4 May 2004, Volume 5, Number 12
IN FOCUSBANNER YEAR FOR EURASIAN RESOLUTIONS AT UN RIGHTS COMMISSION... Each year, human rights groups flock to Geneva with reports of human rights violations in their countries, sometimes compiled at great risk, hoping to get attention at the world's best-known human rights forum, the UN Commission on Human Rights. Both governments and civic groups have increasingly complained about the politicization and ineffectiveness of the commission, chaired last year by Libya for reasons of regional representation, and constantly hobbled by wrangles among regional blocs.
Yet despite the limitations, this year's session was a banner year for resolutions by or about the countries of the former Soviet Union, with a total of four resolutions submitted, three of which passed. Motions to censure human rights in Belarus and Turkmenistan succeeded, while a resolution on Chechnya failed despite U.S. and EU support. A resolution on combating Nazism sponsored by Russia passed, despite U.S. and EU concerns it was directed inappropriately at Latvia specifically and more generally at freedom of assembly.
Fifteen years ago, such efforts were not even contemplated, because the Soviet Union made it clear that it would never entertain resolutions on issues inside its sphere of influence. Only five years ago, resolutions on Eurasia, part of the "Eastern European" group, were conceived but not attempted. The theory was that if any motion were made against Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, or its neighbors, Russia would retaliate by condemning a Baltic state or Central European country like Poland and obstructing other actions.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a breakthrough came in the early 1990s, when the delegation was headed by former political prisoner Sergei Kovalev. Still, old Soviet allies in the developing world continued to claim economic and social rights should trump civil and political rights, and a Russian diplomat with a newfound balance between the two was heard to sigh about the countries obstructing human rights progress, "They are our pupils."
Yet while East and West do continue the battle over the use of armed force, such as in Iraq, or about social justice, new realignments and realities have made it possible to discuss and condemn human rights violations in Russia's sphere of influence. The reason so many Eurasian resolutions could pass this year -- yet still face significant obstacles -- is explained by a conjunction of factors in the post-11 September world. Governments have come to see terrorism rather than human rights problems as a greater concern, and have come to see Russia as a partner in the war on global terrorism. Yet Russia has differentiated and compartmentalized its foreign policy to the extent that it can manage both cooperation and confrontation with the West simultaneously.
The imbalance in the commission's agenda is visible at a glance, with numerous resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but none on Iran or northern Uganda, and with difficult-to-assess norms like "the effect of toxic waste on the enjoyment of human rights" outweighing actions on political imprisonment or torture. In the past, such politicization kept out resolutions on subjects like the crackdown on NGOs in Belarus or the totalitarian rule of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov. Now, various shifts in tactics and coalitions have made it possible for such resolutions to flourish, although with dubious results.
First, after being voted out of the commission in 2002, the United States worked hard to get itself voted back on and came in with an agenda that might have been produced in the Cold War, but was curiously effective in the post-Cold War era. On the U.S. list of topics was Cuba, North Korea, Belarus, and Turkmenistan -- all places where communist or postcommunist totalitarian regimes were in power and still massively abusing human rights.
Second, meeting the United States halfway on these issues was the European Union, perhaps looking for areas where the trans-Atlantic alliance was not so frayed, as it was on matters like the war in Iraq, the death penalty, and the International Criminal Court. Europeans trying to deal with Belarus or Turkmenistan through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were frustrated at the lack of response and the deterioration of conditions in these countries. They were willing to take resolutions to another venue with more international attention. While peacekeeping forces are not easily deployed to enforce them, the human rights treaties of the UN are considered binding, unlike the softer pledges of the OSCE.
Third, countries in the "new Europe," new members of the European Union and NATO, who would have voted with the Soviet bloc in the past against the West, now vote with the EU as a bloc and have genuine concern about poor human rights conditions in neighboring countries. Thus Croatia and Hungary, members this year, favored the moves to censure human rights violation in Belarus, Chechnya, and Turkmenistan.
