13 March 2002, Volume
UZBEK NGO LEGALIZED ON EVE OF PRESIDENT KARIMOV'S VISIT TO U.S.
A week before the 12 March visit by Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov to the United States, the Uzbek Justice Ministry formally registered the Independent Human Rights Organization (IHRO) in Tashkent, headed by Mikhail Ardzinov, on 4 March. The registration came 10 years after the group first applied for registration, AP reported the following day. It is the first such organization to be publicly registered in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March). In interviews with RFE/RL's Tajik Service and eurasianet.org, Ardzinov credited international influence and Uzbekistan's role in the antiterror coalition, saying, "It had a certain effect on the behavior and the actions of our [Uzbek] leadership."
While registration is not required to enjoy the right to associate freely and monitor human rights under international human rights agreements, governments often require civic groups to obtain legal status in order to open a bank account, rent or purchase property, or receive tax breaks. In Uzbekistan, further restrictions are imposed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) requiring such status in order to publish without penalty or to be cited in the official press. Legal status has been granted freely to government loyalists in government-organized NGOs, known as "GONGOs," or even purchased with bribes by "mafia" associated groups known as "MANGOs." Local government officials also readily give their cronies the status of "community-based organizations" (CBOs) needed for World Bank loans or USAID project funds dispersed for humanitarian or social purposes. Yet such legitimacy has remained elusive for unapproved parties, NGOs, religious groups, and trade unions openly critical of the government's human rights record or policies.
Nevertheless, after such a lengthy struggle to get even one small group recognized, the international community was grateful. Gerard Stoudmann, director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, welcomed the decision to register the IHRO as "an encouraging step toward creating basic conditions for the development of civil society in Uzbekistan." Stoudmann also said the registration reflects a "new and more open approach" by the Uzbek government toward NGOs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March).
Meanwhile, two other groups continue to seek official status after repeated past denials -- and have merged. With one success story behind them, a rise in expectations among NGOs is sure to follow. 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 and is awaiting a decision.
NGOs are seeking changes in the association law as well as procedures for applications to move away from a highly arbitrary discretionary system -- in which Justice Ministry and other officials often make politically motivated determinations about a group -- to a system whereby all groups that meet basic criteria under the law can be registered without impediment unless it can be reasonably demonstrated in a court of law that they advocate violence or abuse of others' rights, or have committed crimes.
Failure to register NGOs is central to the Uzbekistan government's overall refusal to legitimize most forms of civil society apart from the state. In a hearing on 8 March in Washington, D.C., before the U.S. Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Wayne Merry, senior researcher at the American Foreign Policy Institute and a former State Department and Pentagon official, testified that such failure to register groups can "cause resentment among the people of Uzbekistan, while denying them peaceful outlets for expressing dissent. They drive political opposition underground, fueling support for extremist groups and fostering instability." The government's crackdown on religious groups outside the official state-sanctioned form of Islam "is actively contributing to the growth of, and popular support for, radicalized groups there that the campaign against terrorism is attempting to counter," said Merry. Unlike in other third-world regions, Central Asia's crackdown on civil society is worse because of the Soviet legacy of a highly developed and highly skilled modern police state able to control the population, he explained. "This is not, as it's sometimes described, a form of traditional Asiatic despotism, but something...much more robust and more insidious and a much greater challenge for human rights figures and dissidents and religious believers," he said. Merry called the registration of just one NGO "purely a sop to the U.S. government on the eve of Karimov's visit to Washington."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the step, but noted in a 5 March letter to President George W. Bush: "President Karimov is still testing to see what concessions he can get in exchange for no real progress. He is still probing the limits of his partners' tolerance -- and that of his own people." Democracy assistance and human rights groups have pushed the U.S. to do more during the Karimov visit. "[The IHRO registration] shows the U.S. government has leverage and can achieve real successes when it chooses to use that leverage," HRW told eurasianet.org on 7 March. In an 8 March letter addressed to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is scheduled to take President Karimov to view the devastated site of the former World Trade Center known as "Ground Zero," local human rights activists said: "We hope you will convey your concern about the arrest of peaceful Muslims in Uzbekistan, and your conviction that any antiterror campaign must distinguish between those who have committed or plotted specific acts of violence on the one hand, and those who are peaceful dissidents, on the other." (CAF)
'NOT GUILTY' VERDICT UPHELD FOR JEHOVAH'S WITNESS.
A "not guilty" verdict was upheld for a sentence handed down in September against Levon Markaryan, a Jehovah's Witness charged with allowing minors to attend religious meetings he conducted on the refusal of male Jehovah's Witnesses to serve in the military. Judge Manvel Simonyan acquitted Markaryan of all criminal charges under Article 244 of the Armenian Criminal Code, a Khrushchev-era law used to oppress religious minorities. The court found that his religious teaching was "not criminal and is protected by the guarantees of freedom of religion in the Constitution of Armenia." In a written statement released by the Jehovah's Witnesses Public Affairs Office on 7 March, John Burns, a Canadian lawyer assisting in Markaryan's representation, stated, "This ruling sends the message that Armenia is serious about meeting its obligations to the Council of Europe, and that the constitution is in force for all citizens of Armenia, regardless of their religious confession." The chairman of the State Council on Religious Affairs (which is in the process of being wound up) denied any involvement in Markaryan's unsuccessful prosecution, Keston News Service reported on 7 March. (CAF)
OPPOSITION FIGURES DETAINED.
