31 May 2004
Turkmenistan Marks Carpet Day
30 May 2004
Turkmenistan marked Carpet Day on 30 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The holiday was established in 1992 and is celebrated on the last Sunday of May. A concert on the square in front of the Carpet Museum began the celebrations and carpets from all over Turkmenistan were put on display for people to admire. The craft of carpet making is valued highly in Turkmenistan: there are carpet decorations on the national flag and the carpet is a symbol of unity for the Turkmen people. Herodotus, Chinese historians, and Ferdousi mentioned Turkmen carpets in their works. Russian Emperor Alexander II had a Turkmen carpet depicting Mecca and Medina. (ITAR-TASS)
UN Official Says No Drug Information From Turkmenistan
28 May 2004
The international community does not have information about the drug situation in Turkmenistan, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa said at a 28 May press conference in Dushanbe, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We cannot control the problem in Turkmenistan or cite any information. The national authorities claim that no drugs are confiscated because there is no such problem in the country at all," he said. Independent experts are skeptical about such statements as Turkmenistan has a long border with Afghanistan -- a leading world producer of narcotics. Afghanistan has had a record opium harvest this year of over 3,600 tons, Costa said. The information is based on surveillance, the statements of local residents, and aerial photography of narcotic crops, he said. There is little progress in the containment of narcotics in Afghanistan and it will take several generations to solve the problem, he said. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmen Officials Deny British Military Plane Collision In Turkmen Airspace
26 May 2004
Officials in Turkmenistan on 26 May rejected a British Defense Ministry claim that a British military transport plane had collided with another aircraft in Turkmen airspace, RTR and AFP reported the same day. A spokesman for Turkmenistan's civil defense service said "no such information" had been received by Turkmen officials. Earlier on 26 May, a British Defense Ministry spokeswoman said that a Royal Air Force Hercules transport plane had survived a mid-air collision in Turkmenistan last week, landing safely in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea from Turkmenistan. A ministry spokeswoman in London said the Hercules was on a flight from Kabul to Bucharest on 22 May when it collided with an "unidentified foreign aircraft." There was no information about the other aircraft. (RTR, AFP)
President Niyazov Welcomes Appearance Of Rich Landowners
26 May 2004
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has welcomed the appearance of rich people in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. "The more rich people we have, the richer the state is going to be. Anyone can get rich in this country," Niyazov said during his tour of Turkmen rural areas. President Niyazov told the residents of one Turkmen village on 24 May that he owns a poultry farm. "I borrowed $3.5 million to build a poultry farm in the mountains six years ago. I've already paid off my credit. My farm has just four workers. There are more than 41,000 egg-laying hens of a special breed. They carry eggs with two yokes. We sell chicken to restaurants in Ashgabat at $8 per kilogram," Niyazov said. He voiced his support for entrepreneurs and welcomed the appearance of a class of rich landowners who hire workers to achieve their goals. He also promised, in the next 10 years, to give the rich tax breaks for hiring workers. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmen Government Accuses UN Human Rights Commission Of Tendentiousness
19 May 2004
Turkmenistan's delegation to the United Nations has distributed a letter from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry accusing the UN Commission on Human Rights of tendentiousness in its resolution condemning Turkmenistan's human rights record, centrasia.ru reported on 19 May, quoting the UN news center. The letter counters the assertions made in the resolution, which was adopted on 15 April, with claims that personal, political, economic, and social rights are guaranteed in Turkmenistan and traces the tone of the resolution to individual unnamed commission members. The Foreign Ministry letter asserts that the authors of the UN resolution were unaware of the real situation in Turkmenistan, citing as examples of Turkmen protection of human rights the abolition of the death penalty, the annual large-scale amnesties of petty criminals, and the recent offer by President Saparmurat Niyazov to allow international organizations to visit prisons. Individuals sentenced in connection with the alleged coup attempt against Niyazov in November 2002 are exempted from such prison visits, despite the fact that these are among the prisoners about which international human rights groups are most concerned. (Centrasia.ru)
Amnesty Lashes Out Against War On Terrorism In Annual Rights Report
26 May 2004
By Kathleen Knox
In its annual report, Amnesty International says human rights came under sustained attack during the past year.
The human rights watchdog blames the armed groups who were behind such deadly attacks as the Madrid train bombings in March and the destruction of the United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad last summer.
But it also says governments around the world continued to undermine human rights protections in the name of security and the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, said the global security agenda promoted by the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush is "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle."