Fourth, Russia decided not to vigorously block actions on two of its close neighbors, Belarus and Turkmenistan, by attempting vote trades or threats of retaliation. In the past, both Western Europeans and Russia preferred to "sub-contract" the regional issues to the OSCE and keep them out of the UN. Now, Russia tolerated these issues to be raised at the much more publicized forum of the UN Commission on Human Rights, possibly moved by pragmatic concerns such as the gas-line dispute with Minsk and concern about the mistreatment of the Russian minority in Turkmenistan. The Turkmenistan resolution followed an unusual initiative within the UN General Assembly last year, for which Russia voted "yes," criticizing Turkmenistan for failing to cooperate with existing demands from the OSCE to provide access for a special representative on human rights and to political prisoners. Minsk has also proved impervious to the OSCE's calls for basic civil rights during elections and has failed to investigate the disappearances of three politicians and a journalist.
Still, the cooperation on these two resolutions came at a political price. Russia blocked the EU-sponsored motion on Chechnya, and indirectly, did what it had said it would always do to the Baltic states if its sphere of influence was touched, by supporting a thematic resolution about Nazism, containing a paragraph about SS monuments and parades widely perceived as directed against Latvia, where the Russian-speaking community continues to protest discrimination with active encouragement from Moscow.
In general, the commission's members prefer not to have thematic resolutions that appear to be a cover for action against one country, and to avoid inflammatory language such as was finally approved in this resolution, such as notions of "fuelling racism" and "poisoning the minds of youth." Nevertheless, African and Latin American delegates, in explaining their votes, said they believed the resolution was not directed at any one country, or while poorly worded, still deserved support.
African nations wanted to support any kind of action on racism, and some wanted to make sure they showed solidarity with developing countries against resolutions they felt were advanced by the West selectively . Latin Americans did not want to be accused of supporting fascism after years of right-wing military dictatorships. That left the United States and the EU to oppose the Nazism resolution, and appear as if they supported the SS, when in fact their "no" votes were driven by a desire to prevent specific action against the Baltic states and more generally, curbs on freedom of assembly. Latvia has permitted soldiers who fought in World War II, one-third of whom are said to have cooperated with Nazis, to hold parades and commemorations. Russia has seized on these rallies as evidence of Nazi sympathies and used them to discredit the Baltic states in their ongoing dispute about the Russian minority's rights. With the West opposing the resolution, Russia and its allies also gained the propaganda advantage of being able to accuse the West of double standards or worse, sympathy with fascism.
Whatever the factors that eased passage of certain resolutions and blocked others, the blocking tactics drew the fire of NGO activists. "The commission's votes show that powerful countries like Russia and China can still get away with murder, torture, and the silencing of critics," Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying by the "Financial Times" on 17 April. The human rights watchdog said only politically isolated countries, like Turkmenistan, were being censured.
Passed with such difficulty in the swirl of politics, and watered down in the eyes of human rights activists, do such resolutions have any value? They generally contain little follow-up mechanisms other than the inclusion of a special rapporteur, in the case of Belarus, still to be named or in the case of Turkmenistan, a call for review at the next commission session. The value of the resolutions, say human rights activists, is more rhetorical than remedial. Without them, however, they fear worsening of such situations as the muzzling of the media in Belarus, Turkmenistan, or attacks on civilians in Chechnya if there is no resolution or even an attempt at a resolution -- the action is supposed to be a kind of check. They point to situations in the world that have long been missing from top UN agendas, such as Sudan, and say that even weak resolutions matter when it comes to trying to help victims.
Some leaders of democratic revolutions later come to international forums and say that in their darkest hours, the UN resolutions, as toothless as they seemed, were an important form of moral support from the world community and a certain deterrent to oppressive governments. Perhaps the lengths to which governments are willing to go to block resolutions are an indirect recognition of their value. Human rights groups have no choice but to hope that the old adage that "publicity is the best weapon" in their nonviolent struggle is enhanced by the UN Commission for Human Rights' pronouncements.
BELARUS....AS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR DESIGNATED TO LOOK AT RIGHTS... UN experts once said it could not be done, both because of the traditional informal veto on motions in Russia's sphere of influence, and because Belarus's problems seemed small compared to other human rights crises in the world. Last year, a resolution on Belarus easily passed with a vote of 23 in favor, 14 opposed, and 16 abstentions, but contained no special reporting mechanism. This year, in a first for the whole region, a special rapporteur for Belarus has been appointed, even as a similar effort for Turkmenistan failed (see below).