Police in Sumgait on 8 March detained some 50 members of the local branch of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) who planned to participate in a demonstration the following day to demand President Heidar Aliev's resignation, Turan reported on 8 March, quoting DPA Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu. The detainees were remanded for three to five days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)
RIGHTS GROUPS URGE MINSK TO RETHINK APPROACH TO ABDUCTION TRIAL.
Local and international human rights activists are concerned that if a death sentence is carried out against four defendants currently on trial in Minsk for the abduction of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, crucial information about the real culprits responsible for high-profile disappearances of political figures could go with them to the grave. Scheduled to end 11 March, the trial of the four was postponed until 14 March. In a call to members for urgent action dated 6 March, Amnesty International noted that since opening in October, the trial has been held behind closed doors in violation of international human rights norms, and the government has "offered no credible reason why the trial should not be open to public scrutiny," said Amnesty International. Repeated requests for access by local human rights monitors were rejected, and Zavadski's wife, Svetlana, was reportedly only allowed to attend the trial on the condition she did not disclose information. In a related development indicative of the government pressure on the proceedings, prosecutors have filed criminal libel charges against Ihar Aksyonchyk, the Zavadski family's lawyer, for claiming at trial that testimony from former investigators who fled Belarus indicates that the disappearances of Zavadski and three other public figures associated with the opposition were ordered by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's top aide, Viktar Sheyman, now the Belarusian prosecutor-general. Relatives believe Aksyonchyk has been forced to go into hiding due to the threatened prosecution. In calling for a suspension of capital punishment in this case, Amnesty International noted that both international and domestic observers believe that although the four accused men may have been involved in Zavadski's murder, "President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's immediate circle of appointees had organized this and other murders of prominent opposition figures." Activists fear that the four will be quickly convicted and executed "in order to eradicate any evidence linking the president's administration to the crimes." Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer called on the Belarusian government not to sentence Zavadski's suspected kidnappers to capital punishment, since membership in the Council of Europe could not be considered with the continued use of the death penalty, Belapan reported 9 March. (CAF)
MYSTERY CONTINUES OVER ALLEGED BETRAYAL OF ATTEMPT TO CATCH KARADZIC.
The "Daily Telegraph" reported on 5 March that NATO has begun an investigation into charges raised in "The Times" and the "Hamburger Abendblatt" that a French SFOR officer betrayed recent efforts to catch indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to a Bosnian Serb police officer. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson called the charges "pure speculation," Reuters reported from Brussels. In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said the allegations are "intolerable and unacceptable" and that French policy is that "all war criminals be transferred" to The Hague. In Banja Luka, the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry denied any role in the incident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Investigators are concentrating their attention on the content of the French officer's telephone call and why he made it. If the allegations prove true, they would reinforce the belief of many Muslims and Albanians that French forces are basically pro-Serb and that a U.S. presence is needed to ensure fairness. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)CALL FOR RADICAL REFORM OF BOSNIAN JUDICIARY.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York on 5 March, several top international officials working in Bosnia urged a reform of that republic's often slow-moving and corrupt judiciary as well as a new commitment to catching war criminals, AP reported. Jacques Klein, who is the UN's top official in Bosnia, said: "Arresting criminals is useless if they are freed by timorous or corrupt judicial officials a few hours later and then intimidate witnesses or threaten families of police officers. Immediate radical reform of the judiciary and prosecutors is key to everything the international community is trying to achieve in Bosnia-Herzegovina.... Band-aid measures are not enough." High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said security work in Bosnia "will not be fully effective as long as there is a belief that certain individuals are beyond the reach of the law." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)
PRESIDENT ATTENDS HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATION CEREMONY.
Georgi Parvanov attended the official Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Plovdiv on 10 March, BTA reported. The ceremony marked the 59th anniversary of the Bulgarian people's successful prevention of the deportation of some 50,000 Jews to death camps. Parvanov in his speech said that 10 March is "a day of deserved national pride." Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria Emmanuel Siessmann added that on 12 March, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem will grant Metropolitans Stefan of Sofia and Kiril of Plovdiv the title of Righteous Among Nations in recognition of the role the Bulgarian Orthodox Church played in the rescue action. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)
SENATE APPROVES DECLASSIFICATION OF SECRET POLICE FILES.
The Czech upper house on 8 March approved a bill by a vote of 42 to 11, with nine abstentions, allowing access to previously classified communist secret police files, international agencies reported. The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill in February, and the legislation will be enacted after its promulgation by President Vaclav Havel. Czech citizens have been able to access their own files since 1996 but not the files of other people. The new legislation excludes only files of foreign nationals and those containing information that could endanger national security or the lives of other people. The bill stipulates that a new Institute for the Documentation of the Totalitarian Regime will oversee access to the files and ensure the transparency of the process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March)EUROPEAN CONSERVATIVES WANT 'MATTER-OF-FACT' DEBATE ON BENES DECREES...
