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(Un)Civil Societies Report: March 10, 2006

10 March 2006, Volume 7, Number 4
U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTS CITES IMPROVEMENTS, SETBACKS. Fifteen years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries, according to the U.S. State Department. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and strong Western efforts to spread democracy.

The United States said on March 8 that serious human rights problems persist in several former communist states and in Iran. But it noted improvements in others.

In issuing the State Department's annual "Country Reports On Human Rights" for 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news briefing that the goal is not to pass judgment on any country, but to erect a guidepost that promotes respect for human rights around the world.

"We hope that reports will encourage governments, organizations, the media, and publics to address human rights problems. We also hope that the reports will be a source of information and inspiration to the noble men and women across the globe who are working for peaceful democratic change," she said.

The report said that among the countries with the most troubling records are Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Russia, mostly for concentrating too much power in the central government. Iran, meanwhile, was accused of giving too much power to its religious leaders.

The report noted grave human rights abuses in Chechnya, including torture, summary executions, and disappearances.

In Belarus in 2005, according to the report, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ran a "dictatorial regime" that fined and even imprisoned his political opponents, including students, journalists and politicians. Several Belarusian newspapers also were closed.

And Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, was cited for a concentration of power in the capital. It pointed to the abolition of direct elections for local governors, who now are nominated by the president and confirmed by the national legislature.

The document also said Russian judges are subject to political pressure, and it accused Putin's government of harassing pro-democracy, non-governmental organizations.

There were grave human rights abuses in Chechnya in 2005, the report said. They included torture, summary executions, and disappearances. And Russia was accused of not maintaining enough control of pro-Moscow Chechen paramilitaries that commit some of these abuses.

Uzbekistan's human rights record deteriorated in 2005 from a state that already was not enviable, according to the report. It highlighted what it called a "disproportionate use of force" against demonstrators in Andijon in May. And it accused the government of Islam Karimov of beating and jailing many human rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the Andijon bloodshed.

The report said Iran arbitrarily and severely limited the number of candidates in last year's presidential election. It also pointed to deteriorating conditions at prisons in Iran, restrictions on the press and religious expression, as well as summary executions for some crimes. Again it accused Iran of supporting what it called terrorist organizations.

The State Department said that pointing out such problems is not meant to be interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. Barry Lowenkron, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, told the briefing that writing and updating such a record is important in international relations

"States that severely and systematically violate the human rights of their own people are likely to pose threats to neighboring countries and the international community, and Iran is a case in point," he said.

On the positive side, Ukraine was praised for its progress in human rights since the Orange Revolution of late 2004. It pointed to increased independence for the news media and more accountability for the police.

The report also praised the improvement of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, although it said problems there persist. It cited improved procedures in last year's presidential and parliamentary votes.

The State Department said human rights also improved throughout the Balkan states. After a decade of conflict, it said, an increasing number of suspected war criminals either have been convicted or are awaiting trial. But it noted that the region's two most notorious war crimes suspects -- Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic -- are still at large.

Also, elections in all the Balkans are increasingly conforming to internationally accepted standards, according to the report. And once-hostile neighbors are beginning to cooperate on problems left over from the conflicts of the 1990s.

In a kind of nether world are Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States has ousted repressive governments and is now providing military security. The report said both are striving to establish democratic institutions.

But the document said Iraq is hampered by an insurgency, and Afghanistan's central government is having trouble establishing its authority in largely lawless areas of the country.

Lowenkron was asked if the State Department was somehow excusing of the weakness of the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We do not hold [Iraq and Afghanistan] to lower standards," he answered. "What we do, and what you find in the reports on Afghanistan and on Iraq, is an assessment of the impact of the deadly insurgency on the ability of the Iraqi government and the ability of the Afghan government in order to build and sustain and nurture democratic institutions and practices."

The report claimed what it called "major progress" for democracy in Iraq, and pointed to three nationwide elections in a country that previously had been a brutal dictatorship for more than three decades. But it conceded that the continuing insurgency has made daily life difficult in much of Iraq.

Afghanistan, too, is just emerging from nearly a generation in which its people lacked basic human rights. But in September 2005, the country held parliamentary elections in which many women voted -- and were elected to public office. But, as with Iraq, this effort was offset somewhat by Kabul's inability to ensure democratic rule throughout the country.

The State Department has been issuing its annual human rights reports since 1977, under orders from the U.S. Congress. (Andrew Tully)

CHILD LABOR, HUMAN TRAFFICKING ARE MAJOR CONCERNS. The annual human rights report issued March 8 by the U.S. State Department says Afghanistan's human rights record remained poor during 2005 due to weak central government institutions and an intensified insurgency.