Belarus has long been under scrutiny by the UN's treaty bodies and thematic special rapporteurs, as well as various Western government and NGO human rights programs. The action follows criticism of Belarus's record by the UN Human Rights Committee (not to be confused with the Commission for Human Rights), a panel of experts who determine if a country is complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Two special rapporteurs, on freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary, also visited Belarus in recent years, and the UN's Committee on Torture urged the formation of a national independent body to investigate political disappearances. These rulings may have bolstered the morale of relatives of victims and human rights groups, but did little to affect Minsk's behavior, which has grown only more defiant in recent years, as independent newspapers and nongovernmental groups have been closed or harassed.
The power of Russia to block not only human rights interventions involving its own territory but its neighbors was visible in the handling of the Belarus resolution, and yet the resistance was not so fierce as to succeed. First, Russia called for a "no-action motion," that is, a vote to remove the issue from the agenda and take no action on it, a maneuver often invoked by China to derail attempts to pass resolutions on its human rights record.
Most commission members do not like the procedure itself, since they believe the UN Commission on Human Rights should not be removing human rights matters from the agenda. Therefore, apart from the issue of Belarus per se, the "no-action" motion failed by a roll-call vote of 22 in favor and 22 opposed, with nine abstentions. The tie meant that the resolution had to come to a vote.
Russian delegate Yurii Boichenko immediately made an intervention from the floor, calling the text of the draft resolution "politically motivated" and that the EU and United States, sponsors of the motion, were "guided not by human rights concerns but by political motives." He characterized the content of the text as "absurd," according to a summary record of his speech on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (http://www.unohchr.ch), and claimed that the action came at a time "when the authorities of Belarus were undertaking major changes designed to improve the situation" -- a claim that was difficult to believe. China weighed in as well against the Belarus resolution, as did Cuba.
In support of the resolution, India expressed opposition to the resolution because it called for the special rapporteur named in the text "to have direct contact with the people," a condition not ordinarily specified in such mandates, and therefore ostensibly a troublesome precedent. Later, the commission passed a separate resolution calling for protection against harassment of those who cooperate with such rapporteurs and other officials from the UN in giving human rights testimony. The explicit call about "the people" was appropriate in the case of Belarus, which has either denied visas to officials from international bodies, or sidetracked delegations of visiting foreigners into prolonged meetings with government officials to keep them from meeting with NGOs or relatives of victims.
Belarusian representative Syarhey Aleinik made an impassioned plea against the resolution, using the formulas familiar from the Soviet era, saying the allegations against Belarus were a distraction against the sponsors' own domestic human rights problems and no different than allegations about weapons of mass destruction against Iraq -- an unrelated issue, and one in which Belarus might have more knowledge than it let on, given Western and opposition allegations that it has supported Iraq militarily.
In another Soviet-style propaganda diversion, the Belarusian diplomat wheeled out statistics of a supposed free and flourishing civil society -- 18 political parties apparently even benefiting from general political and financial support from the West; 2,214 public associations, and a NGO sector that had supposedly grown by 70 percent; 52 trade unions; and a media sector that had grown by 20 percent. Not mentioned were dozens of NGOs ordered closed by courts or broken up by police raids, intimidated labor activists, beaten journalists, and closed newspapers, as well as politicians threatened with criminal action for their contacts with foreigners.
In a plea sure to find sympathy in the developing world, the Belarusian official said that special rapporteurs should only be appointed "as a last resort" for those countries "in which mass, gross, and continuing violations of human rights were taking place." Using them on Belarus was "a mere attempt to divert the commission from the consideration of true mass violations of human rights such as in Iraq." Enough members of the commission were convinced of the need for deploying the special rapporteur for Belarus, as the resolution passed with 23 in favor (mainly Western and Eastern Europeans and new democracies like South Korea), 13 opposed (including Armenia, Russia, and Ukraine), and 17 abstentions.
RUSSIA...CONDEMNATION OF KREMLIN'S ACTIONS IN CHECHNYA FAILS... In retrospect, the passage of Chechnya resolutions in previous years now seems an aberration. It was attributable in part to the powerful reports of then-High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who seemed to make a point of challenging the permanent five members of the Security Council, including Russia. It was also possible in the pre-11 September world, when Russia could not as successfully invoke the specter of international terrorism's connection to the Chechen resistance.