Members of the strongest parliamentary group in the European Parliament on 6 March called for a "matter-of-fact debate" on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. European People's Party (EPD-ED) deputies said it is in the interest of "both sides" to assess whether the decrees are now putting some EU members at a "legal disadvantage." They said EU membership criteria do not allow for any "discrimination" among citizens of member states stemming from "national legislation." EPD-ED parliamentary group Chairman Hans-Gert Poettering told the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 6 March that, "No one must be discriminated against in the EU, which the Czech Republic is expected to join in 2004." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)....AND FORESEE 'COMPLICATIONS' WITH CZECH EU ACCESSION.
Juergen Schroeder, who is also a member of the EPD-ED and the European Parliament's rapporteur for the Czech Republic, on 6 March told Prague's German-language "Prager Zeitung" that in the "hypothetical case" that some decrees are found by EU experts to "include injustice" and the Czechs persist in their refusal to declare them invalid, "the timetable for the Czech Republic's accession to the EU may be postponed." Schroeder added that "the Czech Republic naturally belongs to the EU, but not under the leadership of people such as Klaus, Social Democrat Premier Milos Zeman, and the like." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)
NGOS CRITIQUE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE.
Recent changes at the Ministry of Justice provoked the dissatisfaction of local NGOs, which opposed the transfer of eight officials from the Prosecutor's Office to the Justice Ministry, Human Rights in Georgia, a new monitoring NGO, reported in February. According to Nana Kakabadze, chairwoman of Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili is not complying with European Council recommendations on elimination of the roles of the Prosecutor's Office in the Ministry Justice system, since he has staffed the Penal Department with prosecutors. NGOs said the new chief of the Penal Department, Paata Mkheidze, was formerly head of the Prosecutor's Department on Penal Supervision and left without addressing reports that prisoners were beaten by police in detention. ("Human Rights In Georgia," February 2002)
'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE CREATES UPROAR.
A Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on 4 March that he is confident that U.S. officials will reject claims published in an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" by columnist Jackson Diehl alleging U.S. disappointment with Hungary and the Czech Republic, Hungarian media reported. Diehl wrote that U.S. officials are disappointed with those countries' evolution following their admission to NATO. Diehl said Prime Minister Viktor Orban has "embraced a nationalist agenda worthy of the 1930s while tacitly allying himself with anti-Semites" and that Czech Premier Milos Zeman has "become notorious for his attacks on the free press and connections to gangsters." Diehl also said that because of his "toxic talk of Lebensraum for Hungarians," Orban "has been refused a White House visit." The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gabor Horvath, said that attributing to Orban the term "Lebensraum" ("living space," a term once used by Adolf Hitler), which he said Orban never used, was "unacceptable." He added that during a telephone conversation with the premier on 14 February while Orban was visiting Boston, U.S. President George W. Bush said nothing that revealed any dissatisfaction with Hungary's record following its NATO admission. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)ROMANY LEADER SATISFIED WITH RESULTS OF PACT WITH FIDESZ.
Florian Farkas, chairman of the Romany Lungo Drom association, on 5 March said that after the elections, responsibility for handling Romany affairs will be transferred from the governmental Office for Minorities to a newly established Roma Integration Office, which is to be set up within the Social Affairs Ministry, Hungarian media reported. Farkas, who recently signed a cooperation pact with the ruling FIDESZ, spoke after talks in Brussels with FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer and European People's Party Chairman Wilfried Martens. Martens described the electoral pact between FIDESZ and Lungo Drom as a "historic development" and pledged support for establishing a European Center on Romany Affairs in Brussels. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)
TRIAL OF BEKNAZAROV RESUMES AMID PUBLIC PROTEST.
The trial of jailed Kyrgyz parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov resumed 11 March in the town of Toktogul, Djalalabad Region, after a month's delay. Beknazarov is accused of abuse of power while serving as district prosecutor, accusations his attorney and human rights groups say are politically motivated in retaliation for his efforts to impeach President Askar Akaev. Chief Justice Bolot Mombekov rejected all motions by Beknasarov's attorney, including a request to have the judge and prosecutor Choibek Sydykov removed from the case. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights reported on 13 March that on the second day of the trial, eight of 48 pages were missing from the record of the case of Japaraly Kamchibekov. Those pages were said to contain evidence exonerating Kamchibekov, apparently on the basis of which criminal proceedings against him were stopped in 1995. The defense attorney made a plea to restore the pages in the record, and the judge responded that Beknazarov was only to answer questions directed to him. Local observers say the parliamentarian has now been deprived of the right to present exonerating evidence, and that the eight missing pages proved that the charges against him were fully fabricated. (Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, 13 March)PRESIDENT SLAMS PROTESTS AS 'POLITICAL EXTREMISM'...
Speaking on 4 March in Berlin during an official visit to Germany, President Akaev described the ongoing mass protests in Kyrgyzstan against the arrest and trial of deputy Azimbek Beknazarov as "political extremism," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 5 March. Akaev added that demonstrations and hunger strikes are "not democratic" and that it is up to a court of law to decide whether Beknazarov is guilty. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)....AND VETOES AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY.
