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U.S. Assesses Russia, Belarus, Caucasus States In Rights Report (Part 2)


Armored vehicles patrol the streets of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election.

Armored vehicles patrol the streets of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election.

The U.S. State Department has issued its annual report assessing human rights around the world during 2008, and Russia and a number of European and Caucasus countries come in for stiff criticism. The report describes civil liberties as "under siege" in Russia, and says that Belarus continues to have "very poor" rights practices. We summarize the report in a two-part series. Here in Part 2, we look at the assessment of Eastern European and Caucasus states. (Take me to Part 1)

Presenting the annual human rights survey in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said February 25 that she wants the report to act as a catalyst for changes that improve conditions for the greatest possible number of people around the world.

She vowed to "engage as many others as I can to join me, both through traditional and untraditional challenges."

"I am looking for results. I am looking for changes that actually improve the lives of the greatest numbers of people," Clinton said. "Hopefully, we will be judged over time by successful results from these efforts."

Clinton said the United States wants to make the survey a global effort, and that she plans to work with business and religious leaders, schools and universities, and citizens everywhere to achieve that goal.

All these elements can play a vital role in creating a world where human rights are "accepted, respected, and protected," she said.

At the same news briefing, acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Karen Stewart, praised the courage of activists around the world who tried to assert their rights against oppressive governments.

"A disturbing number of countries leveled burdensome, restrictive, or repressive laws and regulations against nongovernmental organizations and the media, including the Internet," Stewart said. "Many courageous human rights defenders who peacefully pressed for their own rights and those of their fellow countrymen and women were harassed, threatened, arrested, and imprisoned, killed or subjected to violent other extra judicial means of reprisal."

Russian And Eastern Europe

The State Department says that in Russia, continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, corruption in enforcement of the law, media restrictions, and harassment of some nongovernment groups eroded the government's accountability to its citizens.

Turning to the troubled North Caucasus region, the report says Russian security forces reportedly engaged in killings, torture, abuse, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment, often with impunity. In Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan, security forces were allegedly involved in unlawful killings and politically motivated abductions.

In Ukraine, the police and penal systems continued to be sources of some of the most serious human rights concerns. They included instances of torture by law enforcement personnel, harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities, and arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention.

Serious corruption persisted in all branches of the government. The judiciary lacked independence and suffered from corruption. The government continued to be slow to return religious property. Societal violence against Jews continued to be a problem. On the positive side, the report says that the Ministry of the Interior established human rights monitoring departments in all regions to monitor human rights performance by police during the year.

Caucasus

On Armenia, the report says the government's human rights record deteriorated significantly during the year, with authorities and their agents committing numerous human rights abuses, particularly in connection with the February 2008 presidential election and the government's suppression of demonstrations that followed.

Citizens were subject to arrest, detention, and imprisonment for their political activities. Authorities used force, at times lethal, to disperse political demonstrations.

Violence against women and spousal abuse, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and homosexuals was also reported.

In Azerbaijan, the government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas in 2008. The public's right to peacefully change the government was restricted in the October presidential election.

Torture and beating of persons in police and military custody resulted in three deaths, and law enforcement officials acted with impunity. Pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary and law enforcement, continued.

As for Georgia, the annual survey says the main human rights abuses reported during the year included at least two suspected deaths due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, intimidation of suspects, abuse of prisoners, poor conditions in prisons and pre-trial detention facilities.

Respect for freedom of speech and the press lessened, but began to rebound by year's end. Other problems included reports of corruption among senior officials and trafficking in persons.

Belarus And Balkans

Turning to Belarus, the report says that country's rights record remained very poor as government authorities continued to commit frequent serious abuses. The right of citizens to change their government was severely restricted.

The government failed to account for past politically motivated disappearances. Prison conditions remained extremely poor, and reports of abuse of prisoners and detainees continued. There were however several noteworthy developments, including the release of the last nine internationally recognized political prisoners.

Turning to the Balkan region, the U.S. human rights survey found that in Kosovo -- during its first year of independence -- there were cases of politically and ethnically motivated violence; societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church; and lack of progress in returning internally displaced persons to their homes.

There was also government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons, particularly girls and women for sexual exploitation; societal violence, abuse, and discrimination against minority communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; abuse and discrimination against homosexuals; and child labor in the informal sector.

Serbia's government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, the following human rights problems were reported: police brutality; corruption in the police and the judiciary; inefficient and lengthy trials; and government inability to apprehend the two remaining fugitive war crimes suspects under indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

There was also harassment of journalists, human rights advocates, and others critical of the government; limitations on freedom of speech and religion; societal intolerance and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Roma; large numbers of internally displaced persons; violence against women and children; and trafficking in persons.

In Moldova, the government was also found to generally respect the human rights of its citizens; however, security forces beat persons in custody and held persons in incommunicado detention. Prison conditions remained harsh, and security forces occasionally harassed and intimidated the political opposition. There were reports of judicial and police corruption, arbitrary detention by police, and occasional illegal searches.

Persistent societal violence and discrimination against women and children; trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation; discrimination against Roma; difficulties registering minority religious groups; limits on workers' rights; and child labor problems were also reported.

In Montenegro, the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, numerous problems persisted, including police mistreatment of suspects in detention, substandard prison conditions, and abusive and arbitrary arrests.

There was discrimination against the large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), discrimination against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, particularly Roma. European Union member Romania also gets a mention. The rights survey found that the government addressed some human rights problems during the year; however, abuses continued to occur. There were reports of police and gendarme harassment and mistreatment of detainees and Roma.

Restrictions on freedom of religion continued to be a great concern due to the restrictive, discriminatory religion law. Property restitution remained slow, and the government failed to take action to return the Greek Catholic churches confiscated by the communist government in 1948.

As to Croatia, the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. But problems remain with the court system including a backlog of cases, and intimidation of some witnesses in domestic war crimes trials.

In Macedonia, the State Department says the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens but rule of law problems were seen in judicial and police procedures. And the government continues to harshly criticize media coverage it views as "antipatriotic," thus weakening freedom of the press.

In Bosnia, the government's human rights record remained poor in 2008 despite improvements in some areas, according to the report. Problems include police abuses, poor and overcrowded prison conditions, and increased harassment and intimidation of journalists and members of civil society.

compiled by RFE/RL's Central Newsroom
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