Accessibility links

Breaking News

World: Human Rights Group Sees 1999 As A Turning Point

Human Rights Watch has released its global survey on rights violations. It's conclusion: watch out dictators. RFE/RL's Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington

Washington, 10 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A leading American human rights organization says 1999 was a turning point for fighting serious abuses of fundamental freedoms worldwide. It cited the deployment of foreign troops to stop atrocities in sovereign countries and the indictment of an incumbent head of state on charges of ethnic cleansing.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its annual report at a Washington news conference Thursday, saying these trends mark the beginning of a new era for human rights movement. The 517-page report, compiled by the non-governmental organization, also outlined many rights violations in various countries.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of the group, summed up the survey this way:

"In our view, the most striking human rights development of the last year was the decline of sovereignty as an obstacle to international action in the case of crimes against humanity. Governmental leaders who committed crimes against humanity faced a much greater chance of prosecution."

Roth was referring to the indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal stemming from his treatment of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population. Despite the charges, Milosevic remains at large and leader of what is left of Yugoslavia.

The group said the federal Yugoslav government continued what it called its brazen disrespect for human rights and international law during 1999. It noted that the most egregious abuses - the ethnic cleansing of Albanians - took place in Serbia's Kosovo province. Thousands of Kosovars were killed.

In addition, Roth noted that Spanish authorities initiated a case against former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet and an international court continued its prosecution of leaders believed responsible for genocide in Rwanda.

Roth said NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia to stop ethnic cleansing and the international community's willingness to deploy troops in East Timor to halt crimes against humanity were watershed events.

"In two cases, the international community was willing to deploy troops in order to stop ongoing crimes against humanity. We believe that this decline of sovereignty as an obstacle to international action to redress crimes against humanity represents a significant reordering of the relationship between the state and its duty to uphold international human rights standards."

In its report, the group faulted Russia for hitting civilian targets in Chechnya during its ongoing military offensive against the breakaway republic. It said Russian authorities have failed to protect refugees fleeing hostilities.

The report said the West had been so eager to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign it provided Moscow with financial benefits without requiring leaders be held accountable for abuses during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya.

The organization also noted a rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Russia and the murder of one of the country's leading human rights activists, state Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, in St. Petersburg late last year. The case remains unsolved.

On Afghanistan, HRW said fighting between the ruling Taliban forces and their rivals have displaced thousands of people. It said the Taliban authorities are continuing to violate the rights of women.

Commenting on Iran, the report said human rights progress continued to be held hostage to increasingly polarized conflict within the leadership of the Islamic Republic. It said this conflict resulted in disturbing outbreaks of political violence which threatened to quash the hopes of reform efforts.

On Iraq, HRW cited frequent government reports of mass summary executions of prisoners. It also said forced relocations of civilians reportedly occurred in various areas.

Here are assessments of other countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union:


The report praises the Albanian government's efforts to accommodate refugees during the Kosovo crisis, despite its limited resources. But it said the "general state of lawlessness" in Albania and the country's severe economic deprivation complicated these efforts.


The report says Armenia's human rights record remained poor despite official claims that the country was in transition to democracy.


The report says President Heydar Aliyev's hospitalization in early January and surgery in May created a climate of considerable political uncertainty. It also says Azerbaijan made little progress in ending torture of prisoners in police custody.


The report mentions a "new, deeply disturbing phenomenon" in which prominent opponents of the government "disappeared" under suspicious circumstances. It also mentions a crackdown on independent news media.


The report says there were significant improvements in several areas of human rights during 1999. However, it says some abuses are continuing.


The report says despite some progress, the human rights situation did not substantially improve in Bulgaria. However, it notes that democratic institutions remained stable.


The report says most of the key challenges to human rights in Croatia remained unmet. It says the government largely failed to implement measures designed to facilitate the return of internally displaced and refugee Serbs to their homes.


The report says the country continues to lag in redressing a number of serious human rights issues, most notably what it calls the widespread discrimination against the ethnic Roma minority.


The report says Georgia's already poor human rights record deteriorated in advance of the Oct. 31 parliamentary elections.


The report says discrimination and police violence against Roma and the ill-treatment of asylum seekers remained a problem.


The report says the deteriorating human rights situation in 1999 mirrored the country's deepening economic and demographic crisis. It says political rights became the first casualty of early elections.


The report says 1999 was a troubled one for the country. It says armed clashes with militants in the south put the region in crisis. It also talks about torture in police custody and adoption of flawed election laws.


The report says Macedonia often violated its obligations under international law to provide refuge for those fleeing the Kosovo conflict.


The report says Romania continues to inch toward stability, democracy and a market economy. However, it says the legacy of communism remains, impending rights protection. It says Roma and homosexuals continue to face discrimination.


The report says Slovakia showed a marked progress to human rights commitment. But it says problems remain, especially concerning the treatment of Roma and other ethnic minorities.


The report says the peace process between the Tajik government and opposition was not accompanied by greater human rights protection. It says personal security of most citizens remained precarious.


The report says the Turkish government failed to build on what it calls very modest human rights progress of the preceding two previous years.


The report says the government intensified its unrelenting repression against its own citizens. It says authorities were undertaking a campaign to control or to stop the activities of all civil and religious associations as well as individual dissidents.


The report says human rights protection deteriorated rapidly and dramatically in 1999. It says following bomb explosions in February, police detained thousands of men and targeted political opposition groups.

The HRW report did not spare the United State, either. It cited alleged police abuses, race problems and executions of young criminals,

The report did not mention Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.