President Akaev has vetoed amendments, passed on 17 January, to legislation on the status of parliamentary deputies, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 5 March. The amendments stipulate that only the prosecutor-general is empowered to sanction the arrest of a parliamentary deputy. Parliamentary immunity was restricted by a referendum in October 1998. Parliament may override a presidential veto by a qualified majority. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)SCHOOL BOYCOTT AND DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE.
The deputy head of the Aksy district council in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast admitted to an RFE/RL correspondent on 6 March that teaching in local schools has been disrupted by parents keeping their children at home to protest the arrest and trial of parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. Oblast officials earlier denied that any such boycott is underway. Classes have been suspended since 16 February in six schools, involving thousands of students. Meanwhile, some 80 residents of the village of Djalgyn in Djalalabad Oblast convened a meeting at which they drafted an appeal to the Kyrgyz leadership to release Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Some 100 people attended a similar meeting in the town of Naryn the same day at which they pledged their support for the January call by 12 parliamentary deputies for President Akaev's resignation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March)
OSCE COMMISSIONER DISCUSSES VARIOUS ISSUES.
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 5 March that he supports that country's efforts to abolish Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils, LETA reported. He praised the progress made in integrating minorities in Latvia, singling out the campaign for informing potential citizens how to acquire citizenship. When asked at a later press conference whether Latvia should grant non-citizens the right to vote in local council elections, Ekeus said this is an internal matter for Latvia, but that most Western countries do not currently allow this. He told the State Language Committee, headed by Mara Zalite, that he understands the importance of strengthening the role of the Latvian language for the internal stability and social integration of the state. The previous day, Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns informed Ekeus of plans to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in all schools as of 2004. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS COURT SYSTEM �NOT TOTALLY CORRUPTED.'
In an interview in the daily "Neatkariga Rita Avize" of 6 March, Janis Maizitis said the prosecution of prosecutors and policemen who have been convicted of accepting bribes is an indication that the court system is "not totally corrupted." Nevertheless, he said that if even one prosecutor takes a bribe he is harming fellow prosecutors, because people will stereotype all such officials as bribe-takers. Maizitis claimed the development of the court system has been hampered by a lack of political support, adding that the government should make reform of the judicial system a top priority. He also noted that the investigation of complicated crimes carried out by officials in Latvia is marred by the lack of knowledgeable specialists in intelligence services. He also said Latvia's internal security will improve after the privatization process is completed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS MAKING RUSSIAN AN 'OFFICIAL LANGUAGE.'
The Constitutional Court ruled on 4 March that a draft law initiated by 27 Communist deputies to make Russian the country's second "official language" is illegal, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The deputies asked the court to examine the draft, and the judges ruled that the envisaged legislation does not specify whether it is in line with either the constitution or with international agreements to which Moldova is a signatory. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)DECISION APPEALED AT EUROPEAN COURT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS.
The government on 4 March appealed a decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg pertaining to the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church and asked the court to reconsider the verdict with an expanded panel of judges, Flux reported on 4 March, citing anonymous government sources. On 13 December, the court backed a complaint by the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church against the government's refusal to register it and ruled that the government must pay 27 million euros ($23.3 million) in "moral and material damages." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ASKS TO LIFT PPCD LEADERS' IMMUNITY.
Deputy Parliamentary speaker Mihail Camerzan on 7 March read out in the parliament an official request submitted by Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu to lift the parliamentary immunity of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) leaders Iurie Rosca, Stefan Secareanu, and Vlad Cubreacov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rusu said the individuals should be arrested and then investigated. The Judicial Commission is scheduled to debate the request at an undisclosed future date. Commenting on the action in an interview with Russia's Mayak 24 Radio on 7 March, President Vladimir Voronin accused the PPCD leaders of "organizing school pupils" to participate in the ongoing protests, which would contravene the European Convention on Protecting Children's Rights, he said. The three leaders are charged with encouraging minors to break the law, as well as with the "repeated organization of demonstrations leading to public order disturbances." If convicted, the three PPCD leaders face a sentence of between one and three years in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)
PREMIER TELLS HUNGARIANS 'NO' ON 'PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION.'
Premier Adrian Nastase on 5 March said a demand for "proportional representation" of minorities in state structures cannot be met, RFE/RL's Bucharest service reported. Nastase said that if the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania has in mind the upper echelons of the civil service, it must realize that in line with the law, those positions are occupied through competitive examinations, that ethnic Hungarians must meet the same requirements as any other citizen competing for those positions, and that the competition must be "nondiscriminatory." Only political positions at the central and local government levels are filled in line with agreements between parties participating in ruling coalitions, the premier emphasized. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)FORMER LEADER URGES BAN ON GREATER ROMANIA PARTY.
Ilie Neacsu, a former deputy chairman of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), announced on 6 March that jointly with "parliamentary deputies and civic organizations" he will seek the outlawing of the PRM, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Before doing so, Neacsu said, he will first sue PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor for "calumny." He said the PRM must be outlawed for disseminating "fascist propaganda and racial hatred." Neacsu said he will present in court a U.S. State Department report that defines the PRM as "extremist" because of the identity of its leader. PRM First Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu said in response that Neacsu "forgets that he was the editor in chief of a publication considered to be anti-Semitic in the same State Department report." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)
FOREIGN MINISTRY STRONGLY CRITICIZES U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS.
