30 June 2005, Volume 6, Number 10
RUSSIAPOLICE BRUTALITY SHOWS TRACES OF CHECHNYA
By Julie A. Corwin
Stavropol Krai's human rights ombudsman Aleksei Selyukov the week before sent a complaint to the krai prosecutor about alleged massive violations of human rights in the town of Ivanovskoe in the Kochygbeevskoe Raion on the night of 11 June, when Interior Ministry troops reportedly rounded up more than 30 local youths at the town's disco, yufo.ru and Regnum reported on 17 June.
The police, armed with rubber truncheons and submachine guns, loaded the youths -- most of whom were between the ages of 14 and 23 -- onto a police bus and took them to a local police station, gazeta.ru reported. There they were forced to face the wall with their hands in the air without speaking. They were searched, their mobile phones taken away, and their passport information was taken down.
According to some of those detained, the police intimidated them, shoving them and striking them in such a way that they wouldn't leave bruises, gazeta.ru reported. The police then allegedly illegally photographed and fingerprinted the young men. Then after about two hours, they were released into dead of the night to walk home or hitch rides back to their village more than 15 kilometers away.
Local residents believe the event was an act of revenge by the police. According to gazeta.ru, a 29-year-old police officer was knifed to death in the neighboring town of Nevinnomysskoe in May. Local residents believe the police officers thought a raid on the Ivanovskoe disco would send a message to all the young people in the area.
Nearly a year has elapsed since Russia experienced the terrorist takeover by Chechen fighters of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, that left more than 300 people dead. At a 9 June RFE/RL briefing, Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of the Moscow-based Demos Center for Information and Research, and Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Moscow-based Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, argued that Beslan has become Russia's analogue to 11 September 2001, and federal and local authorities, at the initiative of President Vladimir Putin, have described Russia as a "fortress under siege." The dominant message to the public is that Russian society must consolidate in the face of the terrorist enemy. In this environment, opposition and criticism are labeled "traitorous."
Russian human rights groups, which are often the recipient of financial support from abroad, have been subjected to increasing scrutiny by the authorities, particularly those groups that deal with sensitive issues such as torture and other forms of abuse by police and the security services. As a result, the attention of such groups is being diverted away from such monitoring and toward defending themselves.
According to a survey conducted by the Levada Analytical Center in May, approximately 70 percent of respondents said they or their relatives could fall victim to illegal actions by law enforcement officers. In the same study, 73 percent of physicians and nurses providing primary medical assistance to victims of accidents or assaults said they believe the problem of police violence against detainees is quite serious.
The recent police raid in Ivanovskoe appears to replicate in miniature similar police raids in other parts of Russia. In February and March, the Tver Oblast town of Bezhetsk experienced two police raids in which police allegedly beat large numbers of people. One of the Bezhetsk raids was also carried out in a local disco and was rumored to have been motivated by revenge after some local young men reportedly tried to free an acquaintance who had earlier been taken into custody for "hooliganism."
In December, there were massive police raids in Blagoveshchensk, Bashkortostan, where local police have been accused of illegally detaining and assaulting hundreds of local residents. Similarly, in Blagoveshchensk, an initial theory about the raids in that city was that they were conducted to punish city residents after three police officers were beaten up shortly before the raids began.
According to a report published in March by Demos and Public Verdict in March on the law enforcement system, one of the primary reasons for police officers violating human rights is to protect the interests and the status of their colleagues. According to the report, "most frequently law enforcement officers use their authority and means of coercion to penalize individuals who have acted against other law enforcement officers, as well as to help their colleagues avoid liability for violations that they have committed."
Speaking at the RFE/RL briefing, Lokshina commented that the only reason the Russian public came to hear about Bezhetsk was because the raids occurred so close in time to the media storm about the raids in Blagoveshchensk. "We investigated the situation in Bezhetsk quite carefully," Lokshina said. "The only reason we know about Bezhetsk is because Blagoveshchensk was so bad, so scandalous, and attracted so much media attention that because of it small-scale events such as Bezhetsk became known. I am quite sure that events like Bezhetsk -- not a thousand people, but a couple dozen -- are actually quite common in Russia."
While investigations about the incidents in Bezhetsk and Blagoveshchensk are still under way, Dzhibladze concluded that the roots of such occurrences can be found not in Tver Oblast or Bashkortostan, but in Chechnya. "One of the clear roots of police violence is Chechnya," Dzhibladze said. "[Police] troops and officers are rotating there every half a year. They go back home and bring the experience of violence with impunity. The government is promoting such impunity -- there have been just a few cases where officers have been punished for crimes against civilians in Chechnya, out of -- you can imagine -- hundreds of cases in two wars. This gives a powerful, powerful signal to state agencies and forces that they are immune from prosecution whatever they do."