This year, Moscow made a concerted effort to quash the resolution, with diplomatic work well in advance of the UN Commission for Human Rights meeting. The state-controlled Russian media characterized the resolution as "politicized" and out of place. In a related move, Russia stalled the passage of a resolution on children in armed conflict at the Security Council when it appeared as if Chechnya would be referenced in the text.
As with Belarus, Russia put the EU-sponsored Chechnya initiative to a "no-action" vote, which resulted in a tie, which then required a vote. The resolution then failed, with 12 in favor, 23 opposed, and 18 abstentions. The vote spread was characteristic of any resolution on internal conflicts in any of the permanent five Security Council members or their close allies, yet was also partly a function of the age-old "veto" on addressing the region through the commission. Even the help of "new Europe," such as Croatia's and Hungary's "yes" votes, was not enough to win it. Armenia, which always votes with Russia, turned in a "no" for Chechnya. Ukraine also voted "no." New democracies like South Africa (no) and South Korea (abstain), Latin American democracies (abstain), and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (many abstained) stayed out of the battle for their own reasons.
NGOs, especially from Russia, who had worked assiduously to promote the text were dismayed. Not only did the resolution fail but also there was applause after the tabulation of the vote, "The Independent" reported from Geneva on 16 April. "This should not be seen as confrontation but as part of a dialogue," Irish representative Mary Whelan said on behalf of 30 European countries, "The Independent" reported.
In analysis of the initiative for "Kommersant," Igor Sedykh quoted a Russian human rights campaigner who preferred not to be named as saying he believed the vote was due to "excessive politicization" of the commission -- a common criticism but one he elaborated upon to blame the West, not his own country. In an attempt to get it passed, the text of the resolution was watered down in negotiations, with a section welcoming Russia's efforts to "ensure normal conditions of life for the civilian population" as well as several trials and convictions of military personnel found guilty of crimes against civilians. It also contained recognition of Russia's territorial integrity, strong condemnation of terrorist attacks, and condemned disappearances, abductions, and executions in a general way so as to apply to both Russian forces and Chechen fighters.
"If everything had been focused on the topic of the protection of the population's rights under conditions of a military conflict, and in particular on the abduction of thousands of people and the demand to call those responsible to account, it would have had a far better chance," the activist was quoted as saying by Sedykh.
Russian delegate Leonid Skotnikov denounced the EU, sponsors of the resolution, characterizing it as an "unfriendly act" hindering the peace process and even saying such actions "played into the hands of terrorists." He claimed normalization "had become irreversible" and a "political solution was constantly being pursued." He cited the opening of public health and educational institutions and said Chechen extremists were tied to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
In explaining its support for the vote, but not serving as a co-sponsor, the United States said the Russian government had to resolve the conflict, but said Chechen rebel leaders also have a responsibility to stop human rights abuses, and said the United States did not support secession from Russia. It strongly condemned terrorism and did not refute the Russian claims of the resistance's connection to global terrorism.
The Irish EU representative was said to be "harsher" in her speech, accusing Russia of "concealing crimes," "Kommersant" quoted her as saying. Her remarks, if made, were entirely missing from the official UN summary of the session.
In a briefing for reporters on 15 April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted the resolution as "far-fetched and unappreciative of the real shifts in the political process and of the normalization of life in the Chechen Republic." He added, "All attempts to present the situation in Chechnya as a problem from the point of view of human rights are made-up attempts that do not reflect the real state of affairs."
In a statement published by Prague Watchdog on 17 April, Ruslan Isaev, a Chechen human rights activist, said that the failure to back the resolution illustrated that "the international community essentially denied that the Chechnya problem exists, thereby postponing an end to the war." The UN Commission's failure to act was "giving war supporters a free hand," he said.
Only a week before the vote, the bodies of nine men, who had disappeared after being taken by Russian forces from their homes, were found dead bearing the marks of extrajudicial execution, Human Rights Watch reported on 13 April, saying such grave incidents should serve as a "wake-up call" to the commission to "break this ongoing cycle of abuse and impunity." The organization cited villagers in Duba-Yurt as saying on 27 March that eight Russian military vehicles with muddied license plates entered the village, with armored personnel carriers typical of the Russian Army. Internal military instructions for such sweeps mandated several years ago require that license plates and identifying insignia be clearly marked, but they are routinely camouflaged.