In a statement released 7 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights as "surprising, to say the least," RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported the same day. The statement read in particular that the bulk of a "long, 45-page chapter" dedicated to Russia, and especially its emphasis on Chechnya, "makes the [Russian Foreign Ministry] think that those who compiled it have simply reprinted old headlines. It seems that there have been no changes either in Russia or the United States, that there was nothing like the 11 September tragedy, and the international community has not united in a bid against terrorism." The statement went on to say that "there are groups" in the United States that "are persistently trying to focus on 'the Chechen issue' and once again make it an obstacle in Russian-American dialogue." In this context, the authors of the Russian statement conclude that the United States "had better focus on its own domestic problems, primarily on the issue of capital punishment, prior to claiming the role of a judge in the sphere of how other countries should observe human rights." The Foreign Ministry added that the Russian side is still waiting for the United States to ratify a whole range of cornerstone international agreements dealing with human rights, Russian agencies noted. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)SUTYAGIN TO GET HIS DAY IN COURT.
The Russian Supreme Court will consider an appeal on 13 March by political scientist Igor Sutyagin challenging a ruling of a Kaluga Oblast court. That court decided in December to return Sutyagin's case for further investigation. Sutyagin has been accused of espionage for providing analysis, which he based on open sources, of the military readiness of Russia's nuclear forces and missile-attack warning system. Despite finding little merit in the prosecutors' original case against Sutyagin, the oblast court refused to release him from jail pending the outcome of his appeal. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), a group comprising 41 Helsinki organizations in North America, Europe, and Eurasia, addressed an appeal to Russian authorities on 15 February expressing concern about what they saw as a pattern of "infamous spy cases" and unwarranted pre-trial detention of Sutyagin while investigation continued. (IHF, 15 February; "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)INTERIOR MINISTRY LAUNCHES DISCRIMINATION ACTION AGAINST ROMA.
"Moskovskii komsomolets" claimed on 6 March that the Moscow Interior Ministry's main directorate is conducting a secret police action dubbed "Tabor" against local Roma in an effort to register them and evict them from Moscow. Interior Ministry documents cited by the daily dubbed Roma as "socially dangerous criminals" and directed the ministry's officers to identify not only Romany communities, but also those who cooperate with Roma by renting them housing. Meanwhile, Romany rights activists called the operation "a disgraceful action" and added that "it is a shame to call a nationality a 'social criminal group,'" BBC reported the same day. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS TATARSTAN'S REVISIONS INSUFFICIENT, NATIONALISTS PLAN PROTEST.
Following the passage in its first reading of Tatarstan's new constitution in the republican legislature, State Duma Legislation Committee head Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) has declared that some paragraphs of the draft constitution contradict laws crafted by his committee, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 March. Specifically, he said stipulations regarding republican citizenship may spark new protests by prosecutors. Some 15 public organizations held a meeting on 1 March in Kazan to establish an organization called the Popular Front for the Defense of Human and People's Rights and Tatarstan's Sovereignty, the bureau reported, citing Tatar-inform. Representatives from the Tatar Public Center, the Idel-Ural movement, the Magarif association, and the Azatlyq Tatar youth union attended. Participants at the meeting criticized the planned revision of the Tatarstan Constitution and called for maintaining the republic's decade-old constitution. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)AMERICAN AMBASSADOR CITES TATARSTAN �TOLERANCE.'
Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told visiting U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow on 7 March that there will be no further serious changes in the bill amending Tatarstan's Constitution since it has already been passed in its first reading, Interfax reported. Shaimiev explained that it is necessary that Russia remain a federal government and not become a unitary one. On 6 March, Vershbow declared that Russia's future depends on the development of its regions, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Vershbow also said that the potential for cooperation, particularly in trade and economic sectors, between the U.S. and Tatarstan has not yet been exhausted. He added that the U.S. is interested in the way that federative relations are arranged in Russia during President Putin's tenure and in how people in territorial entities evaluate these relations. According to Interfax, Vershbow also noted the tolerance that exists between different ethnic groups in the republic and expressed his desire that people from the Islamic world such as students from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come to Kazan to learn "from your example of how to live in the world." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)FOUR CIVILIANS FOUND DEAD AFTER DETENTION BY RUSSIAN TROOPS...
The bodies of four young Chechen men, all local residents, were found in an abandoned house in the town of Argun on 2 March after they were reportedly detained by Russian troops, AP reported on 5 March, quoting the deputy head of the town's administration, Aslanbek Ismailov. The bodies had bullet wounds in the head and chest and bore marks of torture. Ismailov rejected claims by the military commandant that the men were killed during recent fighting, pointing out that no such fighting has taken place. Chechenpress.com gave the names of the young men on 5 March and reported that they were detained by Russian troops on 2 March and taken to the local military commandant's office, where they were shot and their corpses dressed in military fatigues in an attempt to "prove" that they were supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)....LOCAL RESIDENTS DEMAND EXCAVATION OF MASS GRAVE, PROTEST �SWEEPS.'
