26 February 2003, Volume 4, Number 2
IN FOCUSHAZING AND THE DRAFT DECRIED, CHECHEN DEPORTATION REMEMBERED ON RED ARMY DAY IN RUSSIA. The traditional Red Army Day on 23 February continues to be celebrated in Russia as the day honoring Defenders of the Fatherland, and this year became an official day off from work as well. Pollsters found that 64 percent of the public still completely trusts the army, followed by a slightly lesser number (55 percent) who believe the military can still defend Russia from an external threat, reported polit.ru, citing a VTsIOM survey. Nearly half (47 percent) believe Russia actually faces such a threat, although only 23 percent believe in a compulsory draft.
Many are aware of hazing in the army and discount official claims of only 10 percent of units being involved in the practice, polit.ru reported. The Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) held a joint press conference to announce the formation of a new group called "No to Hazing!" polit.ru and other wire services reported on 23 February. The new fund is part of a campaign by SPS leader Boris Nemtsov to reform the army, and the group plans to offer legal aid to soldiers in need.
Officially, the beating and intimidation of soldiers by each other or by their seniors is known as "neustavnye otnosheniya" or "nonregulation relations" although popularly, the practice is known as "dedovshchina," a word with the same root as "grandfather" or "elder." The Soldiers' Mothers claim 2,000 soldiers died last year outside of combat areas due to such harsh hazing practices. Some 40,000 soldiers appealed to their group for help with abuses, including 2,867 in Moscow. Members of the Yabloko party also used the occasion to demonstrate in front of the draft boards in Moscow calling for "a professional army and a decent standard of living" for soldiers, and against the compulsory draft, the Agency for Social Information reported on 20 February.
Conscientious objectors have been critical of a new federal law on alternative service due to go into effect in January 2004, because it specifies that draftees refusing to bear arms will still have to live in barracks outside their home district. At a hearing in the State Duma on 20 February, the deputy ministry of labor announced that there were indications of more than 40,000 workplaces available for alternative service announced by local governments, but they complained that they had no housing available or funding for travel. Officials are still disputing the type of workplaces for performing alternative service, with some claiming jobs in the military-industrial complex would be as appropriate as positions in health or agriculture, "Vremya novostei" reported on 21 February.
The Chief Military Prosecutor's Office says the Soldiers' Mothers claims are inflated, but still admits to 1,200 noncombat deaths for the armed forces in 2002, reporting that 2,000 noncombat deaths were suffered by all persons in uniform from the "power ministries," with 10,500 soldiers and officers killed in the last three years and an additional 75,500 wounded on noncombat duty, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 February. These figures are close to official statistics for the nine-year war in Afghanistan, where 14,433 were killed and 54,000 were wounded, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The Military Prosecutor also admitted that 800 soldiers and officers were killed by their own men -- an indirect symptom of hazing which leads to vengeance murders. The Military Prosecutor has even more cases than the Soldiers' Mothers, saying that in 2002 43,000 investigations were conducted on the basis of soldiers' complaints with findings of some 80,000 violations, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Another NGO, Mother's Right, says the numbers per year are more like 3,000, because some suicides are the result of hazing, and some deaths are from lack of medical care, such as a young man who reportedly first developed blisters from army boots and wound up dying of sepsis. Fleeing such conditions, some 6,000 soldiers were said to have deserted last year, the Soldiers' Mothers said.
Authenticating the reports of brutality, especially given the tendency of those in uniform to close ranks, can be extremely difficult. In St. Petersburg, the Soldiers' Mothers attempted to mount an official investigation into numerous complaints about the Nakhimov Academy, site of alleged beatings and sexual harassment by fascistic groups, polit.ru reported on 25 February. The Military Prosecutor of the Leningrad Military District could not confirm the complaints. At least one mother found that appeals sent to the Military Prosecutor about a senior military official of the academy led to that official calling her in and producing her own letter -- which went no further.
Dark hints were made about the fate of Dmitrii Kholodov, an investigative reporter who exposed military corruption and was blown up by a suitcase bomb in 1996. After another military tragedy on 20 February in Krasnoyarsk, where a soldier shot four of his fellow soldiers before committing suicide, President Vladimir Putin commented that "discipline needs to be improved" and "nonregulation relations" eliminated, although prosecutors continued to maintain in comments to the Russian media that "nervous breakdowns" rather than hazing were at issue in many cases.
