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(Un)Civil Societies Report: May 24, 2006

24 May 2006, Volume 7, Number 9
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ISSUES ANNUAL RIGHTS REPORT. The war on terror has diverted the world's interest and material resources from human rights emergencies, and caused "enormous damage" to the lives and livelihoods of the ordinary people, concludes the "Amnesty International Report 2006" on "The State Of The World's Human Rights," released on May 23 in London.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan says powerful governments blocked international organizations and wasted resources in the name of the war on terror, turning a blind eye to massive human rights violations and humanitarian catastrophes in other parts of the world.

As a result, Khan says, such forgotten hotspots bore the brunt of neglect. "It's the forgotten conflicts that I remember most because those are the things the world needs to remember and the world needs to act to change," she said.

The report says that regional and international institutions gravely failed to tackle humanitarian crises, such as the one in Sudan's Darfur region, where conflicts have displaced millions of people, with war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by all sides.

Amnesty says Iraq also sank into a "vortex of sectarian violence" in 2005, with the highest price being paid by the poor and powerless -- ordinary Iraqi women, men, and children.

The Middle East conflict slipped off the international agenda in 2005, the report says, "deepening the distress and despair of the Palestinians and the fears of the Israeli population."

Europe, U.S. 'Partners In Crime'

Amnesty International says some European governments have been "partners in crime" with the United States, defying the absolute ban on torture. It says they condoned outsourcing of torture by allowing prisoners to be transferred to states such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, which are known to practice torture.

The report highlights the case of Yemeni Muhammad al-Assad, who was detained in 2003 while working in Tanzania. Amnesty says he was rendered to Djibouti and Afghanistan, and then possibly held in Eastern Europe.

Al-Assad, who was eventually released without any terrorism charges in 2006, said his plight completely changed his life.

"How much have I lost? My morale, my reputation," he says. "I've suffered. My children are young. My child was born after I was taken. My father is old."

The report warns that U.S. and Western European governments are undermining their moral authority to champion human rights elsewhere in the world when, Amnesty says, they defy the absolute prohibition on torture.

Washington defends U.S. treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held abroad, saying there have been relatively few actual cases of abuse.

Looking To The Future

Amnesty's Khan says there were some clear signs of hope in 2005, although they were mixed with drawbacks. Khan urged international institutions to act more courageously against human rights abuses.

"In 2005 we saw national parliaments, in some cases, we saw the Council of Europe, we saw some European Union institutions standing up and seeking to investigate and hold governments to account but at the same time we also saw institutions like the European Union remain silent in the face of human rights abuse in Chechnya, unable to do very much on situations like Nepal or Darfur," Khan said. "We saw the African Union failing in Darfur to make a difference."

"So what we need, I think, in 2006 is for these institutions to be stronger, to be clearer, and to act with courage and conviction to hold governments to account for human rights abuses and to work to make a real difference in the lives of people," she added.

The "Amnesty International Report 2006" includes four main demands. It calls on the United Nations and African Union to address the Darfur conflict and end human rights abuse; the UN to negotiate an agreement to regulate the trade in small arms; the United States to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and disclose the names and locations of all "war on terror" prisoners elsewhere; and the new UN Human Rights Council to insist on equal standards of respect of human rights from all governments.

Growing Movement Demands Justice

Khan said Amnesty International's demands pose a big challenge for governments and international organizations. But she said she is hopeful that civil society will be instrumental in pushing for more respect for human rights.

"I think there are going to be a number of very important tests in this year. Whether the UN Human Rights Council takes off well, whether there will be certain lessons drawn from governments like the U.S., U.K., other European governments about respect for human rights and whether that will lead to a change of behavior, whether Guantanamo prison camp will be closed," she said.

"There are lots of challenges here but I take hope from the hundreds and thousands of people around the world who are standing up and saying we want justice, we want the rule of law, we want respect for human rights because that's the way to true human security," Khan concluded.

Khan's moderate optimism was supported by the report's findings. It said 2005 was the year of one of the largest-ever mobilizations of civil society in fighting poverty and promoting economic and social rights.