With the failure of the Chechnya resolution, states are not likely to attempt one again next year. NGOs may look to other venues to raise their concerns, such as the Council of Europe.
...AS RUSSIAN-SPONSORED RACISM RESOLUTION SUCCEEDS... A Russian-sponsored resolution with the cumbersome title of "Inadmissibility of certain practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance" was passed with 36 votes in favor, 13 opposed, and four abstentions. Western countries said it was specifically aimed at Latvia, AP reported on 19 April. AP noted that some 250,000 Latvians fought on either side of the conflict when control of Latvia changed three times between Nazi and Soviet forces during World War II. Some 35,000 Latvians were killed or deported under the Soviet occupation. Ninety percent of the Jewish population before the war was killed under the Nazi occupation. The Simon Wiesenthal Center says a third of the Latvian Waffen SS troops may have played a role in the massacre of Jews, although Latvian historians say the numbers are lower and were used in Soviet propaganda.
The United States and the EU, including countries that joined on 1 May such as Hungary, opposed the resolution and some new democracies abstained. The overwhelming number of "yes" votes that had been unable to support or abstain on the resolutions on Belarus and Turkmenistan was a tribute to the powerful issue of race in opposition to the West, and many lingering disputes since the World Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001. Western nations also did not see the need for Russia's text when another resolution passed at the commission involved implementation of the Durban final document, including the problems of Nazism and extremism of concern to Russia.
The Russian-sponsored resolution explicitly mentions concern for "the glorification of former members of the Waffen SS organization, in particular, erecting monuments and memorials as well as holding public demonstrations of former SS members...." that "do injustice to the memory of the countless victims of the SS organization and poison the minds of young people" -- a clear allegation to Latvia where such rallies and monuments have been at issue.
The resolution also notes "the spread and multiplication of various extremist political parties, movements and groups, including neo-Nazis and skinheads." Whatever the relevance for Latvia, since the resolution does not mention specific countries, it could apply as well to Russia itself, which has seen dozens of killings and injuries of foreigners in recent years at the hands of skinhead attackers. Police say at least 50,000 skinheads are active in Russia.
TURKMENISTAN...AND FOCUS ON ASHGABAT'S NONCOOPERATION IS RENEWED. This session's resolution on Turkmenistan's failure to comply with human rights obligations follows resolutions at both the UN Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly last year. As is often the case with the commission's resolutions, there is some language of praise for the state's cooperation, usually a bid to get the country involved in negotiating the terms of the resolution in good faith. While the OSCE's rapporteur on Turkmenistan has still not been issued a visa, and compiled his report from outside the country, the resolution skips over that reality and thanks Turkmenistan for receiving the personal representative of the OSCE's chairman in office and the OSCE high commissioner for national minorities, who is often deployed when the minorities at issue are Russians or Russian speakers.
The resolution also praises the March 2004 decree on "freedom of movement" and hopes "that it will apply to the large number of people who regrettably remained unable to leave the country following earlier repeal of exit visas." After covering these diplomatic courtesies, the resolution deals frankly with "arbitrary detention, imprisonment and surveillance of persons who try to exercise their freedoms of thought, expression, assembly and association, and harassment of their families"; poor prison conditions; suppression of free speech and the media; and discrimination against ethnic Russians, Uzbeks, and other minorities.
Like so many OSCE and UN resolutions, this one was preoccupied with listing all the occasions when Turkmenistan failed to cooperate with the UN or other institutions, i.e. the continued denial of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as lawyers and relatives, access to persons detained "following the events of 25 November 2002" as the purported coup attempt and crackdown on the opposition are euphemistically portrayed. Also mentioned are new restrictions on public associations and religious organizations. The UN Commission urges Ashgabat to cooperate with the OSCE and the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights. Such dialogue as there is has involved Turkmenistan seeking to get soft programming like "human rights education" in exchange for a tacit recognition that it is thereby "cooperating."
The resolution for Turkmenistan, where conditions are more widely recognized as severely oppressive, was not as difficult to pass as the one for Belarus. Twenty-five voted in favor; 11 were opposed, including China, Cuba, Pakistan, and surprisingly, Ukraine; and 17 abstained, including Armenia, Russia, India, all of which had voted "no" on the Belarus resolution. Last year, Russia, which had cast a "no" vote when a similar resolution was at the UN General Assembly, now pulled back, possibly influenced by other anti-Western balancing acts it needed to perform at the commission, or aware that it had hit Ashgabat hard enough.