Coincidentally on 23 February, surrounded by some 80,000 Russian troops stationed in the North Caucasus, Chechens marked with rallies and gatherings their national day of mourning, the 59th anniversary of the date in 1944 when the Chechen-Ingush people were deported to Central Asia, thousands dying en route. In Moscow, some 300 people carrying signs saying "Europe and America -- stop Putin in Chechnya," and "Stop the Kremlin's terrorism in Chechnya" lit candles and observed a moment of silence in memory of the deportees at a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, AFP reported the same day.
Eldar Zeynalov, a human rights activist from Azerbaijan, recalled a story of a police chief, his relative, who took part in the deportation in 1944. The relative, a former NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) official, said he and other Soviet police were ordered to force Chechen villagers to leave their homes and walk along mountain roads under armed guard. Some of the Chechen men managed to grab rifles and scramble up cliffs to shoot at the police guards, who were walking along the side of the road, apart from the crowd. He described how the guards were then forced to break orders and separated the villagers' column into two and walked between the civilians, using them as a live shield on both sides. They sent an elder to tell the Chechens hiding in the mountains that if they kept shooting, they would fire into the crowd. The firing stopped, and the Chechens were forced into trains to be taken into exile in Central Asia.
AZERBAIJANRESTRICTIVE NGO REGULATIONS HINDER DEMOCRACY. In fiscal-year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spent an estimated $43.89 million in Azerbaijan and has requested $46 million for 2003, according to reports published at usaid.gov. The program follows a strategy of "[supporting] Azerbaijan's transition to a democratic society and an open market economy." The amount is significantly lower than aid given to former Soviet states, in part explained by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, a congressional sanction imposed on Azerbaijan due to its blockade of Armenia, which USAID anticipates will be waived soon.
Although Azerbaijan is a strategic partner for the U.S. and a business partner for oil-pipeline development, even the decorous USAID says its "inability to work with the government of Azerbaijan to create an enabling and supporting environment has hampered the achievement of more sustainable and far-reaching results, especially in the areas of private sector development and health." USAID talks about the need for civil society to be "better organized and represented," a goal worth just $5.5 million of the total budget, to be raised to $6 million next year.
Like other USAID programs, even these scant millions do not necessarily find their way into direct grants to local NGOs. A "civil society" program, broadly understood, includes civic education for municipalities and technical training where funding can be made to local government or state-sponsored institutions; professional development for judges, lawyers, and others for which U.S. consultants and their infrastructure must be covered; and legislative commentary and assistance also requiring U.S. experts.
Still, some hundreds of thousands of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent in direct assistance to NGOs -- that is, if they can be registered by authorities, permitted to open a bank account and receive a grant, and avoid paying a large chunk of it to government coffers in taxes. Last year, the Heidar Aliyev administration, partly justifying the move by the need to combat foreign Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, passed new legislation requiring notification and taxation of foreign grants.
The NGO sector has already struggled for a number of years to achieve consistent application of regulations governing registration of civic groups by the Justice Ministry. When Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2000, Europeans used the leverage during the accession process to obtain registration for several groups that had long been denied status. Even so, at least one NGO had to jettison a controversial crusading civil rights lawyer from their board to clear political hurdles before registration, and another group that retained the same man was denied registration. Although under pressure to bring laws into conformity with international standards, the law on associations passed in 2000 in fact does not specifically address procedures for legalization.
Although registration is not formally required to enjoy freedom of assembly under international norms, the post-Soviet states are notorious among authoritarian countries of the world for creating complicated and cumbersome routes to legalization that make the political discretion of officials paramount in the process. Faced with intransigent local governments and various international political imperatives, U.S. and other international officials have not been willing to hold all forms of aid and trade hostage to the securing of this one fundamental democratic right: to register all NGOs that meet certain basic criteria on a fair and nonprejudicial basis and allow them freedom of operation.