To support their comparison between the recent police raids and the conflict in Chechnya, Lokshina noted that a human rights lawyer working in Blagoveshchensk recently uncovered an internal Interior Ministry (MVD) document that described how police in "emergency circumstances" should organize "filtration centers" for the detention of suspects and their associates. "The lawyer found a certain MVD document stamped 'DSP,' or 'for internal use,' in which it is described how law enforcement should handle emergency circumstances -- not emergency situations as is already stipulated in the relevant law -- but some mysterious emergency circumstances. Within these mysterious emergency circumstances, the police have to organize filtration centers. It's there on paper. It's exactly what has been going on in Chechnya for years and now we suddenly find out that in any Russian city there can be a filtration center."
OSCEHELSINKI REPORT FINDS HUMAN RIGHTS PROBLEMS PLAGUE ENTIRE REGION
By Antoine Blua
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) promotes democracy and assists its 55 participating states in building democratic institutions. It also acts as an instrument of conflict prevention, crisis management, and postconflict rehabilitation. But its member states must do the hard work of actually implementing reforms. And according to the annual report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), a lot more remains to be done to firmly establish democracy in many parts of the OSCE region.
The 500-page report by the Vienna-based IHF covers human rights developments in 38 member states of the OSCE in 2004. Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the IHF, told RFE/RL: "It's difficult to make a generalization about human rights in such a group of countries, some of which are the most democratic and liberal countries in the world and some others are extremely repressive. But what you can say is that, in some areas especially, not much progress is being made in human rights."
The 38 countries reviewed in the IHF report are located in Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and North America. Twenty-four are former socialist states, while 13 are established Western democracies. Turkey is also included.
According to the IHF, judicial systems fell short of international standards in more than 60 percent of the 38 countries reviewed.
Corruption, the lack of judicial independence, and the poor training of judicial professionals were of particular concern. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were singled out as needing further improvement.
Rhodes says reports of police brutality or other police misconduct were received from 80 percent of the countries under scrutiny. "We found that in 80 percent of the countries that we scrutinized in this report, there are serious problems as regards police brutality," he said. "And in 10 of them, some of the practices constituted torture. In a majority of countries that are covered in the report, there are problems in prisons, especially overcrowding."
The document says 60 percent of the countries reviewed violated the right to asylum or other rights of refugees and migrants. According to the report, antiterrorism measures also curtailed many basic rights throughout the region, including in Britain, the Russian republic of Chechnya, the United States, and Uzbekistan.
Rhodes says the IHF's report should not be construed as a criticism of the OSCE, but is rather meant to highlight how well the group's members are adhering to their human rights commitments.
"The OSCE is a framework in which participating states can work together to raise the level of compliance with the human rights commitments that are undertaken in the OSCE process," Rhodes said. "Some states honor their commitments, and some states ignore their commitments. Of course, you can't blame the OSCE as such for the failure of its members to approach their obligations in the OSCE in an honorable way."
Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw, agrees. "Many of the concerns that the International Helsinki Federation raises are the same concerns that have been raised many times by the OSCE," she said. "Those regard issues such as the situation of free and fair elections, human rights, the fight against intolerance, etc., etc.. This is, of course, the responsibility of participating states. The OSCE, as an organization, is not going to change everything."
The IHF describes itself as a self-governing group of nongovernmental, not-for-profit organizations that act to protect human rights throughout the Caucasus, Central Asia, Europe, and North America.
(For a country-by-country fact sheet, see http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/6/A039484F-CEAD-4D29-A6D0-9A678476670F.html. The IHF report is available at http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4057)
UZBEKISTANDETENTIONS HIGHLIGHT ONGOING CRACKDOWN IN ANDIJON
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
Uzbek police detained a group of opposition activists on 26 June, as well as an RFE/RL correspondent in Andijon, amid a continuing crackdown in the eastern Uzbek city. Correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev said he was conducting interviews in a teahouse with several activists, when police detained the group, taking them to a police station for questioning before releasing them four hours later.
Isroil Holdorov and Sadirohun Sufiev, of the banned Erk Democratic Party, were being interviewed by RFE/RL correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev in the Caravan teahouse in Andijon's Yangibozor bazaar.
Yuldoshev recounts what happened next: "I met Isroil Holdorov of the Erk party in Yangibozor and we went to the Caravan teahouse to have tea. As we walked in, a young police sergeant followed us. He introduced himself as Abdushukur. Then he left the building. Three to five minutes later, eight people entered. Some were in police uniform, others in civilian clothes. They started searching us. I said, 'Hey, I am a correspondent'. They said, 'Don't move, don't move'. They searched my pockets as I was sitting."