Some 200 women in Argun staged a demonstration on 4 March outside the Military Prosecutor's Office to demand that a date be set for the excavation of a recently discovered mass grave, chechenpress.org reported on 5 March. Meanwhile, "thousands" of residents of Tsotan-Yurt and other villages in Kurchaloi Raion are continuing the demonstration they embarked on three weeks ago against the ongoing Russian "sweep" operations, Chechenpress.com reported on 10 March. The website also published a list of the names of 82 persons from Tsotan-Yurt killed by Russian troops since the war began in October 1999 and of a further 29 who disappeared after being detained during such sweep operations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)EIGHTY DETAINED IN CHECHNYA IN NEW RUSSIAN 'SWEEP.'
Russian forces have detained at least 80 Chechens in recent days in Grozny, Argun, Gudermes, Tangi-Chu, and Roshni-Chu in new search operations for suspected guerrilla fighters, AP reported on 6 March, quoting an unnamed Chechen administration official. On 7 March, chechenpress.com reported that new sweeps are also underway in the villages of Starye and Novye Atagi, which were subjected to a protracted search in February. Some 350 residents of the two villages have been killed by the Russian military since the war began in October 1999, the website said. On 4 March, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov again criticized the Russian practice of cordoning off for several days villages where such operations are underway, Interfax reported. Residents have reported during earlier such searches that food and water supplies ran out and villagers wounded during indiscriminate shooting by Russian forces could not get emergency medical treatment. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 March)PROSECUTORS DELIVER CASES OF POLICE, SOLDIERS CHARGED WITH CRIMES IN CHECHNYA.
Prosecutors sent to court 12 criminal cases of police officers accused of crimes against civilians in Chechnya or of bribe-taking or abuse of office, an official in the Chechen Prosecutor's Office told journalists, Interfax reported on 9 March. The Prosecutor's Office is investigating 21 such cases, he said. Over 10 cases of servicemen accused of similar crimes were sent to court in 2001, the official said. Since 1999, courts have convicted 23 servicemen, two of them commissioned officers. In the same period, law-enforcement agencies have opened over 2,000 criminal cases against members of illegal militias; dozens of them have been convicted, the official said. Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring group based in the United States, and Memorial Society, a Russian organization with an office in Nazran, Ingushetia, issued reports in February saying that only a tiny fraction of the Russian federal soldiers responsible for atrocities against civilians during military "sweeps" have been investigated, let alone prosecuted for war crimes as distinct from disorderly conduct. (CAF)CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IS IMPROVING.
Commenting on the recently released U.S. State Department report criticizing Russia's conduct of the war in Chechnya, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that while he regrets "individual violations of human rights and freedoms" in Chechnya, the human rights situation in the republic has improved over the past year, Interfax reported on 6 March. Kadyrov said his leadership is taking "large-scale measures" to prevent human rights violations and to apprehend and punish those responsible for them. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)CHECHEN ENVOY VISITS HAGUE, CALLS FOR WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL.
President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, told Reuters in Amsterdam on 8 March that the Chechen president wants a war crimes tribunal analogous to that for former Yugoslavia created to try persons who have "committed genocide against the Chechen people." Zakaev argued that "no matter what the war's outcome is and whether or not we are acknowledged as an independent state, the Chechen people must be guaranteed the same human rights as anyone else in Europe." Zakaev discussed the situation in Chechnya on 7 March with The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal's prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 March). UN Security Council authorization would be required to launch a tribunal on Chechen war crimes in The Hague. Russia, a permanent member of the Council, would likely block the effort, as would another permanent member, China, reluctant to face prosecution for atrocities committed against its own minorities. Meanwhile, with only five more ratifications required to reach the requisite 60 founding members, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will soon begin functioning to investigate and prosecute those individuals accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of war. Under its statutes, the ICC cannot address crimes against humanity committed before its establishment and would only step in to prosecute such crimes as a last resort, if national courts have failed. The court can try any individual responsible for war crimes, regardless of civilian or military status or official position. Russia has signed but not ratified the ICC statutes. Countries that fail to ratify the ICC treaty will be prohibited from participating in the nomination of the court's judges and prosecutor. (CAF)ANOTHER CITY PLANS ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE.
The mayor of Petrozavodsk, Andrei Demin, announced on 1 March that he plans to introduce an experimental program for alternative military service, RFE/RL's Petrozavodsk correspondent reported on 4 March. Demin plans to offer no less than 300 spots for young men seeking to declare themselves conscientious objectors. He is also planning on suggesting that the term of alternative service be two and a half years. A federal bill on alternative military service is expected to be considered by the State Duma this session. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)SALVATION ARMY WINS COURT CASE IN MOSCOW.
The Salvation Army, a Christian denomination, has won a court case preventing its liquidation in Moscow for failing to re-register as a religious organization. Keston News Service reported that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has overruled lower court findings. Lower courts had ordered that the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army be liquidated. The Moscow city government had blocked the group's re-registration then sought to liquidate it and seize its property on the grounds it had failed to re-register. The Salvation Army operates freely in other Russian cities and regions. It has continued its services to the poor and elderly in Moscow under its federal registration. The Moscow branch continues to seek re-registration. ("Russia: Salvation Army Wins Case in Constitutional Court," rferl.org, 5 March)
TOO MANY NGOS?
