afghanistan in December, the fighters and some of the noncombatants departed these islands, leaving approximately 2,000 families who are said "to live in semi-permanent housing structures and received international humanitarian aid from Tajikistan-based NGOs," according to the State Department. This leaves open the question of where some 8,000 refugees said to be Northern Alliance fighters and relatives have now gone. Davron Vali, reporting for eurasia.net on 17 January, said that an estimated 4,000 refugees remained on the Panj islands in early January, and that their plight had been eased by the arrival of UN food shipments. He said as many as 14,000 people had originally sought shelter on the islands since Taliban forces drove them from their homes in the fall of 2000, noting that the groups were made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara, and so the issue might not be repatriation of Tajiks as such.
Despite promises, legal issues for refugees and asylum seekers are still not resolved. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on 4 March that the final draft of the Law on Refugees has been submitted and approved by the Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament), but UNHCR is concerned that the final draft law is still not consistent with international standards, particularly in respect to access to asylum procedures, access to refugee status determination and exclusion clauses. The demarches and interventions with the authorities at all levels continue and UNHCR was informed that the government is examining the refugee agency's comments.
Meanwhile as some people struggle to enter Tajikistan, others are leaving. Agence France-Presse reported on 24 February that at least 250,000 people of working age expected to board trains for Russia, adding to the nearly 2 million people out of Tajikistan's 6 million population who work outside of Tajikistan. Most Tajiks speak Russian and require no visa to enter the country, although recent reorganization of the authorities responsible for migration within the Russian Interior Ministry may signal increased difficulties. Desperate to earn money to support their families, Tajiks are willing to take menial jobs at construction sites or farms, and their visibility trading in the marketplaces has led to police harassment and public hatred, as with other groups from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet the migrants tolerate such discrimination, since they can earn in a few weeks what they might earn in a year in Tajikistan, reports AFP. The official migration agency in Tajikistan has farmed out the work of recruiting, housing, and ensuring payment for migrants to three NGOs, but their estimate of only 6,000 employed in construction in Moscow may be low. While migrant labor may solve Tajikistan's problem of unemployment, which can make people turn to crime, drugs, and religious extremism, with able-bodied men leaving the country, industry has difficulty in recovering, said AFP.
Meanwhile, on 19 February UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers praised the Kyrgyz government for its "demonstration of generosity" in granting asylum to more than 16,000 Tajiks during their civil war from 1992 to 1997, "Vechernii Bishkek" reported. While Tajikistan itself maintained a closed-door policy toward refugees, Kyrgyzstan opened its door to Tajiks. Moreover, 9,000 of them never returned to their homes in Tajikistan after the 1997 cease-fire and have stayed on in Kyrgyzstan, the newspaper pointed out. Yet despite Lubbers' appreciation for Kyrgyz hospitality, it should be noted that of those 9,000 Tajiks, only 300 have been granted Kyrgyz citizenship, and many of the rest have existed for over five years without papers in a bureaucratic limbo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). CAF
DEPUTY CALLS ON GEORGIA TO PROVIDE AUTONOMY FOR DJAVAKHETI.
Armenian parliamentarian Armen Rustoumian called on Georgia to provide autonomy for the Armenian-populated southern Georgian region of Djavakheti on 27 February, Armenpress reported. The deputy specifically called for a formal designation of Djavakheti as "an autonomous self-governing unit...within the framework of the Georgian Constitution," highlighting the need for such a move to better address the severe socioeconomic crisis and poor living conditions affecting the region. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)
KHODJALY KILLINGS CALLED 'GENOCIDE'...
On 25 February, Azerbaijan marked the 10th anniversary of the killing by Russian and Armenian forces of 613 Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh village of Khodjaly. In a statement pegged to the anniversary and summarized by Turan, President Heidar Aliyev described the killings as the culmination of "a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide" carried out by Armenians against Azerbaijanis over a period of 200 years. Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, accused the international community of double standards for failing to bring "Armenian extremists" to trial for the killings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)...AND EUROPEAN DIPLOMATS STAGE WALKOUT TO PROTEST SLURS.
German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Klaus Grevlich and several French diplomats walked out of an Azerbaijani parliament session on 26 February held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Khodjaly massacre, AP and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Parliament deputy Shamil Gurbanov of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party called French President Jacques Chirac "a bandit" who "had a real nerve" to acknowledge that the 1915 killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide, without also acknowledging that Armenians committed genocide against Azerbaijanis in Khodjaly. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)PROTESTER DIES IN PRISON.