Other men were also searched in the teahouse. Yuldoshev says policemen in the teahouse used their radios to call for backup.
After a while, all the men were taken to a police station. Holdorov recalls how events unfolded: "They [policemen] had weapons, they shouted, 'Don't move, don't move, don't move!' They surrounded us and walked us from the Caravan teahouse located inside the bazaar to the main road. I asked them if I could buy cigarettes or matches, they said, 'No, you are not allowed'. By doing that, I wanted to let someone know what was happening to us. On the main road, there was a patrol car and a lot of policemen. They acted as if they had caught a group of criminals."
The detainees were taken to the Interior Ministry's city department. Yuldoshev says they were repeatedly searched and questioned. He says the policemen did not identify themselves.
"As we entered, they searched us again. They took my equipment. I told them it was my recorder. They told to shut up and took my recorder, microphone and everything away. We entered a second room and were searched there again. We were taken to a third room and were searched once more. None of them identified themselves. I asked them: 'Can you identify yourselves?' They asked us lots of questions, filled in many documents, but never identified themselves," Yuldoshev said.
Opposition activist Isroil Holdorov says some of his belongings, mostly documents and computer diskettes, were taken away without a proper confiscation protocol. He says that among the confiscated documents were notes from the trial of 23 local businessmen that precipitated the recent deadly clashes in Andijon.
"I participated in the trial of the [alleged] Akramiya members and I had testimonies of all of those I spoke to with me," Holdorov told RFE/RL. "They were unique documents, because they included names and testimonies of the 23 businessmen on the last day of trial, 11 May. Some of them were written testimonies, others told them orally and I wrote everything down. That's what I had."
A trial of the 23 local businessmen accused of belonging to the banned Islamic group called "Akramiya" preceded the clash between government troops and protesters in Andijon on 13 May that killed hundreds of civilians. The businessmen as well as their relatives who organized protests outside the local courthouse for several weeks, denied the charges against them and demanded a fair trial.
Holdorov says he knew the police confiscation of his material was illegal. But he says he felt compelled to stop demanding the return of his diskettes when threatened by the officers who detained him.
"They were shouting at me, pressuring me a lot. They were very harsh toward me. They said: 'We can do anything we want with you. For us, it is enough to have a person. Charging him with a crime is not a problem.' You know, I have children, so I got scared. Not too much, just little. We fight for justice and we didn't want to be imprisoned based on slander," Holdorov said.
An older man who identified himself as Muhammadjon told RFE/RL he was detained together with the opposition activists. Muhammadjon says he is 70 years old. He went to the bazaar to buy medicine for his ailing grandson. On the way, he met several acquaintances at the local teahouse and joined them.
"My grandson had food poisoning. I went to buy manganese crystals for him. I was sitting there [in the teahouse]. They came, asked for our documents, searched us. They detained us and held us for three-four hours. I was sitting with crossed legs, when the deputy head of the police station came in and kicked my legs. He didn't even consider that I am 70 years old. He just said I shouldn't cross my legs," Muhammadjon said.
Muhammadjon heads a local group that works on media freedom.
Human right groups say dozens of people, mostly opposition members and human rights activists, have been detained in Andijon since the massacre last month.
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report)
BELARUSREGIME SET TO REIN IN ETHNIC POLISH ORGANIZATION
By Jan Maksymiuk
A Minsk-Warsaw diplomatic clash in May over the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) took a new turn earlier this month after the Belarusian authorities deprived the SPB of the possibility to print its weekly, "Glos znad Niemna," and produced two bogus issues of the publication. Warsaw, which sponsors the activities of the SPB, has reportedly suspended financing "Glos znad Niemna," demanding that Minsk recognize the SPB new leadership elected during a congress in March as well as the new editorial staff of the weekly that was appointed after the congress. Some Polish minority activists in Belarus believe that Minsk's recent steps against the SPB are being orchestrated by the KGB.
Last month the Belarusian Justice Ministry said the SPB congress in March was "nondemocratic" and invalidated its decisions, including the election of SPB Chairwoman Andzelika Borys, who replaced Tadeusz Kruczkowski. According to Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau, there were irregularities in both the nomination of delegates and the congress itself. However, SPB activists argue that the authorities invalidated the congress because they want to reinstate a group of loyalists to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who are led by former SPB Chairman Kruczkowski, in the SPB leadership. According to this line of argument, Borys personifies a democratic and intellectually independent faction within the organization and therefore is disagreeable to the authorities.
The Warsaw-Minsk standoff over the SPB culminated in May in reciprocal diplomatic expulsions and Warsaw's demand that Minsk back down on its decision annulling the March congress. Moreover, the Polish government reportedly compiled a list of SPB activists who support the Belarusian government in the conflict, as well as of some Belarusian officials, who are to be barred from entering Poland. The list, however, has so far not been officially released or confirmed. In its turn, Minsk took more decisive steps in the conflict.