The events of 2005, the document says, "showed that the human rights ideal -- together with the worldwide movement of people that drives it forward -- is more powerful and stronger than ever." (Eugen Tomiuc)

AMNESTY OFFICIAL FAULTS WEST OVER WAR ON TERROR. Amnesty International has again criticized the West on how it's conducting the U.S.-led war on terror. But in its annual report, the rights group says there are also signs of a shift in the public mood, with governments coming under increased scrutiny over how they're dealing with terrorism suspects. RFE/RL spoke to Judit Arenas, a senior spokeswoman with Amnesty in London.

RFE/RL: The report criticizes European countries for colluding with the United States in rendition flights of terror suspects. It also describes European countries as having a muted voice on human rights. It paints a picture of Europe as being pretty spineless and losing its moral authority.

Judit Arenas: Europe has been very good at looking outside its own borders and being very critical of governments that lie outside the EU borders and those who seek to join them, but it has not paid the same attention to the human rights violations taking place within. In terms of renditions we've seen how evidence continues to emerge of a very high number of CIA-led flights which may have transported individuals from one place to another where they may have been tortured.

We've also seen how this duplicity has undervalued and undermined them [Western governments] because they no longer have the moral authority to speak authoritatively about human rights and to ask other governments, like Sudan or Nepal, to respect human rights, because they just are not being taken seriously at the moment.

RFE/RL: On the other hand, last year also saw investigations into those reports of rendition flights, or of secret CIA prisons in Europe. Are people in Europe increasingly challenging the idea there has to be a tradeoff between human rights and security?

Arenas: Absolutely. 2005 was actually a year of contradictions and Europe exemplifies it very well. While the skies were being crisscrossed by potential CIA flights carried out by shady companies and nobody really knew who was being transferred and to where, on the other hand we saw that international and national institutions took very active steps to pursue accountability.

The Council of Europe and the European Parliament launched investigations into European involvement into renditions. In Italy, we saw how the prosecutors issued arrest warrants for these CIA operatives that were alleged to have been involved in the rendition of one person from Milan. The U.K. House of Lords threw out the government's plans to allow evidence extracted under torture to be used in British courts.

These are all strong signs that show for the first time ever since [the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001] we were seeing positive measures of people willing to stand up and recognize that the way the war on terror was being fought was not perhaps the most effective way.

RFE/RL: Does this change also apply more directly to the United States, for instance with growing calls for the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay to be closed?

Arenas: A year ago we were perhaps the first organization to call for Guantanamo to close. In the last year, we've been joined by a number of other voices, from actors, singers to politicians and including a European Parliament resolution calling for Guantanamo to be closed. We also saw how the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment banning torture and other ill treatment, which [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush was eventually forced to accept, and we've also seen [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice and President Bush give assurances that the United States will not condone torture. While that remains to be seen in practice, these are very encouraging measures and the first time since 9/11 that we're actually observing them.

RFE/RL: On Iraq, the report notes one positive event for 2005 -- the start of the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- in an otherwise horrendous picture regarding human rights.

Arenas: The spiraling violence in Iraq we would actually describe as a bloody harvest being reaped in Iraq. On the one hand we have armed groups whose brutality is increasing, beheadings being televised, the number of hostages going up, the whole of Iraq being torn into sectarian violence. On the other hand you've got multinational forces and the Iraqi security forces also committing human rights violations. We've seen allegations of torture and ill treatment, of arbitrary detention and excessive use of force, and all of this is contributing to a mix that makes the situation very explosive, a very unstable one and one in which unfortunately there is at the moment no chance of security being achieved in the near future.

RFE/RL: Amnesty notes that Iran still has scores of political prisoners in jail, that torture is still routine, and that it has executed people who were under 18 at the time of their crime. What are the areas of most concern for Amnesty?

Arenas: Iran is one of the countries that very seriously concerns us and if you look at the region as a whole any further destabilization could have very serious consequences. Our main appeal to the [Iranian] president is to end what appears to be intensifying repression of ethnic minorities. We've called on him to lift the limitation on freedom of expression and association, to end torture, and to put in place a moratorium on the death penalty. Iran was the only country we know of to have executed a minor in 2005 and for Iran to stand out on the death penalty in such a blatant way is very symptomatic of the other problems that the country is facing.

