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Watch List: September 23, 1999

23 September 1999, Volume 1, Number 36

ANNAN SUGGESTS MORE UN INTERVENTION AHEAD... Addressing world leaders on the first day of the UN General Assembly debate on 20 September, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned governments which have resisted intervention that they will no longer be able to hide behind the pretext of sovereignty when they violate human rights. "If states bent on criminal behavior know that frontiers are not an absolute defense, if they know that the Security Council will take action to halt crimes against humanity, then they will not embark on such a course of action in expectations of sovereign impunity," he said. In a carefully balanced and somewhat opaque statement he avoided naming the outside powers he blamed in Rwanda and in Kosova. He said that while the "genocide in Rwanda will define for our generation the consequences of inaction in the face of mass murder," the "conflict in Kosovo has prompted important questions about the consequences of action in the absence of complete unity on the part of the international community." Looking ahead, Annan called for a stronger UN role and projected a new era of stepped-up UN interventions.

...WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR URGES PERMANENT UN CRIMINAL COURT. In her farewell statement on 15 September before leaving her job as the prosecutor of the UN's war crimes tribunal investigating suspects in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Louise Arbour said that the full capacity of criminal justice cannot be brought to bear until a permanent standing international criminal court is established. Arbour is joining the Canadian Supreme Court. Her successor at The Hague is Carla del Ponte, who gained a reputation for toughness as Switzerland's attorney general.

BELARUS OPPOSITION LEADER DISAPPEARS, LUKASHENKA CALLS FOR ORDER. On 16 September, the third Belarusian opposition leader disappeared in Minsk: Viktar Hanchar, deputy chair of the Supreme Soviet, disbanded arbitrarily by Alyaksandr Lukashenka whose presidential term expired on 20 July. A friend of Hanchar's, Anatoly Krasovsky, is also missing. Some15 opposition deputies petitioned the government to investigate the disappearances. On 20 September, the U.S. State Department said it had called on the Belarusian government to spare no effort to find Hanchar. On the same day Hanchar disappeared Lukashenka attacked the opposition for "trying to disrupt" the government-opposition dialogue mediated by the OSCE in Minsk. He dismissed the opposition for engaging in what he called "democracy games." "There should be real democracy," he said. "That means order."

BELARUS PAPER SHUT DOWN. The independent Belarus newspaper "Imya" will be closed, publisher Pyotr Marzev has announced, according to the International League for Human Rights. The reason he singled out was his inability to protect the journalists who faced harsh persecution for writing about the private affairs of top officials. He added: "I am sure 'Imya' will be resurrected."

ABUSES OF ROMA RIGHTS PROTESTED AT OSCE CONFERENCE. At the Review Conference in Vienna earlier this week of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) decried the rise of "violence and discrimination against Roma" which "paradoxically raised the hurdles to migration ever higher" in European countries. ERRC, which monitors Roma rights and offers legal defense in cases of abuse, protested "the near universal denial of protection afforded to Roma fleeing systematic persecution in Kosovo" and "the failure of the current occupant of the European Union presidency, Finland, to adhere to international standards in assessing the claims of Romany asylum applicants from Slovakia." ERRC now estimates that almost 80,000 Roma have fled Kosova for other parts of Yugoslavia, but, it noted, they stand to lose their refugee status in Montenegro, and they are not considered refugees in Serbia where, like other Kosovars, Romany children are not allowed to attend schools.

RIGHTS GROUP CONDEMNS MOSCOW ROUNDUP OF DARK-SKINNED RESIDENTS. On 16 September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned "the detention of 20,000 non-Muscovites by the Moscow police." City officials justified the roundup as a security measure in response to a series of bombings which have by now claimed close to 300 lives in Russia. The city and federal governments charge that Chechen terrorists are responsible for the explosion. "Let's not confuse the legitimate need for extra security with collective punishment," said Holly Cartner of HRW. "The Moscow city government has a reflexive reaction in security emergencies--round up all the people with dark skin. These people inevitably become the victims of police brutality and extortion." Even in peaceful times, HRW notes, Moscow enforces "an onerous registration policy" for all visitors and routinely detains individuals, supposedly to check registration documents.