First, in late May a printing plant in Hrodna refused to print an issue of "Glos znad Niemna" prepared by the editorial staff headed by Andrzej Pisalnik, who became the weekly's acting editor in chief following the March congress. This month the same printing plant printed two bogus issues of "Glos znad Niemna," which carried articles presenting official Minsk's stance in the conflict over the SPB. Pisalnik said he knows none of the bogus issues' contributors, except for Kruczkowski. Pisalnik appealed to the police and prosecutors over the illegal use of the newspaper's nameplate, but there has been no reaction so far. The bogus issues are being disseminated among subscribers through the state postal service.
"It is a de facto nationalization of an independent publication," Andrzej Poczobut, another Polish minority journalist in Belarus, told RFE/RL. "This is the first time we see such an occurrence in Belarus. If you ask my opinion about who's behind [these bogus issues], I'm sure it is the KGB, the only institution in our country that is able to carry through such a special operation -- to issue an illegal newspaper and deliver it to readers."
Tadeusz Gawin, founder and first head of the SPB, is also convinced that some sinister hand is working behind the scenes in the standoff over the SPB. "Kruczkowski does not belong to himself any longer -- he is simply an object of manipulation," Gawin told the Polish regional daily "Kurier Poranny" last week. "Unfortunately, the morals of this man have proven to be very weak. Accusations [of Kruczkowski] have been suddenly circulated regarding bribery, fraud, and sexual exploitation of female students. But there were no formal charges [against him] during all these years [when he headed the SPB]. The authorities simply have a hold over him. I pity this man. He had a great chance to become a major figure in the Polish national renaissance in Belarus but he has lost everything."
Both Belarusian and Polish observers agree that Minsk's behavior toward the SPB does not pursue the goal of ethnic discrimination but is motivated primarily by the regime's desire to have the country's largest nongovernmental organization under tight control. The SPB, which claims a membership of more than 10,000, represents the nearly 400,000-strong Polish minority, which lives mainly in Hrodna Oblast in the northwest of the country. President Lukashenka's annual address to the nation in April appeared to confirm such suppositions. In that speech, Lukashenka accused Warsaw of destabilizing the situation in Belarus ahead of the 2006 presidential election by putting pressure on the country's Polish community (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 25 April 2005). Ukraine and Lithuania were also categorized by the Belarusian president as inciters of instability in Belarus.
Furthermore, Lukashenka's concerns about a potential export of a "colored revolution" from abroad have quite recently been confirmed by a peculiar incident involving Georgia. Earlier this month the Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced the abolishment of visa-free travel for Georgians. The official explanation held that Minsk needed to coordinate its foreign policies with Russia (which introduced visas for Georgians five years ago) and thwart illegal migrations of Georgians who allegedly used Belarus regularly as a transit country for entrance into the Russian Federation.
The Georgian parliament reacted immediately with an ingenious, "asymmetrical" response, drafting a bill to ban Lukashenka from entering Georgia. Lukashenka apparently realized that he, a fervent proponent of CIS reintegration, lost in that propaganda duel -- Minsk banned all Georgians from traveling without visas to Belarus, while Tbilisi banned just him, thus differentiating between the autocratic leader and the people. Therefore, Belarusian Foreign Ministry Syarhey Martynau was given the task of backing off on that unfortunate decision. In a misty and unconvincing statement on Belarusian Television, Martynau claimed that Lukashenka only instructed the Foreign Ministry and law-enforcement agencies to look into the possibility of introducing visas for Georgians, but did not introduce them in actual fact.
At the same time, perhaps involuntarily, Martynau admitted that Belarus would not hesitate to introduce visas for Georgians should Tbilisi attempt to export "some revolutions or pseudo-revolutions" to Belarus. Many Belarusian commentators maintain that it is essentially the same fear of a "revolution" exported through the Polish minority from Poland that underlies the authorities' current efforts to rein in the insubordinate SPB. Georgia responded toughly, using the language Lukashenka normally uses with regard to his adversaries both at home and abroad. And Lukashenka had to back out. Will Poland be able to find an equally tough response to Lukashenka's clampdown on the SPB?