Within policy limits, Americans do nevertheless advocate for civil society. Stephanie Rust, director of the Azerbaijan program of the Institute for Social Renewal in Eurasia (ISAR), said NGO laws are "vague, open to interpretation, and therefore poorly implemented" and like other laws, are dependent on internal regulations of the Justice Ministry not available to the public (see ISAR's special issue below under "Recommended News Links"). She noted the successful lawsuit of Ecolex-Azerbaijan Environmental Law Center, an NGO that sued the Justice Ministry over its right to register and won its point in theory, although it remains without legal status to date. Without such status, cooperation with international donors becomes impossible.
The U.S.-funded International Center for Nonprofit Law has also worked for some years in Azerbaijan, analyzing existing law and proposing alternatives, and yet its advice is not heeded because of the essential unwillingness of those in power to concede the right to existence of those who challenge them. Although the problem is obvious and common to other dictatorships, the international aid community has persisted in treating the deeper political problem of legitimacy for NGOs as a complicated legal matter requiring special international expertise, the sponsoring of numerous workshops, and handbooks on registration to help local groups to wend their way through the system.
ISAR-Azerbaijan has helped 41 NGOs to complete their documents, but 19 were rejected and 12 are still pending notification. Many of these groups are active in environmental and social issues and do not pose any obvious threat to the authoritarian government as do more radical human rights and media groups, some of which never bother to enter the registration process at all. In answer to charges of bias, officials point to the scores of groups they have registered to claim that they have a reasonable procedure. Here, the existence of "GONGOs," or government-organized NGOs, continue to muddy the issue, as numerous groups helped by UN Development Program (UNDP) or the World Bank can always be found (some created for the express purpose of receiving funding from those bodies) that can claim they had no problem getting registered using inside government contacts, and who portray those who fail to clear the hurdles as "too political," regardless of their agenda.
The December law on grants requires NGOs to notify authorities of the receipt of grants and to pay 27 percent of their payroll to a fund for social insurance and pension contributions. Activists worry that these new rules could cause government intrusion into their activities and force them to lay off staff, eurasianet.org reported (see http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav022403.shtml). By contrast, an NGO operating in New York State pays just 8 percent in social security and related payroll taxes, and in most Western democracies the low-salaried, more efficient work of NGOs in social services is appreciated and encouraged by both governments and publics through tax exemption for donors.
Although the new law is worrisome, Margo Squire of the U.S. government-funded Eurasia Foundation, which operates in Azerbaijan, believes NGOs are "learning new tactics through the lobbying process and are making important new contacts with the authorities," eurasianet.org reported. Squire, the wife of U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson, writing in ISAR's special issue, says NGOs in Azerbaijan are "hampered by a public that doesn't understand or appreciate their activities, as well as by government officials who view them with suspicion or even as threats to their power." Squire says while local NGOs worked separately "and sometimes at crossed purposes" contradicting each other in appeals and "fought among themselves at press conferences," eventually they were corralled into an impressive advocacy coalition, assisted by ISAR, Eurasia, and the UNDP.
The international organizations used their access to high-level officials denied local NGOs to speak against the new grants law. A group of 21 ambassadors, donors, international NGOs, and even oil companies signed a joint petition to President Aliyev asking him not to sign the law on grants, says Squire. Other donors and Western governments and the Council of Europe were drawn into the cause and eventually given an assurance by the president's chief of staff that the president would not sign the amendment.
Regrettably, as with other past human rights-related assurances in Azerbaijan, the short-term satisfaction over a successful advocacy campaign was shattered. Over the New Year's holiday, President Aliyev signed the law in secret, ignoring foreign concerns. Now officials are hastening to assure worried NGOs that the new law involves only notification, not vetting. They further play on public suspicion of little-understood NGOs to emphasize the need for transparency of NGO budgets. Most NGOs and their foreign sponsors agree accountability and the payment of some payroll taxes are reasonable demands to place on NGOs, and yet in the Azerbaijani context, such measures can constitute unacceptable government control. In any event, assurances made in time for a visit by Azerbaijan's leader to the U.S. scheduled for 26 February are likely to require persistent follow-up by international aid officials to gain freedom for the NGO sector.