NO PROOF OF CHECHEN HAND IN BOMBINGS, 'MOSCOW TIMES' SAYS. "The rhetoric is running well in advance of the evidence," a "Moscow Times" editorial of 22 September declared. "No proof whatsoever has been supplied to show that anyone in Chechnya--let alone the government of President Aslan Maskhadov--was responsible for the bombings." The English-language paper warns that Moscow is edging "closer and closer to what has been unthinkable since May 1997: a renewed invasion of Chechnya." A day earlier, an editorial questioned the wisdom of the authorities promptly razing the sites of the explosion and thus eliminating any traces of evidence. "The Chechen theory has proved both viable and convenient for federal authorities," the editorial concluded. "Are they playing it safe and making sure no other options turn up?"

MOSCOW AGREES NOT TO SEND TATAR SOLDIERS TO FIGHT IN DAGHESTAN. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev have assured Tatarstan's government that soldiers from the Republic of Tatarstan will not be sent to fight in Daghestan but will be redeployed elsewhere, Tatar parliamentary speaker Farit Mukhametshin told a press conference on 20 September. Five days earlier, Tatarstan's State Council suspended the recruitment of the republic's citizens by Russia's federal army, according to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service. But there is no conflict between Tatarstan and the federal center, Mukhametshin added. Also on 20 September, leaders of Tatarstan's women's organizations backed the decision to withhold conscripts from Daghestan. The Tatar government asked that Moscow withdraw from Daghestan 43 Tatar soldiers. Russia's Ministry of Defense acknowledged the loss of six recruits from Tatarstan in the fighting. Mukhametshin dismissed allegations in the Russian news media that Denis Saytakov, a man the Russians suspect as the organizer of the Moscow bombings, had been trained in a Muslim religious school in Chally, Tatarstan. Saytakov was a Tatarstan resident only for a short time, Mukhametshin said.

END NOTE: Sovereignty, Globalism, and Human Rights

By Paul Goble

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for the international community to intervene more often and earlier inside countries to defend human rights highlights the ways in which sovereignty, globalism, and human rights can interact, sometimes with unintended results.

Speaking at the opening of the annual UN General Assembly meeting on Monday, Annan argued that there are a growing number of individuals and groups "who need more than just words of sympathy from the international community."

Instead, he continued, "these individuals and groups "need a real and sustained commitment to help end their cycles of violence and launch them on a safe passage to prosperity."

He concluded: "the inability of the international community in the case of Kosova to reconcile...universal legitimacy and effectiveness in defense of human rights can only be viewed as a tragedy."

But what Annan and others have described as a tragedy may in fact be an inherent fact of life in the current international system, one that can be overcome less by exhortation than by a careful consideration of the ways in which an international interest in defending human rights inside the borders of other countries may sometimes prove self-defeating.

There are at least three reasons why this might be so. First, to the extent that the international community demonstrates its greater willingness to intervene on behalf of groups inside countries, these groups will certainly make that part of their calculations and may act in ways intended to draw in such international forces on their side.

Not only will that spark more such actions by minorities, but it will in many cases undermine the power of governments and thus make it more rather than less difficult for institutions to emerge within countries that can protect human rights.

Indeed, in many places around the world, the sad state of human rights reflects less the actions of a repressive state than the absence of state institutions capable of controlling the actions of groups on their territory. International intervention both as a prospect and a reality can further undermine the institutions on which the defense of rights depend.

Second, as recent history makes clear, the international community is unlikely to intervene to defend human rights everywhere. Instead, it is certain to be highly selective in what it does, intervening in weak countries where large ones have a strategic interest and not getting involved in more powerful states or those in which large countries do not have such an interest.

Such a pattern is likely to increase cynicism around the world about just what the international commitment to human rights means. And such cynicism may in turn reduce the chances that individual states will in fact act better toward their own citizens.

Instead, the governments of larger and more powerful countries will have yet another basis for calculating what they can get away with with respect to their own citizens. And the regimes in smaller countries where interventions are more likely to happen may come to see international discussion about human rights as a cover for something else.

And third, those countries that are prepared to support intervention either directly or indirectly are likely to suffer what might be called "intervention fatigue." Having gotten involved in one or more areas, their governments and even more their citizens are likely to argue that others should bear the burdens in new crises.

When no one is willing to step forward, or when the only countries willing to do so have a clear geopolitical interest in doing so, one that may be at odds not only with human rights but also the interests of other states, support for intervention in defense of human rights is likely to decline.

None of these considerations means that the international community should not seek to do more to protect human rights around the world against the actions of groups and governments who violate these rights.

Rather they suggest that progress in this direction is likely to be both difficult and slow, and that moral appeals alone, however attractive these may be, appear unlikely by themselves to transform an international system still based, as is the United Nations itself, on the existence of sovereign and independent states.