NGOs were disappointed that the resolution contained no provision for a special rapporteur just on Turkmenistan. This is partly due to a reluctance to deploy a country-focused rapporteur at a fairly early stage in the UN's involvement (only two years of resolutions, which is a short time in terms of UN bodies), partly due to real budgetary restrictions, and partly due to avid lobbying by countries with poor human rights records to eliminate the country-focused rapporteurs of any type, and replace them with more vague thematic rapporteurs.
While lacking the country-specific rapporteur, to give the reporting function of the resolution a little more teeth, the resolution calls on Turkmenistan to facilitate visits from seven different UN offices: the special rapporteurs on independence of judiciary, torture, extrajudicial executions, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the representatives on displaced persons and human rights defenders. Given other UN practices and resolutions designed to prevent bombardment of countries with series of such visits, if permitted to enter at all, they may come in groups or determine which of the mandates are the most relevant.
The gravity of the topics for these rapporteurs -- unlikely to ever gain entry to the country -- and the long list of ongoing abuse and noncooperation appear offset by another arm of the UN, the UN International Children's Fund (UNICEF), whose representative visited Ashgabat on 10 April for two days to meet with ministries to draft a program of collaboration for 2005-09. The program is mainly to deal with issues of development and health issues such as salt iodination and flour fortification with iron. This is the type of development program that the UN maintains even with very uncooperative states for the sake of humanitarian concerns and to keep communication channels open. UNICEF plans to send its regional director to Turkmenistan in September 2004 to sign the new four-year-plan, launch a national plan of action for children, and celebrate 10 years of Turkmenistan-UNICEF cooperation.
It is well-known how the regime makes propagandistic use of such programs. For years, Turkmenistan has trumpeted its "neutrality" status supposedly formerly conferred by the UN, although there is no such UN-sanctioned status, and a routine statement of acknowledgement of Turkmenistan's own move to declare this status is misleadingly portrayed as such.
Because multilateral institutions can send such mixed signals, sometimes necessitated by humanitarian need, some Western governments do not find them so effective in dealing with a regime like that in power in Turkmenistan. The United States and the EU continue to attempt to engage Turkmenistan. NGOs are generally concerned that the need to enlist Central Asian cooperation in the war on terrorism has caused some corners to be cut on human rights. They cite, for example, the fly-over rights Turkmenistan granted in an agreement signed with the United States at the outset of military operations in Afghanistan, and believe failure to progress on human rights could be related.
Yet it is difficult to prove any connection between necessary military arrangements from the United States or NATO on the one hand, or humanitarian agreements by the UN on the other, and the neglect of human rights obligations by Ashgabat, which is determined to suppress civil society in any event and constantly rejects genuine human rights cooperation as a threat to its power. What remains is a perception that leverage has been lost.
In the coming weeks, the United States will make a determination whether Turkmenistan is to receive the term "country of particular concern" regarding its continued poor record on ensuring religious freedom, under U.S. law. After the UN General Assembly resolution and possibly in an effort to forestall or soften the resolution of the Commission on Human Rights, Turkmenistan unveiled changes to the religion law that seemed to remove obstacles for registration of religious groups. To date, groups hoping to be legally registered under the law have remained disappointed. These types of feints and punts on the part of countries targeted by UN resolutions are perhaps indirect proof that they do serve to get the attention of recalcitrant governments and move them at least to make small steps.
Some observers believe that too great isolation of Turkmenistan will drive it into the hands of Russia and other neighbors and increase its belligerence. In addition to the UN and OSCE, governments try to maintain cooperation with the government to try to affect change, if only gradually. Undersecretary of State for Management Grant Green, the highest U.S. official to visit Turkmenistan, visited Ashgabat last week to discuss a range of issues.
The possible deterrent effects of UN resolutions or high-level bilateral talks are not immediately evident. On 28 April, the Justice Ministry notified Catena, an ecology club supported by foreign grants, that it was closed, the second recent case of a failure to register an NGO. Last year, a local environmental group, Dashoguz, was shut down. Catena had worked with the UN, OSCE, and World Wildlife Fund on such issues as the rescue of a population of rare leopards and desertification of the Aral Sea.