Jovdat Gaziev, detained after the mass protest actions in Shaki in November 2000, died at forced labor camp No. 10 on 28 February, reported ANS TV's Saki bureau and the Azerbaijan National Democracy Foundation the same day. Gaziev, 43, a cousin of former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on charges of "sabotage" against government agencies and "disturbing the peace." Gaziev is one of the 17 presumed political prisoners for whom the Council of Europe has demanded immediate release on the grounds of violation of due process during their trials. A local human rights committee said the prisoner died of a heart attack, reported ANS. A Justice Ministry official said a forensic examination is currently under way to establish the cause of death, involving investigators from the Narimanov district prosecutor's office, reported ANS. (Azerbaijan National Democracy Foundation, 28 February)
PROSECUTOR DEMANDS SEVEN YEARS FOR FORMER PREMIER'S SON.
A prosecutor on 25 February demanded seven years' imprisonment for Alyaksandr Chyhir -- the son of prominent opposition politician and former Premier Mikhail Chyhir -- on charges of large-scale embezzlement, Belapan reported. Chyhir junior, born in 1976, was arrested in February 2001 in a market in Minsk while allegedly selling stolen car parts. He and two alleged accomplices are accused of stealing four Ford Transit vans. The defense denounced the charges as a fabrication and Chyhir said the charges against him were fabricated in revenge for his father's opposition activity. The two others, who previously pleaded guilty, dismissed their testimony as having been forced from them through beatings and torture. Defense lawyers cited official medical evidence confirming that both had numerous bruises. The court hearing was attended by Mikhail Chyhir and U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)FIVE YOUTHS ON TRIAL FOR LAMPOONING LEADER.
A trial of five demonstrators active in the Zubr (Bison) movement continued in a Shklov district court this week. The youths were arrested for donning mustachioed masks and staging street theater on 14 August 2001 in the village of Gorodets, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka once worked as a collective farm director. An attorney for Zubr petitioned the court to provide expert witness testimony about all the materials related to the case, including the masks. The charges of "public insult of the president" are punishable by up to two years in prison. (charter97.org, 2 March)OPPOSITION LEADERS SUBJECTED TO SIX-HOUR BORDER CHECK.
Belarusian customs officers held a dozen Belarusian opposition figures and journalists for more than six hours on 1 March at the border with Lithuania, Belapan reported. The group was heading for Druskininkai to take part in an international conference on the prospects of cooperation with Belarus, which was organized by the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of Vilnius University. Belapan added that Anatol Lyabedzka, the chairman of the United Civic Party; Valyantsina Palevikova, the head of the Belarusian Women's Party "Nadzeya"; Tatsyana Protska, the chairwoman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; Uladzimir Nistsyuk, the deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party; Leanid Zaika, the president of the Strategiya analytical center; and others had to undergo a humiliating search at the checking point. Two women in the group were subject to a strip-search, AP reported, quoting Lyabedzka. Customs officials found nothing, and the group crossed the border after 10 p.m. The conference was postponed for a day in order to make it possible for the Belarusian group to attend. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)TRADE UNIONS SET PROTEST FOR 28 MARCH.
The leadership of the Belarusian Trade Union Federation (FTUB) announced plans for a nationwide protest action on 28 March, Belapan reported on 28 February. The FTUB plans to protest against worsening socioeconomic conditions and the authorities' unwillingness to conduct a "social dialogue" with trade unions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)
NATO DETERMINED TO CATCH BOSNIAN SERB LEADER.
Speaking in Sarajevo on 28 February, NATO spokesman Mark Laity told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service: "This operation is over. Our will to catch people indicted of war crimes is not. Within our mandate, we are going to be as active as we possibly can be, and I think what we have done today -- even though we did not catch Karadzic -- is we've sent a signal that the net is closing on him, that he cannot rest his head anywhere in Bosnia. It would be better if he surrendered now, because if we did not get him this time, then as long as he is in Bosnia, there will be another time." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)FRENCH OFFICER SAID TO HAVE TIPPED OFF AUTHORITIES TO KARADZIC DRAGNET...
A report in the German daily "Hamburger Abendblatt" blames the failure of a NATO effort to capture indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic on a French officer, saying he warned Bosnian Serb police of the operation, dpa reported on 4 March. The paper quotes a special U.S. ambassador to the region, Shaun Byrnes, as making the allegation. Byrnes cites mobile phone communications monitored by an SFOR participating country as evidence, saying a French captain telephoned a senior Bosnian Serb policeman early on the morning of 28 February, dpa reported. The subsequent efforts to nab former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic near Celebici failed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)...AND SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH PROTESTS RAID IN HUNT FOR KARADZIC.