Washington says that although Kabul struggled to expand its authority into provincial centers, a few areas remain under the control of abusive regional militia commanders.

It also notes cases in which both security forces and factional militias committed extrajudicial killings and torture.

It says other human rights problems in Afghanistan include societal discrimination against women and minorities, human trafficking, child labor, abuse of worker rights, poor prison conditions, and restrictions on freedom of religion and of the press.

But the report also says that extensive reporting of human rights abuses led to increased action against abusers. (RFE/RL)

REPORT CITES LIMITED PRESS AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS. The U.S. State Department March 8 said that Armenia's human rights record showed some improvements last year, but that serious problems remained.

Among abuses the State Department mentioned in its annual report on human rights worldwide are limited press and religious freedom, harassment of homosexuals, hazing-related deaths in the military, and police abuses against pretrial detainees.

Other matters of concern include abridged rights of citizens to change their government, reported forced and compulsory labor, and poor prison conditions.

Positive changes include the November 27 referendum that brought changes to the existing constitution with a view to transferring part of the president's prerogatives to the parliament and strengthen the judiciary.

The State Department says that although the referendum was seriously flawed, the amendments represented a step toward establishing a democratic system of checks and balances. (RFE/RL)

POLITICAL HARASSMENT, POLICE BRUTALITY. The U.S. State Department on March 8 said that Azerbaijan's human rights record remained poor last year amid numerous and continuous abuses.

It said in its 2005 annual report on human rights worldwide that the most serious concerns include police violence against detainees, harassment of political opponents, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, and excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations.

Another matter of concern is the restricted right of citizens to peacefully change their government. The report notes that if the November 6 legislative elections showed some improvements, they still did not meet a number of international standards.

The State Department, however, welcomes President Ilham Aliyev's decision to pardon most remaining political prisoners identified as such by the Council of Europe and vacate the sentences of seven opposition leaders who had been convicted in the aftermath of the flawed 2003 presidential polls.

A MIXED PICTURE ON RIGHTS. The U.S. State Department says in its annual Human Rights report that Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro continue to have serious rights violations.

Turning to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the report says "the government's human rights record remained poor; although there were improvements in some areas."

It said that the security situation in sensitive areas did not improve for displaced people returning home. And it said "police responsiveness to incidents targeting minority returnees did not improve."

Turning to Serbia and Montenegro, the report said civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of security forces.

But it noted that "there were a few instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority." The report said this included "arbitrary arrest and selective enforcement of the law for political purposes."

Regarding the province of Kosovo, the report said that there were apparent ethnically motivated killings of Serbs there during the year. (RFE/RL)

A DETERIORATING SITUATION. The State Department said on March 8 in its annual report on human rights worldwide that Belarus' record remains very poor and worsened in 2005.

The report says Belarusian authorities continue to undermine democratic institutions and concentrate power through manipulating elections, and by undemocratic laws and regulations. The report stresses that parliamentary elections and a referendum that removed term limits on the presidency in October 2004 failed to meet international standards. The report points to arbitrary arrests, government failure to account for the disappearance of opposition politicians, abuse, and torture of prisoners. The report says the country lacks judicial independence and is denying citizens the right to public demonstrations. It also points to harassment of nongovernmental organizations and churches and the closure of independent newspapers. (RFE/RL)

RIGHTS SIMPLY NOT A PRIORITY. The U.S. State Department said in its annual report on human rights worldwide that governments in Central Asia are still failing to observe the rights of their citizens. The report said Kazakhstan, where the incumbent president was re-elected with more than 90 percent of the vote last December, placed "severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government." The report also cited arbitrary arrests and detentions, particularly of government opponents and harassment of opposition media. Tajikistan was also criticized for restricting the rights of citizens to change their government, but also for poor conditions in prisons and obtaining confessions through torture. The reported noted the same problems in Turkmenistan as in Tajikistan, but also denial of due process and a fair trial and restrictions on freedom of speech. Kyrgyzstan, where longtime President Askar Akaev was ousted in a popular revolt last year, was criticized for Akaev government restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. But the new leadership was also cited for the impunity of security forces and discrimination against ethnic minorities. (RFE/RL)

SERIOUS RIGHTS ABUSES THRIVE WITH INSURGENCY. The United States says the ongoing insurgency, coupled with sectarian and criminal violence, "seriously affected" the Iraqi government's human rights performance over the past year.