In an effort to reduce disease due to an expected massive influx of Afghan refugees into Tajikistan, the number of NGOs seeking to access northern Afghanistan and provide cross-border services has dramatically increased in recent months. The proliferation of some 40 new NGOs means there needs to be more coordination, a World Health Organization (WHO) official told IRIN, a news service of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on 18 February. "Some of the NGOs did not have a clear objective when they first arrived," said the head of the WHO office in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, Lubomir Ivanov. In such an emergency, aid organizations always rush to the scene and cooperation is needed to ensure coverage of all needs. While there has not been a huge flow of Afghan refugees in Tajikistan and hence no outbreak of diseases on the border, Ivanov confirmed that there has been an outbreak of typhoid unrelated to refugees, highlighting the need for better national health services. The British-based health NGO Merlin, long established in the region, welcomed the new aid agencies in the country. "A lot of agencies interested in accessing northern Afghanistan have arrived and quite a few stayed on, which is good news as this region is often forgotten," said spokesman Paul Hadley. Tajikistan is home to some 10,000 Afghan refugees stuck on islands in the border area of the Pinj River who are expected to return home to the northern Afghan province of Kondoz if access difficulties are surmounted. (irinnews.org, 18 February).
PARLIAMENT WANTS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF KUCHMA...
The Verkhovna Rada on 5 March asked Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to open a criminal investigation against President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. Its resolution said the president may be guilty of "actions that helped [former] Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko organize the killing of Ukrainian people's deputies Yevhen Shcherban and Vadym Hetman." In particular, the parliament requests an answer to the question why Kuchma, "while knowing about Lazarenko's criminal activities, did not take appropriate measures to stop those activities and to make him accountable under the Criminal Code. But [to the contrary], awarded Lazarenko and appointed him to especially important posts." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)....BUT FAILS TO ADDRESS ISSUE OF MELNYCHENKO TAPES.
The same day, lawmakers failed to pass a resolution on giving the floor to lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary commission dealing with the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, who is expected to report on the results of a recent U.S. expert examination of audiotapes made in President Kuchma's office by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych has been occupying the parliamentary rostrum since the inauguration of the current parliamentary sitting on 5 March, demanding that the parliament address the issue of Melnychenko's tapes. The motion to address this issue was backed by 191 deputies (the required majority is 226 votes). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)
RUGOVA PLEDGES FAIR DEAL FOR KOSOVA'S MINORITIES.
Speaking in Prishtina after his election as president of Kosova on 4 March, Ibrahim Rugova said that his first priority is to get state institutions up and running, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also repeated his commitment to independence for Kosova, which is supported by all political parties of the 90 percent Albanian majority. Rugova added: "We will work on the integration of [all] ethnic groups into the political, economic, and social life of Kosova. We will develop a society of tolerance, understanding, and conciliation among people, and respect for one another," Reuters reported. Incoming Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi stressed that "everything is a priority." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March)STEINER DEFENDS KOSOVA PRIME MINISTER AGAINST SERBIAN CHARGES.
Speaking in Prishtina on 6 March, the head of the UN civilian authority in Kosova, Michael Steiner, said he knows of nothing to substantiate recent charges that Kosova Prime Minister Rexhepi was involved in atrocities against Serbs in the 1999 Kosova conflict, Reuters reported. Rexhepi said the charges were made "in order to block the further development of the democratic institutions, to cause a delay. If there are arguments against me, I'll be here to face them." He is a surgeon who served as a field doctor with the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)SERBIAN COALITION DIVIDED OVER HAGUE LAW.
The majority of members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition agreed in Belgrade on 7 March on a draft law on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The approved version is the one recommended by the Serbian Justice Ministry and meets the demands of Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP), which is the partner of DOS in the federal government. The text provides for a "basic law" on the federal level but leaves specifics regarding the extradition of indicted war criminals to the republics. Coalition member and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said the federal legislation will not even mention the word "extradition" in keeping with the demands of the SNP, which opposes the transfer of war criminals to The Hague. But Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) did not agree to the deal and indicated that it will not support the draft in the parliament, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 8 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)PRIMAKOV REITERATES OFFER TO DEFEND MILOSEVIC.