The main seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina issued a statement protesting the search of a Celebici church during SFOR's failed attempt to capture Karadzic, SRNA reported on 3 March. The church criticized "everything that happened to the holy church and its believers," calling the extension of the dragnet to the building a violation of the church, SRNA said. The agency reported that SFOR troops "shuffled carpets in search of alleged secret passages," and "even desecrated the church altar by breaking a chalice." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)
ORTHODOX SYNOD AGAINST HARRY POTTER.
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is "fully backing" the positions of Father Stefan Stefanov, from the St. Nikolai church in Russe, a synod official told Reuters on 1 March. Father Stefanov has referred to the immensely popular "Harry Potter" books by British author J. K. Rowling as "spiritual AIDS" that diminishes the readers' "immune systems against black magic" and makes them "open to evil." Stefanov himself explained to Reuters that the books "make children believe witchcraft is something innocent, existing only in literature, which is not the case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)
COURT SENTENCES CROATIAN SERB WAR CRIMINAL TO 12 YEARS IN PRISON.
A court in the central Croatian town of Karlovac sentenced a 67-year-old former commander of Serbian paramilitary troops, Miljan Strunjas, to 12 years in prison on 26 February, Hina reported. Strunjas was found guilty of ethnic cleansing of Croats and violations of the Geneva Conventions in Krajina during the war in 1991, dpa added. The presiding judge said his "objectives and subjective responsibility for the crimes under the command with which he was charged was indisputably proven," Hina reported. Strunjas' lawyer said he will appeal the sentence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
ORBAN DEFENDS STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR EVALUATION.
Premier Viktor Orban on 27 February said Hungary must emphasize that it stands "on the side of human dignity, human rights, justice, and modern European ideas" in connection with the Benes Decrees. In his regular weekly interview on Hungarian radio, Orban said that in his recent comments on the Benes Decrees, he strove to phrase his words "politely" so as not to harm Hungarian-Czech relations, adding that Hungary will not burden bilateral relations with the issue. Meanwhile, the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 26 February requested that a panel of independent legal experts examine the Benes Decrees. Committee Chairman Elmar Brok said scholars from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and Hungary will be tasked with determining the legacy of the decrees and what they represent today. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February)ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO STAY AWAY FROM ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN...
The leaders of the Hungarian Catholic Church will not hold any talks with the representatives of political parties before the April elections, Bishop Andras Veres, secretary of the Bench of Hungarian Catholic Bishops, announced on 28 February. Veres said the decision was taken at a three-day session of the bench in response to the "rude tone" of the current election campaign. The bench also decided against reacting to former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn's recent claim that several priests are actively campaigning for FIDESZ at their churches. Veres said the bench has approved a circular that will be read out in churches on 17 March. According to a draft of the circular obtained by "Nepszabadsag," the document encourages the faithful to support "a political force that honors the sanctity of marriage and family, respects Hungarian cultural values, promotes national self-awareness, reaches out to ethnic Hungarians abroad, and guarantees freedom of education and religion." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)...AND SOROS FOUNDATION TOLD TO STAY OUT, TOO.
FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover told an electoral campaign forum in Budapest on 26 February that Hungarian-born U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros has no right to engage in Hungary's forthcoming election campaign, Reuters and Hungarian media reported. Kover was alluding to giant posters, sponsored by the Soros Foundation and currently on display in Budapest, that urge Hungarians to participate in the ballot. The foundation has spent some $125,000 to print and display 5,000 posters featuring rock stars, the disabled, a Romany family, and a seminaked lesbian couple, carrying the slogan "We're going to vote. Are you?" Anna Belia, executive director of the Soros Foundation in Hungary, said the election posters do not favor any party. "We don't need the government to give us any rights regarding the elections. Only the citizens are empowered to decide the outcome," she said. Voter turnout in Hungary's elections in 1994 and 1998 was just above 50 percent, and political analysts say that low turnout this year would favor the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)COMMUNIST-ERA VICTIMS REMEMBERED.
Civic groups and political parties on 25 February held commemorations across Hungary to mark the official memorial day for the victims of communism. The date is linked to 25 February 1947, when Soviet military authorities abducted and carried off to the Soviet Union Smallholders Party Secretary-General Bela Kovacs, the leader of the largest political party prior to the communist era. A statue of Kovacs, who was allowed to return to Hungary in 1955, was to be unveiled outside the Parliament building on 26 February. Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth and FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Kover laid wreaths at the memorial to the 1956 Uprising in Budafok. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
BEKNAZAROV TRIAL TO RESUME.