KYRGYZSTANLOCAL NGOS BLAST U.S. ELECTION MONITORS. Local NGOs in Kyrgyzstan have criticized the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an organization affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party that receives congressionally allocated government funding to promote democratic institutions and free and fair elections abroad. In a statement published in the state-run newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" on 13 February, the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan and 27 civic groups claimed NDI harbored an "unconstructive and disgraceful distrust toward civil society," which it accused NDI of "splitting" by engaging in "double-standard politics." The declaration claimed the U.S. group was "intruding into the political affairs" of Kyrgyzstan.
Other expatriates in Bishkek summed up the issue as "NDI just doing its job" -- it is not the first time the group has faced heat from local governments or citizens' groups in the course of having to make judgements about flawed electoral processes. NDI itself calmly referred everyone to their report on the referendum on the record (see http://www.ndi.org/worldwide/eurasia/kyrgyzstan/kyrgyzstan_statement_020403.asp).
Evidently, frank criticism of the conditions for holding an ill-advised public referendum in statements published earlier this month made the government of Kyrgyzstan unhappy, along with pro-government NGOs characterized by some smaller, more independent democracy groups as "GONGOs" or "government-organized NGOs. International observers have said that in its zeal to promote the constitutional referendum, the Askar Akaev administration helped create new NGOs or relied on existing loyalist civic groups to create a semblance of popular support. The Coalition of NGOs for Democracy and Civil Society said over 60 percent of its observers witnessed no violations during the referendum, the government newspaper reported.
That assessment doesn't square with NDI's own findings, which included numerous violations, such as "family voting"(a head of household voting for all its members), repeat voting, and coaching of voters by local government officials. NDI also noted "the abrupt naming of a new constitutional advisory board, the issuance without public consultation by that board of new amendments that further increase the powers of the presidency at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches of government, the scheduling of the referendum on extremely short notice, the lack of information made available to the public, and the procedures surrounding the voting itself."
Other foreign organizations shared NDI's assessment. International Foundation for Electoral Systems Chairman Chedomir Flego, who said he had observed elections in Liberia, Cambodia, and the Balkans, was quoted as saying he had "never seen an election with so many violations as in Kyrgyzstan," "ResPublika" reported on 14 February .
A leader among the groups criticizing NDI is the Association of Nongovernmental and Noncommercial NGOs, known for adopting a stance critical of the antigovernment protestors in Aksy during a time of unrest last year. The association has actively supported the referendum. Given the complicated NGO politics in a country in transition, even close observers cannot always tell whether the government co-opts civic groups already genuinely close to the authorities in their views, or actually plants provocateurs to disrupt NGOs and keep them preoccupied with mutual reproaches.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not send observers to the referendum because of the short notice, as it requires two months' notification from member countries. The opposition Public Headquarters for Monitoring the Referendum has submitted evidence collected by independent observers concerning violations recorded on the day of the referendum to the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, a spokesperson for the group said an appeal would be sent to international experts to determine the correspondence of the constitutional amendments with international standards.
TURKMENISTANMIXED BIRTHDAY GREETINGS FOR A DICTATOR. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and three other human rights groups conceived a novel campaign this month to bring attention to what they call "appalling" human rights abuse in Turkmenistan. Tongue in cheek, they sent a birthday greeting to President Saparmurat Niyazov but with a twist: the president should celebrate the occasion of his 63rd birthday on 19 February by releasing political prisoners and ensuring fair and public trials for 59 persons already convicted in the November attack on the leader's motorcade.
The cards-and-letter campaign, accompanied by demonstrations in front of Turkmenistan's embassies in various capitals, was picked up by local groups in Central Asia who embellished it further. Steeped in the traditions of flattery for leaders for which their region is known, two representatives of the Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media in Central Asia from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan gushed in a statement timed for Turkmenbashi's birthday, "We, like each and every one of the subjects of your country, are perfectly aware of the value of your outstanding activity." Risking a partial, distorting reprint in "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan," the leading state daily, the Central Asian journalists went on to praise "Turkmenbashi" as he is known for his "sacred labor in the field of domestic and foreign policies" recognized by "millions on the planet." They welcomed the translation into many languages of the president's idiosyncratic moral code known as the "Rukhnama," but suddenly switched gears mid-message, commenting that it could take a place on the shelf with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and be studied for centuries as a key to understanding how a "flourishing, most rich country could be led to totalitarianism."