Speaking in an audio news release, she said, "Looking back over the past 12 months, what I see is a war on global values -- a war that is being fought on the one hand by armed groups that are ready to go to any extremes of inhumanity to attack ordinary people, and on the other side we see governments which have shown an equal zeal in attacking human rights and global principles. In between, ordinary people are paying a heavy price in terms of their human rights and in terms of their lives."
Specifically, the Amnesty report criticizes Washington for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan, and for its opposition to the International Criminal Court.
And it says the Iraq war "virtually paralyzed" efforts by the United Nations to hold states to account on human rights.
Khan says the war in Iraq also diverted attention from other human rights hot spots, such as Chechnya and Congo -- and from other pressing problems, like poverty or the proliferation of small arms.
"We have seen the United States and the United Kingdom and their allies fight a war in the name of destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the real weapons of mass destruction are small arms and light weapons, not nuclear weapons, not chemical, not biological weapons. These small arms and these conventional weapons kill 500,000 people every year," Khan said.
The report makes grim reading, cataloging rights abuses around the world.
In Uzbekistan -- described as having an "appalling human rights situation" -- at least 6,000 political prisoners continue to be held in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conditions.
Human rights defenders and hundreds of people suspected of political or religious dissent have been harassed, beaten, and detained without trial, and torture is common.
Turkmenistan is also described as having an appalling human rights situation. There, at least 55 people were convicted last year in "unfair" trials in connection with the alleged assassination attempt in 2002 on President Saparmurat Niyazov. There were allegations of torture, and a number of prisoners were reported to have died in unexplained circumstances following the trials.
In Belarus, the report notes that investigations into a number of high-profile disappearances were halted without adequate explanation. Human rights organizations were closed down, and independent newspapers suspended. Protesters were detained for nonviolent opposition activities.
In Russia, the report says security forces continue to enjoy "almost total impunity" for serious violations of human rights committed in Chechnya, though it says Chechen fighters are also guilty of serious human rights abuses.
It also says conditions in Russian pre-trial detention centers and prisons are often cruel, inhuman, and degrading, and that there is widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities.
The report calls Afghanistan "a country slipping slowly into chaos," where a deteriorating security situation is undermining human rights and deterring the return of refugees.
It says the criminal justice system is a source of violations rather than a mechanism for providing justice, and that the U.S.-led coalition is responsible for arbitrary detentions.
Women and girls face a high level of violence; rape and sexual violence by armed groups is common.
The report also criticizes the international community for not giving Afghanistan the support it needs.
But Amnesty notes there was progress, too, last year.
The International Criminal Court appointed its prosecutor and began work, despite U.S. opposition.
Courts in the United States and Britain began to scrutinize the power of the executive branch to restrict human rights.
And all over the world, civic groups and ordinary people took to the streets to voice opposition to war and to terrorist attacks. (RFE/RL)
Freedom House Says 'New Divide' Formalized By EU Expansion
26 May 2004
by Ron Synovitz
Freedom House, a U.S.-based group that monitors democracy around the world, says there is a widening "democracy gap" between the European Union and former communist states further east that continue to lag behind on reforms.
Freedom House released its report, "Nations in Transit 2004," in New York late yesterday. The report says the enlargement of the European Union on 1 May has formalized a "new divide" between the stable democracies of Central Europe and the Baltics on the one hand, and reform laggards further to the east on the other.
Kristie Evenson is the director of Freedom House's Budapest office. She explains that the latest report is part of an ongoing study that began nearly 10 years ago.
"The 'Nations in Transit' study is an attempt to be systematic at looking at the transition process in Central and Southeast Europe and in the Eurasia region. The study has a consistent set of methodology -- or a framework -- which looks at key areas of political development. Everything from media, to 'free and fair elections,' to differences in judicial reform, etc. The study is a good way to begin benchmarking progress, or [a lack of progress], in areas which have been determined to be important for overall reform and democratic transition," Evenson said.
The methodology Evenson refers to includes a "democracy score" based on a 1-7 scale. The democracy score is an average of subcategory ratings that Freedom House researchers have given each country after reviewing electoral processes, civil society, independent media, governance, corruption and legal frameworks.
A score of 1 represents the highest possible level of democratic development in a particular country, while a score of 7 represents the lowest score.
Evenson tells RFE/RL that the most recent report in the ongoing study reveals there have been regressions on democratic reforms in most former Soviet republics.