AMNESTY REPORT NOTES CIS RIGHTS ABUSES. Amnesty International on May 23 released its annual report on the global state of human rights. The report's findings were mixed regarding CIS states -- a catalogue of continuing abuses with some progress. Russia was lambasted for a rise in racially motivated killings. Belarus and Azerbaijan both received criticism for cracking down on opposition activists and politicians. And Ukraine and Georgia -- countries that have improved their democratic credentials since their colored revolutions -- were chastised for their records on police torture.

As Lamzar Samba, a student from Senegal, was leaving a popular St. Petersburg nightclub in April, he was killed by a gunshot to the neck.

Russian police on May 22 detained five suspects over the killing. A sixth suspect was killed last week by police while allegedly resisting arrest.

The attack on the student was one of a spate of racially motivated attacks in Russia in recent weeks. Rights watchers say such attacks are on the rise.

Amnesty International's annual report notes that in 2005 in Russia there were at least 28 killings and 365 assaults motivated by racial hatred. Foreigners and Russian citizens from Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus have been the main targets.

Backsliding In Russia

Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, says there have been many other disturbing signs in Russia over the past year. "We have seen the Russian government introducing restrictions against NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], clamping down on human rights defenders and journalists," Khan said. "We have seen the Russian government totally ignore and refuse to take action against its own security forces in Chechnya, who have committed human rights abuses."

Russia's apparent backsliding on human rights has caused many observers to question the country's tenure as chair of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers and presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized nations.

Judit Arenas, a senior spokeswoman for Amnesty, says Russia has taken some positive steps. She cites President Vladimir Putin's recognition of racism as a problem during his recent address to the nation. But she adds that Russia should do more and should set a leading example on the international stage.

"Russia actually blocked major resolutions at the UN Security Council on Darfur," Arenas said. "It's got a major problem on its doorstep in Chechnya, which has not been resolved. There are other issues in the Caucasus and it has to lead by example and actually clearly demonstrate that if it wants to be a global player [then] it must actually abide by the rules of the game."

The Amnesty report criticizes Belarus and Azerbaijan for their violent crackdowns on opposition activists and journalists. In Armenia, despite commitments made to the Council of Europe, conscientious objectors to military service still remain in jail.

Do 'Colored Revolutions' Make A Difference?

But what of Ukraine and Georgia, two countries that have improved their democratic records since their recent "colored revolutions"? The Amnesty report criticizes both countries for reports of torture and ill treatment by law-enforcement officers. Amnesty highlights reports that Georgian police have placed plastic bags over detainees' heads and beaten prisoners with gun butts.

However, the report points out that in both Ukraine and Georgia, senior officials have begun to address the issue. In Ukraine, the new government after the 2004 Orange Revolution changed legislation to allow state officials to be charged with torture. And in Georgia, several high-ranking politicians have pledged to fight police abuse. There has also been more extensive monitoring of detention facilities.

Arenas says Georgia has been willing to listen to recommendations and implement legal amendments. "The problem has actually been that that message has actually not translated down to the level of law-enforcement officials, who are the ones who continue to torture and ill-treat people," Arenas added.

The report notes that police in Georgia continue to cover up crimes and detainees are often afraid to file a complaint for fear of reprisals. (Luke Allnutt)

RIGHTS GROUP SAYS REGION SUFFERING AFTER ANDIJON. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says in its annual report released on May 23 that the May 2005 bloodshed in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon defined the overall human-rights situation in Central Asia in 2005. Some of the region's governments tightened the screws amid the international community's slow, uncoordinated, and inconsequential response to the bloody events in Andijon.

The repression of dissent; torture, ill-treatment in detention facilities, unfair trials, official impunity, flawed elections, and human trafficking are nothing new for Central Asia.

But Amnesty International's report says the situation in the region has actually gotten worse since Uzbek troops "allegedly killed hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children when they fired indiscriminately and without warning on a crowd in the eastern city of Andijon" in May 2005.

'Still No Justice'

"We saw the resurgence of old-style repression in places like Uzbekistan," said Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan. "We have just marked the first anniversary of the Andijon massacre, and there is still no justice for the victims there."