AFGHANISTANCLERICS CALL FOR U.S. APOLOGY. Afghan clerics called on the United States to apologize for the alleged desecration of the Koran by U.S. troops at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying those responsible should stand trial, AP reported 14 June. The demand followed a meeting in Kabul of a group of Afghan clergymen called the Ulamas Council, an organization with about 6,000 members that includes Islamic clerics from across Afghanistan. The clerics aired their appeal in a resolution adopted by the council. "Abuse of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay is a crime. It hurts the hearts of Muslims. The Ulamas Council of Afghanistan wants the United States to apologize to Muslim nations all over the world," said cleric Malwari Saaduddin, who read the resolution aloud. "Whoever is responsible for these crimes should be handed over to an Islamic country to face trial." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June)
ARMENIAPACE CALLS FOR EXPEDITING CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. At its summer session in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on 23 June expressing "deep concern" at Armenia's delay in agreeing and adopting constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The resolution urged Armenian authorities to incorporate into the amended draft recommendations made by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission that would augment the powers of the Armenian parliament, strengthen judicial independence, and introduce elections for the post of mayor of Yerevan. The draft amendments passed in the first reading last month failed to include those changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005). The resolution urged parliament to adopt the revised draft in the second reading no later than August and to submit the package of amendments to a nationwide referendum by November, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 June. It also called on the Armenian authorities to resume dialogue with the opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
AZERBAIJANTHOUSANDS PARTICIPATE OPPOSITION RALLY. Thousands of people, many of them wearing orange T-shirts or carrying orange banners, participated in a rally in Baku on 18 June convened by the opposition Liberty election bloc, which comprises the Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Turan reported. Supporters of the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan and of the youth movements Yokh! and Yeni Fikir also attended the rally. Opposition sources estimated the total number of participants at 25,000-30,000; day.az gave a figure of 7,000-8,000 at the beginning of the rally. Participants called for free elections and for an end to corruption, bribery, persecution, and clan politics, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June)
PRESIDENT SAYS HE DOES NOT FEAR ORANGE REVOLUTION. Ilham Aliyev told journalists on 16 June on his arrival in Kyiv that the political situation in Azerbaijan is stable and he does not fear an "Orange Revolution," Turan and Interfax reported. He pointed out that opinion polls put his popularity rating at 77 percent, which is higher than any other CIS president. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
YOUTH ACTIVISTS TARGETED IN GYANDJA. Ruslan Bashirli, head of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir, told a news conference in Baku on 10 June that police in Gyandja apprehended him the previous day together with three other Yeni Fikir members following a meeting of supporters in that city and then forced them to return to Baku, Turan reported. Prior to the Gyandja meeting, the four activists toured three neighboring regions, where they established local Yeni Fikir chapters. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
BELARUSMINSK CITY AUTHORITIES SET TO CASH IN ON OPPOSITION RALLIES. The Minsk City authorities have resolved to take fees from the organizers of rallies in the capital, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported on 20 June, quoting Syarhey Alfer, deputy chairman of the opposition United Civic Parties. Alfer said that in order to hold a street rally, the organizers need to pay fees to the police, the medical emergency service, and the city's road maintenance service. "The organizers have to sign a written contract with each of these services. However, we don't know how such contracts should look and how much it will cost," Alfer said, noting that the city authorities usually give the official go-ahead for opposition rallies as late as just five days before they are scheduled to take place. "Thus, the organizers have no time to sign these contracts," he added, stressing that the requirement is a new bureaucratic tool designed to prevent the government's opponents from staging demonstrations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2005)
IRANPOLICE BEAT TEHRAN DEMONSTRATORS. Policemen beat and arrested demonstrators gathered on 15 June outside a Tehran prison in sympathy with detained dissidents, Radio Farda reported the same day. The demonstrators, including rights activists and families of detainees, were holding a sit-in outside Evin prison to protest the detention conditions of Nasser Zarafshan, currently on the ninth day of a hunger strike. His wife, Homa Zarafshan, told Radio Farda that uniformed policemen temporarily arrested an unspecified number of protesters, violently beating those who resisted. Masumeh Shafii, the wife of another detained dissident, Akbar Ganji, witnessed the violence as she sought in vain to enter Evin to see her husband, who she says is also on hunger strike. She said Ganji is currently in solitary confinement and is he allowed to receive visits or see a lawyer, Radio Farda reported. She has written to the judiciary chief asking him to send a team to check on her husband's condition. "These gentlemen want these matters to be kept quiet now, with all the election news, and silence over the state of those on hunger strike will worsen their condition every hour," she said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June)
KYRGYZSTANPROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS 29 ASYLUM SEEKERS TO BE RETURNED TO UZBEKISTAN... Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced on 23 June that Kyrgyzstan plans to extradite to Uzbekistan 29 asylum seekers currently held in detention in Osh, Kabar reported. "They include terrorists and religious extremists," Beknazarov said. Parrying objections from international organizations about the extradition of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan, Beknazarov said, "They should distinguish between criminals and refugees. Why should we give criminals refugee status?" Beknazarov added that Kyrgyzstan is obliged under the Minsk Convention to extradite the individuals, who are part of a group of nearly 500 asylum seekers who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 13 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
...AS UN WARNS OF TORTURE AND SECRETARY-GENERAL EXPRESSES CONCERN... Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and other senior UN officials expressed concern on 23 June at the possible extradition of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan in light of "allegations of torture, ill treatment, and arbitrary detention in Uzbekistan," the UN News Service reported. The statement followed a 22 June appeal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he is "seriously concerned about the fate of Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan and, in particular, reports about their possible forced deportation to Uzbekistan," the secretary-general's press service reported. "The secretary-general appeals to the government of Kyrgyzstan to strictly abide by its international obligations in the treatment of asylum seekers and urges the government of Uzbekistan to refrain from any action aimed at ensuring forcible return of Uzbek asylum seekers to their country," Annan concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
...AND RIGHTS GROUP POINTS TO VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. At a news conference in Bishkek on 23 June, Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Acacia Shields warned that the repatriation of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan would be a "serious violation of Kyrgyzstan's obligations under international law," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "It would be a great shame if, at this point in Kyrgyzstan's history, the government turned its back on the international community and its standards by sending people back to torture," Shields said. She also warned that the extradition process could widen. "We also have credible information that additional asylum seekers may soon be detained from the camp in Jalalabad Province," Shields said. "I would remind you, we still have no information about the four men who were already returned [to Uzbekistan]. We don't even know if they are still alive." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June)
OFFICIAL CONFIRMS 12 UZBEK ASYLUM SEEKERS MOVED FROM CAMP TO DETENTION... Baitemir Ibraev, a prosecutor in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad Oblast, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 16 June that 12 Uzbek asylum seekers have been transferred from a camp to a detention facility in Osh. According to information provided by Uzbek authorities, the 12, who were part of a group of more than 400 asylum seekers currently housed in a camp in Jalal-Abad Oblast, had been serving prison terms in Andijon on charges of religious extremism, Ibraev said. They were freed during a prison break on the night of 12 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005) and subsequently fled to Kyrgyzstan. Ibraev said that other asylum seekers suspected of playing a role in unrest in Andijon on 13 May will also be transferred to the detention facility in Osh for additional investigation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
...AS ASYLUM SEEKERS ADDRESS UN HEAD, KYRGYZ ACTING PRESIDENT. In two appeals dated 13 June and addressed, respectively, to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, a group of six Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan charged that Kyrgyz authorities have removed 16 asylum seekers from the camp in Jalal-Abad Oblast, subsequently handing four of them over to Uzbek security forces, fergana.ru reported. The appeal to Bakiev charges that the four individuals who were given to the Uzbek authorities are not guilty of crimes, but were eyewitnesses to the killing of peaceful demonstrators by security forces in Andijon. The appeals' signatories also charged that Kyrgyz security officials attempted to convince the asylum seekers that they can and should return to Uzbekistan. The appeals' authors called on Annan to intervene on their behalf in the face of "injustice and lawlessness"; they called on Bakiev to investigate the handover of asylum seekers to Uzbek authorities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
VILLAGERS PROTEST AGAINST ASYLUM SEEKERS... A group of 70 people from a village near a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan's Jalalabad Province held a demonstration on 14 June and told the asylum seekers they have three days to return home, fergana.ru reported. One person, identified as an employee of an international aid organization, was injured in a scuffle during the demonstration. The demonstrators, who said they are worried the asylum seekers include religious extremists, threatened to return with 1,000 people and evict the asylum seekers if they do not leave within three days. An unidentified source told fergana.ru that the protest leaders, who represent several villages in the Suzak District of Jalalabad Province, recently met with village elders from Uzbekistan, who asked them to assist in returning the asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. Jose Luis Diaz, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, told RFE/RL that the UN high commissioner is "very upset" at the incident at the camp. The asylum seekers fled to Kyrgyzstan after violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan on 13 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June)