"Freedom House found that the non-Baltic post-Soviet states have regressed over the life of the study. Russia has registered the most significant decline in scores since last year, with Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine also showing significant downturns. Continued poor performance was documented throughout the Central Asian countries, which include some key U.S. allies. The editor of the 'Nations in Transit' report, Amanda Schnetzer, says that while there were some bright spots in the past year -- especially in Georgia -- the longer-term outlook for democracy in the non-Baltic former Soviet states remains bleak," Evenson said.
Although Russia's democracy score of 5.25 was a better ranking than Belarus (6.54), Azerbaijan (5.63), and all five former Soviet republics in Central Asia (ranging from 5.67 to 6.8), Evenson says Freedom House remains concerned about democratic regression in Russia.
"Worrisome setbacks in Russia continue. It's been noted [that there has been] a backslide in key areas of democratic practice. According to our 'Nations in Transit 2004' [report], President [Vladimir] Putin's policies have sought to centralize power, leaving little room for a vibrant civil society, independent media or political opposition. While Russia has emphasized the importance it places on maintaining strong ties to the West, it is headed in an increasingly authoritarian direction," Evenson said.
Armenia's score of 5.0 reflects what Freedom House calls a worsening of the ratings for electoral process and independent media. That score reflects serious irregularities that were noted by international observers at presidential and parliamentary elections last year.
By comparison, Georgia's overall score of 4.83 includes criticism of what Freedom House calls "fraudulent parliamentary elections" last year. But Evenson notes that the readiness of the Georgian people to mobilize peacefully and defend democratic values has resulted in an improved rating for civil society in Georgia.
"'Nations in Transit 2004' suggests some cause for concern regarding Armenia's democratic trajectory, particularly in the areas of free and fair elections, independent media, and human rights. Georgia's performance since the 'Rose Revolution' of last November suggests more promise in this regard," Evenson said.
Out of all the countries examined, Turkmenistan received the lowest overall score with 6.88. It was followed closely by Belarus with 6.54; Uzbekistan with 6.46; Kazakhstan with 6.25; Tajikistan with 5.71; and Kyrgyzstan with 5.67.
"Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor says that Western leaders must renew efforts to support political and economic reform in the postcommunist countries," Evenson says. "At the same time, they must press slow-to-reform governments harder for tangible improvements in securing basic rights, promoting free and independent media, supporting the rule of law, and introducing effective and transparent governance."
In the final analysis, Freedom House says that the findings of this year's "Nations in Transit" study make clear that much remains to be done to extend the benefits of liberal democracy and free markets to the majority of postcommunist countries in Europe and Eurasia.
Here are the democracy scores published by the Freedom House for the non-Baltic former Soviet republics and some of the reasons given for the rating.
Belarus (6.54) -- "Belarus saw its ratings worsen in two 'Nations in Transit' categories: civil society and corruption. Local elections in March 2003 were conducted as a largely ceremonial event and predictably confirmed the political hegemony of the president. The government intensified its attacks on civil society and the independent press, and introduced a new 'state ideology' that had a particularly negative impact on academic freedoms. The government has failed to address the spread of corruption in the public sector, and the public's perception of corruption has increased considerably."
Russia (5.25) -- "Russia experienced the greatest overall decline of any country covered in 'Nations in Transit 2004,' with ratings worsening in five out of six categories covered by the study. The December 2003 State Duma elections capped a year in which the central government continued to tighten its grip over all aspects of Russian political life. The authorities used public resources and state-funded personnel to guarantee the overwhelming victory of the pro-Kremlin party in elections to the lower house. As Putin continues to crack down on all sources of opposition and to limit public space and debate, he will undermine the very democratic institutions and practices that could help the country deal with the enormous challenges it faces."
Moldova (4.88) -- "Democratic practice in Moldova continued to decline in the period covered by 'Nations in Transit 2004,' with the country receiving worsening ratings in the areas of electoral process, civil society, independent media, and governance. The ruling Communist Party achieved victory in flawed local and regional elections in 2003. Overall public support for the party actually slipped during the year, but the opposition remained fragmented and lacking in resources. Efforts to settle the Transdniestrian conflict continued, but Russia failed to comply with commitments to withdraw its armaments and munitions from the breakaway region. The persistence of weak governance, widespread corruption, and a fragile system of checks and balances also marked the year."
Ukraine (4.88) -- "Political life in 2003 was guided by the upcoming 2004 presidential election. Growing pressure against opposition parties and politically active NGOs, a persistent lack of transparency in policy making, and the presidential administration's efforts to pressure Parliament, the Cabinet, and the courts led to ratings declines in four out of six areas covered by 'Nations in Transit.' President Leonid Kuchma sought guarantees that he will not face criminal proceedings if he leaves office and pursued changes to the Constitution that would limit the authority of any future president and/or eliminate direct presidential elections."