In its annual report on human rights worldwide, released on March 8, the U.S. State Department said a "climate of extreme violence" in which people were killed for political and other reasons continued in Iraq.

The document noted that reports increased of killings by the Iraqi government or its agents that may have been politically motivated, while members of sectarian militias dominated police units to varying degrees and in different parts of the country.

Police abuses included arbitrary arrests, threats, and beatings, as well as the reported use of electric drills and the application of electric shocks.

In addition, the reports said common criminals, insurgents, and terrorists undermined public confidence in the security services by sometimes masking their identity in police and army uniforms. (RFE/RL)

TEHRAN COMES IN FOR HARSH CRITICISM. The U.S. State Department criticized Iran for "serious" human rights violations in its annual report on human rights abuses worldwide.

The report says Iran's "already poor record on human rights" worsened in 2005.

It adds that the Iranian government continued to commit "numerous, serious" abuses, ranging from summary executions -- including of minors -- to torture, and severe punishments such as amputations and flogging. It also notes violence by vigilante groups with ties to the government and arbitrary arrests and detentions, including prolonged solitary confinements.

Lack of fair public trials, severe restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of religion, and child labor are among the other reported cases of human rights abuses.

The report also notes that women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals face violence and discrimination. (RFE/RL)

A MIXED ASSESSMENT. The U.S. State Department says in its annual human rights report that the Romanian government made "increasing attempts to address human rights issues during the year."

But, the report issued in Washington on March 8, said "human rights abuses continued to occur."

The reports said examples of abuses include "police abuse and harassment of detainees and Roma." They also include "incidents of intimidation and harassment of journalists."

Turning to Moldova, the report said "the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens." But it said "there were problems in some areas" and cited as examples "judicial and police corruption" and "selective official harassment and intimidation of the political opposition."

The report also said "the human rights record of the Transdniesterian authorities remained poor." (RFE/RL)

CHECHNYA ABUSES, INCREASED CENTRALIZATION NOTED. The United States on March 8 said the continued centralization of power under President Vladimir Putin in Russia in 2005 resulted in the erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the people.

The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on human rights worldwide, also said the Russian government's human rights record in the continuing conflict in and around Chechnya remained poor.

It said there continued to be what it described as "credible reports" that federal armed forces engaged in unlawful killings in Chechnya, as well as in politically-motivated disappearances in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The report said federal and pro-Moscow Chechen forces, as well as Chechen rebel forces, violated the human rights of civilians, inflicting widespread civilian casualties, abductions, and other abuses.

On the positive side, the report said the judiciary demonstrated greater independence in a number of cases, producing improvements in the criminal justice system. It said Russia also made progress in combating trafficking in persons. (RE/RL)

IMPROVED RECORD NOTED. The State Department said in its annual report on human rights worldwide that while Ukraine's human rights performance significantly improved in important areas, in a number of respects it remained poor.

The report says that the improvements followed the Orange Revolution. The accountability by police officers and prison conditions have become better after the change of power. The mass media became much more independent, and interference with freedom of assembly largely ceased. There are no reports of political prisoners in Ukraine.

However, the report says that in many aspects Ukraine's performance remains poor. It points to arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, politically motivated disappearances, and hazing in the Ukrainian army.

Corruption remained a serious problem in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, including the armed services. The report says police corruption continues to be a serious problem.

The report says prison conditions remain poor, though they are slowly improving as a result of reforms in the penal system.

The report says violence against women remains a serious problem, as well as trafficking in women. (RFE/RL)

A BAD SITUATION GETTING WORSE. In Uzbekistan, the government's human rights record, already poor, worsened considerably during 2005, the U.S. State Department said in its annual report on human rights worldwide.

The report, issued on 8 March, says high unemployment and endemic corruption precipitated a violent uprising in May in the city of Andijon. That, in turn, led to a wave of repressive government reaction that dominated the remainder of the year.

The U.S. State Department also concluded that arbitrary arrests and prison deaths under suspicious circumstances, as well as systematic torture and abuse of detainees by security forces continued throughout 2005.

The report says Uzbek authorities oppressed the opposition, put limitations on the freedom of speech and press, harassed and intimidated journalists, blocked access to Internet content objectionable to the government, restricted freedom of assembly and association, violated religious rights, and discriminated against ethnic and religious minorities.

The report says the Uzbek government made an attempt to reduce human trafficking by sponsoring training for consular officers abroad in conjunction with the International Organization for Migration, which "significantly improved efforts to free victims" and resulted in increased numbers of victims returning to the country.

However, the document says, trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation, and men for labor exploitation, still remain problems. (RFE/RL)