...AS UN BEGINS ANDIJON INVESTIGATION IN KYRGYZSTAN. A four-member team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on 15 June began a 10-day investigation of the 13 May violence in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL reported. Because Uzbekistan has rejected calls for an international investigation, the team will operate in Kyrgyzstan. "They are going to be interviewing eyewitnesses and other people with firsthand knowledge of the events in Andijon in May," OHCHR spokesman Diaz told RFE/RL. The team's investigation will examine independent accounts indicating that hundreds of unarmed demonstrators were killed when Uzbek government forces opened fire on them on 13 May; Uzbek authorities insist that 173 people were killed in a clash between police and religious extremists. "They [the team] are going to be reporting back upon their return to the high commissioner for human rights," Diaz said, according to the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks. "That report is going to contain their findings and recommendations about how to take any investigative work forward." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June)
RUSSIAPACE CALLS ON MOSCOW TO 'IMPROVE DEMOCRACY'... The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg "urged Russia to improve its democracy, calling for more power for the Russian parliament, pluralist and impartial broadcasting and normal conditions for civil society" in a resolution passed on 22 June, according to a statement on the assembly's website (http://assembly.coe.int). The PACE also warned that solutions to Russia's problems "should be in line with Council of Europe principles," the statement said. "In order for democracy to function properly, power must not only be vertically reinforced but also horizontally shared," the PACE stated in reference to Kremlin-backed reforms approved in the fall of 2004, adding that Moscow should "adjust the direction" of recent reforms. The group also urged that "significantly" more Council of Europe assistance be granted to Russia to help it honor its commitments. The PACE resolution specifically called on Russia to abolish the death penalty, withdraw its troops from the breakaway Transdniester republic, and bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)
...AS REPORT CONDEMNS RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, DEMANDS ACTION... PACE rapporteurs on Russia Rudolf Bindig and David Atkinson harshly criticized Moscow for a perceived lack of compliance with the commitment to human rights it made along with membership in 1995, polit.ru reported. Bindig and Atkinson also noted a slowdown in the democratization process in Russia in recent years. "The fact is that Russia is not yet a free democracy," RFE/RL's Russia Service quoted Atkinson as saying. The report also noted that the main threats to democracy in Russia remain the conflict in Chechnya, corruption and "dubious privatization deals." RFE/RL reported. "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2005
...PROMPTING VEILED THREAT OVER MOSCOW'S PACE CONTRIBUTION. The head of the Russian delegation to the PACE, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia), expressed disappointment with the assembly after passage of the PACE resolution on 22 June, RTR reported. He called some wording in the document "absolutely unacceptable to Russia," according to RTR, singling out for mention a reference to the "Soviet occupation of the Baltic states." Kosachev then said Russia's financial contributions to the PACE are excessive and noted that Moscow could decide to halt such payments. "That is neither our sanction toward the Council of Europe nor an expression of disappointment, but a realistic evaluation of the situation," he said, according to RTR. Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis countered by saying the same day that "it is Russia's own business to decide what financial contribution it will make to the organization," RTR reported. Davis also asserted that "neither Russia nor Latvia is responsible for the misdeeds of past regimes," RIA-Novosti reported. Russia contributes some 28 million euros ($33.76 million) annually to the Council of Europe's budget, putting it among the top five contributors. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June)
HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN TO COOPERATE WITH DEFENSE MINISTRY... The office of human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and the Defense Ministry have signed a cooperation agreement to ensure the protection of the rights of soldiers, former soldiers, and their families, Russian news agencies reported on 21 June. According to gazeta.ru, the ombudsman and the Defense Ministry will jointly inspect military units to clarify whether the rights of soldiers or officers are being violated. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also pledged to publish available information about the deaths of military personnel on the ministry's official website. Ivanov has been in the hot seat lately for a rash of noncombat-related deaths (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June)
...AS SOLDIERS' NGO IS UNIMPRESSED. The reaction of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee to the agreement announced on 21 June between the ombudsman and the Defense Ministry was not enthusiastic. Valentina Melnikova, secretary of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committee, told "Kommersant-Daily," "How is the soldier whose rights are being violated going to get to a telephone to call the ombudsman? Does [ombudsman] Lukin think we all have mobile phones? Let [the soldier] call from the chancellery or headquarters of the military unit?... It's obvious that the suffering soldier will simply be afraid to say his name. It's a pity that a politician from Yabloko could behave so naively." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June)
HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN SOUNDS ALARM REGARDING AGGRESSIVE INTOLERANCE. Speaking at an international conference of ombudsmen in Kazan on 16 June, federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said he is concerned that aggressive intolerance "on the part of certain representatives of the majority" in Russia is spreading in many Russian regions and assuming a criminal form, intertat.ru reported. Lukin said, "We should reproach federal authorities, and sometimes regional and local authorities, but primarily [officials of the] judicial and prosecution systems, [who] have been trying to ignore these incidents for a long time, pretending that they are ordinary hooliganism and they are not connected in any way with the problem of ethnic extremism." He continued: "It is absolutely wrong to close our eyes to this. President Putin was right when he said there is nothing stupider and more ignorant than the slogan 'Russia for Russians'.... This is a slogan for civil war and the extermination of many people, including Russians." Meanwhile, Chechnya's commissioner for human rights, Lema Khasuev, told Interfax on 15 June that he will not cooperate with representatives of Memorial because that human rights organization "has a principle: the worse the situation in Chechnya, the better for Memorial." He added that Memorial is "pursuing their only goal -- to spend all the money received from Western structures." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)