On 27 February, a spokesman for arrested Kyrgyz parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov announced that his trial has been rescheduled for 11 March and will take place in the town of Kara-Kul, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The trial, which opened earlier this month in the city of Toktogul, was abruptly adjourned after Beknazarov expressed doubt that he would receive a fair hearing anywhere in Djalalabad Oblast and demanded a different venue. Also on 27 February, Tursunbek Akunov, chairman of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek that some 170 people in the country have begun hunger strikes to protest Beknazarov's arrest. The majority of the hunger strikers are from Djalalabad Oblast, which Beknazarov represents in parliament. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)
PRIME MINISTER ASSERTS ELECTION LAWS WILL BE AMENDED BEFORE NATO SUMMIT.
Andris Berzins assured U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Riga on 26 February that the laws requiring candidates to the parliament and local councils to be fluent in the Latvian language will be amended before the NATO summit meeting in Prague in November, LETA reported. Burns also met with Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, and at a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga -- also attended by Heather Conley, the deputy undersecretary of state for Eastern Europe -- praised the progress Latvia has made since his last visit five years ago. British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told Vike-Freiberga the same day that amendments to the election law are a matter of Latvia's internal affairs, but that it is nevertheless very important to NATO that Latvia comply with the requirements for democratic countries. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
PPCD LEADERS COULD BE DETAINED...
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca told protesting demonstrators in Chisinau on 28 February that Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu has asked the parliament to lift his parliamentary immunity again, as well as that of his deputy Vlad Cubreacov and of PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu. He said Rusu wants the three deputies to be investigated under detention, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca said that representatives of the Prosecutor-General's Office tried to hand the three deputies summons during the protest demonstration on 28 February. The deputies refused to sign the summons, since the law stipulates they must be delivered to their domiciles. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)...DENOUNCE RUSSIAN DUMA SPEAKER'S STATEMENT.
Cubreacov on 28 February said a statement made earlier that day by Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev is "proof that the current leadership in Chisinau takes its orders from the Kremlin," Flux reported. Cubreacov said Russia would be better advised to withdraw its troops and weapons from Moldovan territory, which it "occupies in breach of international law and the will of the [Moldovan] people." Seleznev called on the Moldovan authorities to "use the power of the law" against the protesters and to refrain from "giving in to the demands of the opposition." Also on 28 February, the CIS Parliamentary Assembly's Permanent Commission on Mass Media approved a resolution stating that developments in Moldova show "the opposition is clearly attempting to destabilize the situation and undermine the legally elected government." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)EDUCATION MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO PROTEST DEMONSTRATORS...
Education Minister Ilie Vancea told the protesters in Moldova's main square on 25 February that he "made a mistake" in deciding to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes. "I should have been defending my point of view [against that of the government] more than I did, because language and history are sacred for any nation," Vancea said. Asked whether he expects to be dismissed, Vancea responded that he will not resign, but the government may dismiss him. In turn, Vancea asked the protesters whether after the nullification of the decision, they are ready to end the protest, and they shouted back: "Not until the communists are gone!" RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)...AND SUPREME COURT RULES PROTESTS UNLAWFUL.
Acting on the request of the government, the Supreme Court ruled on 25 February that the ongoing protests are unlawful and must stop until their organizers receive an authorization from the Chisinau mayoralty, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. PPCD representatives said in response that the decision is illegal and that they will appeal it before an expanded forum of judges at the same court. Justice Minister Ion Morei said that if the PPCD does not respect the decision, its activity will be suspended for one year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)PRESIDENT MAKES OVERTURES TO TRANSDNIESTRIANS.
In a message marking the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the armed conflict with the Transdniester, Vladimir Voronin said on 1 March that as a result of the conflict everybody in Moldova save for "a handful of profiteers" has become poorer, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said the chances of making Russian the country's second official language are "quite realistic," even if it is necessary to conduct a plebiscite for this purpose. He said that if Transdniestrians take part in the referendum "as citizens of Moldova with full rights," the chances for a positive result "are even better." He also said that only some 10 percent or less back the current protests and "unification with Romania," and that the percentage would drop even further if the Transdniestrians were to "join the social and political life of unified Moldova." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)
JARUZELSKI'S TRIAL FOR 1970 MASSACRE STARTS ANEW.
The trial of Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, had to start anew on 26 February because of a three-month break in the proceedings that was caused by an illness of the chief judge, Polish media reported. Polish procedure allows such a motion if the break in the trial exceeds 35 days. Jaruzelski and six co-defendants are charged with ordering and perpetrating the massacre of Polish workers in December 1970 during protests in Polish coastal cities against price increases. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
PREMIER SHOWS LENIENCY TOWARD NEW FELLOWS' PASTS.