Rights watchdogs say hundreds fell victim to the government's brutal handling of demonstrators in Andijon, while Uzbek authorities insist that 187 mostly "foreign-paid terrorists" died in what they labeled an "antigovernment mutiny."

Judit Arenas, Amnesty International's spokeswoman, told RFE/RL that Amnesty is concerned about the international community's response to the Andijon killings. "I think the big problem is that the West has intervened in the situation in Uzbekistan too little and too late," Arenas said. "For many years, Uzbekistan was considered [the West's] strategic ally. We saw how after [the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States], [a] strategic decision on the air bases that they held made the Western governments -- especially the U.S. -- turn a blind eye [to] a human rights record that had been dire for many years."

Arenas says the United States condemned the Andijon killings and took a firm stance only after official Tashkent evicted U.S. troops from an air base in southern Uzbekistan. Washington and Brussels demanded an independent investigation into the killings. The Uzbek government rejected the calls and has blocked all but official reports of the killings. The EU imposed an arms embargo and one-year visa ban for 12 top Uzbek security officials.

Russia And China Side With Tashkent

Meanwhile, Arenas says some countries endorsed the Uzbek government's brutal tactics toward protesters. "[A] serious political message has actually been sent out to the Uzbek authorities that this kind of repression is OK," Arenas said. "We've heard how Russia and China have continued to support the Uzbek authorities and that's something that simply must not be allowed to continue."

The stance by Moscow and Beijing sent a mixed signal throughout Central Asia. The Amnesty International report states that following the Andijon killings, hundreds of protesters were ill-treated and intimidated. Journalists, opposition members, and human rights activists were harassed, beaten, and detained in Uzbekistan.

Regional Ramifications

That, the group's report says, has had serious repercussions in the whole region. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan had to deal with the flow of Uzbek refugees following the Andijon uprising. More than 400 refugees were flown from Kyrgyzstan to European countries, while other asylum seekers and refugees risked detention and forcible return. Kyrgyzstan returned four Uzbeks to Uzbekistan in June. The Uzbek security service even pursued some asylum seekers onto Kyrgyz territory, in some cases with the cooperation of Kyrgyz authorities.

Kazakhstan also cooperated with Uzbek authorities in November when it returned at least eight Uzbeks accused of membership of a banned Islamic organization.

Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan

The Amnesty report says Turkmenistan failed to halt human rights violations. Religious minorities, civil society activists, journalists, and relatives of dissidents have faced harassment and imprisonment or were forced into exile. At least 60 prisoners -- jailed for an alleged assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002 -- remain incommunicado.

In Tajikistan, Amnesty recorded torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers. In most cases, the organization's report says, no investigation was conducted and the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

The Amnesty International report states that Tajikistan's parliamentary polls in February 2005 and Kazakhstan's presidential election last December fell short of international standards with authorities rigging the election results.

In both countries, opposition members and independent journalists faced harassment and intimidation. Kazakh authorities also shut down an opposition party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, prominent opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov was granted an early release from prison last December.

Amnesty spokeswoman Arenas says Central Asia in general suffered from a lack of attention from the international community while authoritarian leaders in the region tightened their grips on power.

"One of the key messages we are promoting at the moment is the fact that the war on terror has essentially allowed a lot of repressive governments to continue unchecked because the international focus has simply been diverted elsewhere," she said. "And I think that's definitely the case for Turkmenistan, where a lot of trials are actually held in secrecy. Unfair trials have been taking place for a very long time and we don't even know how many people have actually been sentenced or for how long."

In Afghanistan, the lack of security remains the biggest challenge. Arenas says President Hamid Karzai's government benefited from the international community's aid in recent years, but the situation in the country remains precarious.

"The situation in Afghanistan remains very unstable and the government and its international partners have actually not been able to provide security to the people," Arenas said. "We know that the country is greatly fractioned. We know that there are areas where women still continue to be very much at risk. And this climate of [a] lack of public security and rule of law has actually allowed many problems to continue unchecked."

The Amnesty report says flaws in the administration of justice remain a key source of human-rights violations in Afghanistan. The legal process is hampered by corruption, the influence of armed groups, a lack of oversight mechanisms, the nonpayment of salaries, and inadequate infrastructure. (Gulnoza Saidazimova)