YOUTH LEADER DECLARES DAWN OF ERA OF 'STREET POLITICS.' Ilya Yashin, the organizer of a public rally in front of the FSB building on Lubyanska Square on 12 June and head of Yabloko's youth branch, was scheduled to appear in a Moscow court on 14 June for vastly underestimating the number of attendees ahead of the event, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Vremya novostei" reported on 14 June. Yashin had permission for the rally from Moscow authorities but had said that only 250 people would participate; by some estimates as many as 1,500 showed up. The meeting, which was organized under the slogan "I am free and have forgotten what fear means," was held in support of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and other people the organizers consider to be political prisoners, "Vremya novostei" reported. Yashin told Ekho Moskvy on 13 June that the rally's success shows that this is the "era of street politics." He continued: "The reason is obvious: There is no public politics in this country. Political censorship has been imposed on central television and in all significant media. People have no opportunity to debate the most important and vital problems of their country's life. That's why they take to the street to discuss them." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June)
MOSCOW WINS SUIT AGAINST GOVERNMENT AT STRASBOURG COURT. The European Court of Human Rights on 9 June ruled in favor of Russian national Nadezhda Fadeeva, who sued the Russian government for failing to relocate her from an environmentally unsafe area, Ekho Moskvy reported, quoting Anatolii Kovler, Russia's judge on the Strasbourg court. According to Fadeeva, the area where she lives near Cherepovets in Vologda Oblast has air that vastly exceeds contamination norms. She applied to the government for relocation in 1996 and again in 1999, but remains on a waiting list for new housing. According to Ekho Moskvy, Fadeeva sent her case to the European Court in 1999, and received a favorable verdict in October 2003. On 9 June, the court ruled that Russian government must pay her 6,000 euros ($7,330) and reimburse her legal fees. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June)
SERBIASERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONDEMNS SREBRENICA KILLINGS... The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) issued a statement on 10 June condemning the killing in August 1995 of six Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, by the Serbian paramilitary police unit known as the "Scorpions," as shown recently on Serbian television, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). The statement was titled "Our Lord, may it never happen again" and referred to "the cold-blooded killing of unarmed, defenseless civilians." Many Muslims and Croats, and also some Serbs, have charged the SPC with failing to criticize war crimes carried out by Serbs in the conflicts of the 1990s. "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005
...WHILE NGOS HOLD CONFERENCE. A conference on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took place in Belgrade on 11 June and passed without incident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The gathering was organized by Natasa Kandic of the NGO Humanitarian Law Fund and the local office of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Kandic stressed that it is no longer possible for Serbs to deny what happened in Srebrenica, adding that the government and not the NGOs must take the lead in arresting Mladic. Most of those in attendance came from NGOs and the international community. Rifat Rastoder, who is the deputy speaker of Montenegro's parliament, and Serbian Agriculture Minister Ivana Dulic Markovic, who said that she came in a private capacity, were the only officials present, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June)
UKRAINEKYIV SLAMS COUNCIL OF EUROPE DRAFT ON PERSECUTION OF OPPOSITION. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said in Kyiv on 21 June that a draft resolution calling on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to investigate persecution of the opposition in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan is a "provocative" document, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Interfax reported. The draft resolution was submitted to the PACE by a small group of Russian parliamentarians. "Why did the Russian parliamentarians, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, keep silent when Kuchma's authoritarian regime ruled in Ukraine?" Tarasyuk said. "Why did they keep silent when the authorities used administrative resources for the election campaign? Why did they keep silent when political assassinations were carried out in Ukraine? Why did they keep silent when in fact two attempts were made on the life of the opposition presidential candidate [Viktor Yushchenko]?" Tarasyuk said that only 12 of the some 600 members of the European Parliament signed the resolution, adding that not even all members of the Russian PACE delegation put their signatures on it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June)
UZBEKISTANPROSECUTORS UNVEIL NEW NUMBERS ON ANDIJON UNREST. Anvar Nabiev, Uzbekistan's deputy prosecutor-general, announced on 16 June that 176 people were killed in unrest in Andijon on 13 May, RIA-Novosti reported. The previous official death toll had been 173. Nabiev identified 79 of those killed as "terrorists." He said that the "terrorists" seized 65 hostages, killing 14 of them. In subsequent clashes, the "terrorists" killed 20 policemen, 11 soldiers, and 45 ordinary residents. The identities of 21 people who were killed are still being established, Nabiev said. Independent reports on the bloodshed by the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch cite numerous accounts by eyewitnesses who say that hundreds were killed in Andijon on 13 May when security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June)