Premier Adrian Nastase said on 27 February that one should take a "pragmatic view" of the political past of the two former Greater Romania Party (PRM) members who recently joined the ruling Social Democratic Party, Mediafax reported. He said that what is really important is for PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor to be left with "as few people as possible," and that the departure of deputies Sever Mesca and Ilie Neacsu from the PRM "is a clear signal that this radical party does not enjoy the backing of either the population or even of its own members." Nastase said he would not "wish to discuss" what Sever and Neacsu were "before they became politicians," and added that "not even in the parliament does one find only perfect people." Neacsu was editor in chief of the ferociously anti-Semitic weekly "Europa," and Mesca is a former member of the communist secret police. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)
TALKS SLATED WITH 'NEAR ABROAD' TO REGULATE MIGRANTS.
Under a new presidential decree, the Interior Ministry will now deal with immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and talks must be held with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan -- the source of most migration to Russia -- to regulate the flow of people, reported "Asia Times" on 1 March. More than 8 million people -- nearly 90 percent Russian-speakers -- came to Russia as permanent residents in the last decade, while 4 million left Russia, according to official statistics. Russian officials wish to boost immigration due to a falling population rate, yet prefer Russian-speakers of working age or with independent means. Human Rights Defense Assembly, a Moscow-based NGO, has called for legalizing immigrants, since existing residence registration requirements often deprive immigrants of rights and a means to appeal their cases. ("Asia Times," 1 March)LENIN LIVED, LENIN LIVES, LENIN WILL LIVE.
Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum on Red Square will be closed for two weeks beginning on 1 March for preventative maintenance on the mummified corpse of the Soviet leader, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 February. Professor Yurii Denisov-Nikolskii, deputy director of the scientific center in charge of maintaining Lenin's corpse, said everything in his organization's power is being done to preserve Lenin "for many, many years," and that the body is "in excellent condition." Former President Boris Yeltsin, responding to pleas from reformers, struggled to have the corpse interred and failed; former President Mikhail Gorbachev summed up the sentiment of many to give Lenin "a decent, Christian burial" with a comment carried by "The Guardian" on 29 July 1999: "I am in absolute favor of burying Lenin's body if this is approached in a humane and Christian way." Yet President Vladimir Putin has said publicly he wants to keep the body where it is. "Many people in this country associate their lives with the name of Lenin. To take Lenin out and bury him would say to them that they have worshipped false values, that their lives were lived in vain.... I cherish stability and consensus in society, and I will try not to do anything to upset civil calm," said Putin, "The Independent" reported on 20 October 2001. CAF'MANAGED DEMOCRACY' BUT NO 'UPHEAVALS'...
In an interview with "Prospekt novosti" for polit.ru in the 25 February-3 March issue, Yabloko Chairman Grigorii Yavlinskii said a system of "managed democracy" in Russia was creating a "Potemkin village," where democratic procedures in fact exist, but the interests of a small group influence the public's choices. If inflation runs 40-50 percent this year, "it will cause tension in society, dissatisfaction with the government," he forecasted. While such sentiment "won't lead to upheavals and revolutions," said the politician, there will be a more "lively political life in the form of clashes among different companies, political forces, and interests." Reacting to recent crackdowns, Yavlinskii said, "We can't support the situation developing with the media, the outrage with the elections, the use of the judicial system as an instrument to resolve political tasks, the virtual defeat of the rights to local self-government, the abridgement of economic opportunities in the regions." CAF...STILL SOME FIND POLITICS RISKY BUSINESS.
Vyacheslav Darzha, a candidate in the 17 March elections for the head of the Tuva Republic, was hospitalized for two days after suffering a wounded shoulder when an unknown assailant shot him on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported 1 March. Some local observers link Darzha's assassination with his earlier statement on local television that he possessed compromising materials about the republic's current president, according to the agency. Darzha headed the republic's legal department. A deputy of the city duma in Volgodonsk was shot dead, reported polit.ru citing RIA-Novosti on 2 March. Local law-enforcement officials claim the murder was related to business dealings, not politics, but noted that it was the second deputy in that city to be killed in the last half year. And in Pskov on 27 February, when asked whether the recent arrest of a local legislator was linked to an upcoming election in which the lawmaker was participating, Pskov Oblast Prosecutor Nikolai Lepikhin said that "prosecutorial offices fulfill political orders all the time," and that he does not exclude the possibility that "the Prosecutor's Office was carrying out the political aims of the local elite," regions.ru reported. However, he added that his office "investigates criminal matters independently of who provides the materials." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 4 March)LOCAL ELECTIONS BEING BYPASSED IN BASHKORTOSTAN.