Azerbaijan (5.63) -- "With events in 2003 once again highlighting the authoritarian nature of government in Azerbaijan and the extent of government control over civil society and the media, the country received declining ratings in four out of six categories covered by 'Nations in Transit.' President Heydar Aliyev's public collapse and subsequent health problems in 2003 ended his rule. Internal fissures in the government were muted as President Aliyev's son Ilham was appointed prime minister and became the ruling party's presidential candidate. Cracks within the opposition could not be similarly bridged. The opposition's claims of electoral fraud and its refusal to accept the official election results resulted in violent clashes with the authorities. Government efforts to exert greater control over civil society and the media were also evident."
Armenia (5.00) -- "Armenia's ratings for electoral process and independent media worsened in 'Nations in Transit 2004.' International observers noted serious irregularities in presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003. The authorities also failed to ensure that the country's leading independent media organizations were able to resume broadcasting before the elections. Media freedom was further threatened by the inclusion of strict libel laws within Armenia's new criminal code. International organizations continued to highlight human rights abuses, but welcomed the abolition of the death penalty. Corruption and weak governance remained serious threats to Armenia's democratic development."
Georgia (4.83) -- "Fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2003, and the ensuing political crisis that culminated in President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation may constitute a turning point in the development of Georgian democracy. Although this change of power demonstrated the fragility of Georgia's democratic institutions, the events also showed the readiness of the people to mobilize in a peaceful and organized way to defend democratic values, thus leading to an improvement in the country's 'Nations in Transit' rating for civil society. This, as well as strong leadership by the opposition, the independent media, and civil society, factored heavily in the success of the 'Rose Revolution.' The incoming government was fast to reestablish public order, working within the limits of the Constitution. Nations in Transit ratings declines in the areas of governance and corruption suggest the extent of the challenges ahead."
Turkmenistan (6.88) -- "Fallout from the 2002 assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov continued in 2003. The country's economy weakened further, despite claims by the government to the contrary. Political oppression, already severe, further increased. And the country's international relations with neighbors and major powers in the region deteriorated. Overall, prospects for the country's future remained depressing. Turkmenistan's governance rating worsened in 'Nations in Transit 2004' owing to President Niyazov's continued efforts to make government officials and institutions operate only at his behest."
Uzbekistan (6.46) -- "In 2003, Uzbekistan remained one of the most authoritarian countries to emerge from the Soviet Union. Controls over the media continued to stifle freedom of expression. Administrative functioning remained excessively politicized. The absence of judicial independence continued to present serious impediments to commerce and liberty. And flagrant violations of human rights called into question Uzbek government commitments to international standards of promises of lasting reforms."
Kazakhstan (6.25) -- "Kazakhstan's ratings for independent media and corruption worsened in 'Nations in Transit 2004.' The elections for local councils in September enabled the regime to install its favored candidates, who will play a crucial role in securing a favorable outcome in the elections of the lower house in 2004. Although the government withdrew a draft law that ambiguously defined NGOs and restricted their ability to accept foreign funding, no noticeable improvement took place in the civil sector in 2003. The government refused to release the highly regarded journalist Sergei Duvanov from prison. The president and close family members continue to wield control over all key positions within the government and economic sector."
Tajikistan (5.71) -- "A June 2003 plebiscite paved the way for constitutional amendments that allow President Emomali Rakhmonov to stand for reelection for two additional seven-year terms. The flawed nature of the referendum resulted in a worsening of Tajikistan's 'Nations in Transit' rating for electoral process. Corruption and a lack of confidence in the market and the state continued to scare away the levels of international capital required for a full economic recovery, leading to a 'Nations in Transit' ratings decline for corruption. However, the government did make progress in securing the country from banditry, hostage taking, and terrorism, as reflected in a slight 'Nations in Transit' rating improvement for governance."
Kyrgyzstan (5.67) -- "In 2003, the opposition demanded President [Askar] Akayev's resignation over the 2002 killing of unarmed opposition demonstrators in the southern town of Kerben. Various opposition groups and parties united for the first time in criticism of Akayev's policies and widespread corruption among his cronies. After Parliament adopted a law granting Akayev lifetime immunity, the president confirmed he would step down in 2005. Attacks on the media continued, and the country's governance system remained ineffective and unaccountable." (RFE/RL)