Russian Chamber of Trade and Industry President Yevgenii Primakov, who was also Russian prime minister during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, repeated his willingness to testify on behalf of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague war crimes tribunal, gazeta.ru reported on 8 March. Primakov told reporters he is ready to testify regarding the role Milosevic played in the Bosnia and Kosova conflicts in the 1990s. "I can testify to the positive role of Milosevic. It was not the negative role they are trying to ascribe to him at the trial," Primakov said. "I am not testifying in defense of anybody. I am speaking out against the court becoming a political kangaroo court. I can testify to what role Milosevic played in those episodes in which I took a direct part," he said. Moscow staunchly supported Milosevic throughout NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia but eventually helped negotiate Belgrade's withdrawal from its ethnic Albanian Kosova province. Primakov, who was flying to the United States when bombing began, turned his plane back and canceled his trip in protest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March)
HOLIDAY FINDS MIXED BLESSING FOR POST-SOVIET WOMEN
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
International Women's Day, celebrated every year on 8 March, is largely associated with the Soviet past, and images still abound of officious female Communist Party loyalists in elaborate beehive hairdos, beaming as their gruff male superiors present them with flowers. In the old days, women had their own state-sponsored committee, presided over by a former cosmonaut, and set-asides in the rubber-stamp parliaments which gave them presence if not power. Today, they can still count on officials to interpret "women's rights" not to mean equality, exactly, but various privileges -- such as the assignment of jobs involving less physical labor, or, if they fall afoul of the law, less harsh penalties than men receive, and not the death penalty.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's condescending magnanimity to women typifies the old attitude. At a Women's Day celebration on 7 March, he said, "We, the guys, should become real gentlemen as of today, even those of us who have never in their life been guilty of [being gentlemen]." Famous for attracting a large middle-aged female electorate, Lukashenka then instructed a television crew to film the mayor throughout the day to see how he behaved. Not to be outdone, Minsk Oblast Governor Mikalay Damashkevich announced on 6 March that every one of the region's 16 female collective farm directors in Minsk Oblast would get a tractor as a Women's Day gift, Belapan reported.
While a tractor might not be every girl's dream, women do wish for more participation in public life, an aspiration apparently acknowledged by more serious official proclamations on 8 March in the region. "Women should be represented to a wider extent in all branches of power and participate on a wider scale in resolving state issues," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma commented while handing state awards to women. Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said a larger number of women in governmental posts "would only improve the quality of government and life in Ukraine" �- his cabinet has just one.
To be sure, changes since the end of the Soviet era have brought a kind of emancipation, but not always one envisaged by Western feminists. "In order to make voters remember me, I'll be showing them my naked breasts and, possibly, my ass," said 28-year-old Olena Solod, a mother of two and a candidate for a seat in the Verkhovna Rada from Zaporizhzhya (southeastern Ukraine), in a live campaign spot on local television on 7 March. Solod took off her clothes before the camera while reading her election manifesto, which calls for legalizing prostitution and decriminalizing marijuana use in the country. Groups like La Strada in Ukraine, part of a European network of women combating the effects of rampant trafficking on women's rights, have perceived prostitution more as an indication of the "feminization of poverty" and have pressed for better job opportunities rather than legalization of the sex trade.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has recommended 30-50 percent quotas for women in government, and some have taken the proposal seriously. As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Russia faced tough scrutiny in January from a UN committee of women's rights experts reviewing Russia's periodic report to the treaty body. In a press statement released on 25 January, CEDAW said it was generally "encouraged" by the Russian report but concerned over violence against women in Chechnya and women's lack of access to senior positions. "The role of women in decision-making remains insignificant," the committee said in its conclusions.
To combat discrimination, a consortium of Russian women's rights NGOs that presented an alternative report to CEDAW called for legislation that would compel parties to field women as 50 percent of their candidates and even ban any political party that failed to meet the target and bar them from elections. Under such a law, a party like Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, not noted for women candidates, may not be registered. Of course nothing could stop such a party from packing its ranks with female admirers who might not represent any real commitment to women's issues such as health care or employment. While the Russian government refers to consider such a law, saying it would constitute an unwarranted restriction on political parties, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in a statement for Women's Day: "The extent of freedom and democracy of society is judged by the position of women in society. Regrettably, we have very few women in power structures in Russia." Ten percent, to be exact.
Like their counterparts in other Eurasian countries, Russian feminists continue to press for parity legislation, citing a French law passed in 2001, perhaps unaware that under different political and cultural conditions, equality was legislated but not through a punitive ban on parties. The French Law on Parity, requiring a change in the constitution and a long struggle in the upper house to pass, stipulates that election lists for all parties in municipalities of more than 3,500 people must be "paritaires," i.e. there must be as many women as men on the lists as candidates. Moreover, to prevent them from putting all the women at the bottom of the list in last year's ballot, the counting goes by groups of six -- that is, every group of six candidates' names must be half women and half men. Evidently the law worked, as now there are 47.7 percent women on the city councils, where formerly there were only 22 percent. When a party said it would not abide by such "nonsense" and "just pay the fine," officials explained that there is no fine but merely lack of access to the elections -- and the party relented. "It was simply the law, you had to comply or you did not participate," explains a local feminist.
This kind of legal awareness and ready compliance would be unlikely to occur in Russia. Hence the proposal for a more punitive approach of an outright ban on parties if they failed to provide parity for men and women. Explaining why women did not run for public office, Galina Karelova, the first deputy minister of Labor and Social Development who headed Russia's official delegation to CEDAW, said in her January presentation to the committee that women are intimidated by the harsh competitive climate of Russian politics today. They find little encouragement to take risks, she said. As Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the Agro-Industrial Group in the Russian Duma, says, "Women have no equals in the field or vegetable gardens. Only men should be engaged in politics. After all, politics is quite a dirty field that should not stain women's hands," reported therussianissues.com, citing "Kommersant" on 7 March. Perhaps a woman's touch would help clean up post-Soviet politics.
(Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is UN representative for the International League for Human Rights and a freelance writer living in New York. This report was based on news items from "RFE/RL Newsline" on 8 March and "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 March 2002.)