Several Tatar rights organizations in Bashkortostan on 25 February appealed to Russian President Putin, the prosecutor-general, and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, complaining that federal laws are frequently violated in the republic, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported on 26 February. According to the statement, residents of Bashkortostan are being denied their right to elect regional administration heads and mayors, who continue to be appointed and dismissed by presidential decree. Salavat Mayor Azgat GAliyev and a number of regional administration heads, who are ethnic Tatars, have recently been dismissed. GAliyev was accused of dragging his feet in preparation for the national census, but the Communist Party branch in the republic suggests that he was fighting the government's attempts at "Bashkirizing" the Tatar population of his city, the service reported, citing the local weekly "Nash Vibor." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)ACTIVISTS CONCERNED ABOUT HOMELESS KIDS.
Russia has about 50,000 homeless children who sleep on the streets, and one in every 10 of them is in Moscow, Andrei Babushkin, chairman of the Public Committee for Civil Rights, said at a press conference in Moscow on 28 February. Children need more individualized treatment, he said, proposing a chain of 25 to 30 shelters of various types in Moscow. Social workers, medics, and police could coordinate efforts to search for homeless children and students of teachers' colleges could work with homeless children as interns, he proposed. Babushkin called for making a database of homeless children and a specialized telephone reference service to search for the missing. (Interfax, 28 February)DUMA POSTPONES DEATH PENALTY DEBATE.
A Russian parliamentary debate on the ratification of a protocol banning the death penalty supplementing the European Convention of Human Rights has been postponed, State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov told reporters, adding that he believes the delay is attributable to a recent call by Duma members on President Putin to abandon the moratorium on executions. Some deputies are trying to take advantage of the feelings of Russian citizens, who are unhappy over the state's failure to curb crime, he said. Two moratoriums are in force, one on executions and the other on death sentences. The appeal to the president is a misunderstanding, he said. "No death sentences have been handed out for a long time and there is no death row," he said. The Duma's call is not legally binding, Krasheninnikov said. "It is an attempt by some to score political points," he explained. (Interfax, 1 March)PUBLIC APATHY SLOWS REHABILITATION EFFORT.
Former Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev, head of the presidential rehabilitation commission, who embarked 13 years ago on his crusade to rehabilitate communism's victims, said Russia had failed to learn its own history lessons, accusing the public of apathy and the authorities of open hostility to his work. The commission has rehabilitated 4.5 million people and has about 400,000 cases to go. Originally dealing only with Stalin's victims, under Yeltsin the search was widened to include all Soviet political victims. "No one wants to face the fact that [Stalin] killed 30 million of his own people, most of whom disappeared without a trace. No one has apologized for what they did, and most people do not seem to care whether we confront this chapter in our history or not," says Yakovlev, noting that official history still celebrates Stalin for his victory over Hitler. Most of the names in victims' lists were political figures, but occasionally unexplained names crop up, such as a neighbor of the secretary to Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin's henchmen. The secretary typed out the daily death list and she simply added her neighbor's name to secure his flat when it was abruptly vacated. ("The Times [UK]," 2 March)UN DELEGATION ARRIVES IN GROZNY.
A UN delegation began a trip to Chechnya with a visit to a refugee center where the first 62 Chechen families had been moved from a tent camp in the village of Znamenskoye, in Chechnya's Nadterechnaya district, Interfax reported. The delegation is headed by John McCallin, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the Russian Federation. (Interfax, 28 February)NEW MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED IN CHECHNYA, PUBLIC CONCERN INCREASES.
A mass grave containing the bodies of both men and women was discovered on 20 February between the villages of Mesker-Yurt and Tsotan-Yurt, chechenpress.com reported on 27 February. The bodies had been burned; some had been dismembered. The exact number of victims is unclear. Meanwhile, an All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTSIOM) poll this year found that, 24 percent of the respondents criticize the government for not being able to "solve the problem of Chechnya," as compared to 7 percent who were of that opinion last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 4 March)
YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT REVOKES IMMUNITY OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECT.
The Yugoslav parliament on 26 February revoked the parliamentary immunity of a key lieutenant of former President Slobodan Milosevic who was indicted by The Hague tribunal in 1999, AP reported. Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a former interior minister and deputy in Milosevic's Socialist Party, had his immunity removed at the request of a Belgrade investigating judge so that he may be prosecuted and tried in a Yugoslav court. Stojiljkovic was under investigation last year for alleged abuse of power and fraud, but he refused to appear before the court, claiming immunity. It is not clear if and when he might be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal, as legislators ruled that Stojiljkovic cannot be arrested without prior parliamentary approval. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
GOVERNMENT DISSATISFIED WITH JUDGES' 'LACK OF COURAGE.'
Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky complained on 27 February that none of the former Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS) members charged with involvement in illegal activities under the Vladimir Meciar government have yet been sentenced, CTK reported. The charges are mainly connected with the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son, and with the attempt to discredit Roman Catholic Bishop Rudolf Balaz. Both events are believed to have been masterminded by former SIS Director Ivan Lexa, who is now a fugitive hiding abroad. Carnogursky said the delays in passing sentences on the Lexa associates may be due to a "lack of courage" by the judges, who might also "calculate" that the next elections will bring Meciar back to power. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February)ROMA RETURNED FROM NORWAY.
A second group of Slovak Roma, composed of some 60 people, who failed to receive asylum was returned to Slovakia from Norway on 23 February, CTK reported. The first group of 11 Roma was returned on 21 February. In related news, Jozef Vojdula, the chief of police in Presov, eastern Slovakia, on 23 February announced that he is leaving the force after having come to the defense of a subordinate involved in a racial incident. The subordinate refused to shake hands with Romany journalist Denisa Havrlova until she showed him her "sanitary card." Following the incident, Havrlova accused the policeman of racism, but Vojdula said his subordinate had "acted in line with legal obligations, which oblige him to take care of his health." Interior Minister Ivan Simko offered Vojdula another job, citing his "professional skills," but Vojdula turned the offer down. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)SKINHEADS ATTACK ROMA, OTHERS IN KOSICE.
On 23 February, a group of 20 skinheads attacked passengers riding a bus in Kosice, CTK reported on 25 February. The skinheads assaulted some 20 to 30 Roma and non-Roma who were returning from a discotheque frequently visited by the town's young Roma, shouting "black bastards" to the Roma. Some of the passengers were injured in the incident. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February)
PACE OFFICIAL APPALLED BY UKRAINIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN, BUT SEES SOME HOPE.
Summing up her visit to Ukraine, Hanne Severinsen, the head of a monitoring mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Kyiv on 1 March that the parliamentary election campaign has been marred by fear, harassment, and intimidation, Reuters reported. "Sixty percent of local electoral committees are controlled by pro-presidential parties.... And [we are] very concerned over repeated statements about the misuse of power resulting from illegal usage of administrative resources by pro-presidential forces, particularly in the regions," Severinsen noted. "There is absolutely no political dialogue, there is just fear," she added. Still, Severinsen said the current campaign is more democratic than the 1999 presidential election, adding that candidates now have more freedom to declare their views and protest violations in courts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ATTACKED.
Lawmaker Valentyn Zubov, the head of the opposition Fatherland Party's regional branch in Donetsk, was attacked in Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast, on 2 March, UNIAN reported. The attack took place at the town's railway station in front of a wagon of the Kiev-Luhansk train just as Zubov was receiving a parcel containing the plan and route for Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko's tour of the region planned for 5-6 March. The attackers were three athletically built men who knocked Zubov over, beat him, and snatched the parcel from his hands. Zubov views the attack as designed to acquire information about the tour in order to disrupt Tymoshenko's visit to Donetsk Oblast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March)
ONE HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP RECOGNIZED, TWO OTHERS UNITE AND SEEK LEGAL STATUS.
After a long struggle for official registration, a human rights group known as the Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan has been officially recognized by the Uzbek government, local human rights monitors and the BBC World Service reported on 4 March. The group's leader, Mikhail Ardzinov, said his group's legalization had much to do with international pressure on the Uzbek government and the forthcoming visit to the United States of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. He first applied for registration in 1997 and suffered repeated denials of legal status. Two other groups have merged and continue to seek status. The Ezgulik (Good Deed) Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, led by Vasila Inoyat, and the Civic Assistance Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, headed by Ruslan Sharipov, have now united under the name Ezgulik Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, birlik.net reported on 20 February. The group has submitted its registration application with authorities. Human rights organizations have protested the Uzbekistan government's brutal suppression of political opposition and the imprisonment of thousands of Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls. Uzbekistan has allowed foreign troops taking part in operations in Afghanistan to be based on its soil and the BBC Central Asia correspondent says there has been concern that international concern over human rights may not be a priority. U.S. officials in successive administrations have repeatedly conveyed their concerns about Uzbekistan's obstruction of the right of association. CAF
U.S. GOVERNMENT HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT 'LARGELY CANDID, ACCURATE,' SAY ACTIVISTS
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Each year, NGO activists eagerly await the release of the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." Touching every aspect of civil and political rights in most countries of the world, and now also addressing social and economic issues such as the rights of workers, women, children, and the disabled, the voluminous accounts available at http://www.state.gov serve as a manual for U.S. foreign policy by providing background for decisions about military aid, democracy assistance, travelers' warnings, and political asylum claims. Local human rights monitors hope for a citation of their materials as a form of validation for their often risky work. Their governments may wince at the criticism, however, not realizing that the reports are Congressionally mandated in compliance with laws governing foreign assistance.
The reports engender an interesting process each year as media and human rights NGOs take out their microscopes to find fault with the increasingly professional U.S. reports, charging the U.S. in turn with using magnifying glasses to see human rights improvements in otherwise bleak landscapes where military and political considerations require careful diplomacy.
Despite expectations of softening after the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September, even sharp critics such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the reports were "largely candid and accurate," singling out mention of Russia's opportunistic use of the war on terrorism in Chechnya and the frank commentary on Uzbekistan's practice of unlawful detention and torture. "For the most part, the State Department deserves credit for pulling no punches," said HRW. "But a human rights report is not by itself a human rights policy." Indeed, the real issue is how diplomats will translate the harsh assessment into diplomatic negotiations for improvements.
Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, responded to journalists' concerns about follow-up to the reports that "our programs of democracy assistance are already ramping up to be able to help civil society, the press and others in those countries to try and make them more democratic." Asked for a concrete indication of such help, Craner said the U.S. would sponsor an independent printing press in Bishkek, although it remains to be seen whether Kyrgyzstan's tendency to censor critical media will be curbed. Regarding Uzbekistan, although Craner cautioned that the concessions may not have come because of U.S. pressure, recent progress included prosecution of some policemen for torture and an amnesty of some political prisoners.
Human Rights Watch singled out the mistreatment of devout Muslims as an area where it found official U.S. acknowledgement of police attacks but a failure to "highlight the thousands of religious Muslim prisoners who were jailed for their beliefs and who were not members of any organized group." In fact the report acknowledges in the introduction that "[h]uman rights groups estimated that the number of persons in detention for political or religious reasons and for terrorism, primarily attendees of unofficial mosques and members of Islamist political groups, but also members of the secular opposition and human rights activists, was approximately 7,500."
The differences in perception highlight an important distinction in the reports -- when the U.S. wishes to make a forthright pronouncement about a certain country it uses declarative sentences in its own voice, but when facts cannot be ascertained or articulated, the U.S. couches the coverage in an NGO's voice.
On Russia, the State Department noted that Russian soldiers "used indiscriminate force" and there were credible reports that "the federal armed forces engaged in extrajudicial killings in Chechnya." The report comments extensively on massacres of villagers during sweeps by Russian federal troops although HRW said the U.S. "mildly underestimates the near-total impunity for such crimes" whereas the report detailed all the claims and did say NGOs alleged the government prosecuted only "a fraction of the crimes federal forces committed against civilians."
On Ukraine, no mention is made of the revelations of Mykola Melnychenko, the former state security major who fled from Ukraine and obtained refuge in the U.S. last year, after making claims about the presidential administration's corruption and responsibility for human rights violations, based on tapes reportedly made clandestinely in the president's office. While U.S. and European media have reported on the FBI's involvement in authenticating the tapes and producing a satisfactory lie-detector test of Melnychenko, this year's human rights report on Ukraine makes reference only to a "foreign forensics team also asked to administer tests on the body." The report only noted that "the authorities did not conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into his killing" causing Heorhiy Gongadze's widow and human rights advocates to call for an international commission of inquiry � leaving open the question of the U.S. position.
Critics of the State Department's reports often overemphasize imagined nuances in the report because they are actually irked at the lack of action items drawn from the often stark portraits, or the seeming absence of such a visible candid portrayal of the United States itself. Predictably some Russian media have taken umbrage, such as a piece titled "Freedom, American-Style" carried by pravda.ru on 5 March which rings all the chimes. Although accepting of the State Department's coverage of Chechnya, the closure of media, and the Grigorii Pasko case as a "cross we must bear," commentator Dmitrii Chirkin said he was startled to find an annoying double standard about Central Asia -- in his view, reports on the "axis of evil" nations of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea condemned the total absence of any rights and liberties but when it came to Central Asia, only "certain violations" of such rights were found. He also makes an unsubstantiated claim that the "the FBI has wrested for itself enormous rights and powers" and claims that human rights violations, once "isolated in the past, are now massive."
A point often lost on those sensitive to double standards is that the U.S. submits copious reports on its own behavior to the UN's treaty bodies, and has civil rights commissions and other government agencies in all major cities reporting extensively on such issues as racial profiling and police brutality against minorities. A clear evidence of U.S. willingness to engage in self-criticism is its very citation of NGO reports in government documents -- the kind of reports that Russia and other post-Soviet nations have not done about themselves or even each other, and which NGOs write but circulate mainly among themselves due to regional media reluctance to cover such frank criticism.