The media groups have reported numerous restrictions of press freedom and the expulsion of journalists from Turkmenistan. All the human rights groups called for the admission of human rights monitors to Turkmenistan in response to outside concern. Already the government of Turkmenistan has formally declined to issue an entry visa to OSCE Rapporteur on Turkmenistan Emmanuel Decaux. Decaux will submit a report to the Permanent Council of the OSCE by the end of February, regardless of whether he is able to conduct the field investigation. The current chairman-in-office of the OSCE, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has postponed his trip to Central Asia, including Turkmenistan, which was originally scheduled for 10-14 February, saying it may be rescheduled for later in the year.
Meanwhile, not to disappoint expectations, Niyazov's administration arranged military parades, concerts, and flag-waving crowds with "even more portraits of the president on display than usual," AFP reported on 19 February. Niyazov has become infamous around the world for his cult of personality, involving elaborate adulation ranging from perfumes named after him to his own renaming of the days of the week. Last year, the president even changed the "ages of man" by decreeing that youth lasts until the age of 37 and old age begins at 85, ensuring that he remains middle-aged.
Officials prodded by the NGOs to respond to the ongoing human rights crisis in Turkmenistan were more staid in their response. De Hoop Scheffer said on 20 February that he was "very worried" about events in Turkmenistan but said it was too soon to say whether the response to Decaux's report might lead to Turkmenistan's suspension from the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). In the OSCE's history, only the former Yugoslavia was suspended during the Balkans war. Western OSCE members are reluctant to define criteria for expulsion that might require renegotiating principles established in past agreements, or would mean starting proceedings against a number of members. Some West Europeans feel that wayward countries can be better influenced by retaining ties to multilateral institutions rather than being isolated from them. Other, newer members of the Council of Europe could not be expected to support expulsion of their neighbor from the OSCE.
Azerbaijan's leader, himself criticized for his human rights record at home, sent a birthday greeting to Niyazov, saying his "far-sighted and purposeful policy firmly and resolutely leads Turkmenistan toward democratic reforms and integration into the world community," Turan reported on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003). With such international support, and many years before his old age will begin, President Niyazov still has time to change.
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSINTERNATIONAL. A new web database launched by Professor Anne Bayefsky, a world-renowned expert on the United Nations human rights treaty system, provides user-friendly organization of all relevant UN materials by country or theme. Readers who have been daunted by the UN's own complex websites will find easily accessed decisions on individual cases as well as detailed guidance on how to use the complaint procedures as well as forms and address. http://www.bayefsky.com
AZERBAIJAN. "Give and Take," a quarterly magazine of the Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia, is dedicated to Azerbaijan's "groundswell of civil society". Articles include discussion on obstacles to NGO registration, aid to war-affected children, government-NGO cooperation on AIDS education, help for women in prison, a comparison of conditions for civic movements in Azerbaijan and Belarus, and NGO concerns about the impact of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. http://www.isar.org/isar/archive/GT/GT16editorsnote.html
IRAQ. "Kuwait: Iraqi Shi'ites Eager But Wary Of Post-Hussein Iraq." RFE/RL reports that while exiled Iraqi Shi'ites in Kuwait question Washington's plans for a postwar government in Iraq, they welcome the possibility of Saddam Hussein's ouster by U.S.-led military action so they can return home and start rebuilding the country. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/02/24022003161523.asp
IRAQ. "U.S.: Plan For Postwar Iraq Sparks Debate -- And Kurdish Fears". The Bush administration has been under pressure to lay out its vision for a postwar Iraq. On 21 February, "The Washington Post" published details of what U.S. officials call a final blueprint for Iraq's future, should Washington embark on an offensive against Baghdad. As RFE/RL reports, the plan is already sparking heated debate. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/02/24022003143921.asp
MOLDOVA. Moldova has been headed in the wrong direction -- politically, economically, and socially -- since the election of Communist leader Vladimir Voronin in 2001, says Iurie Rosca, head of the largest pro-democracy opposition party in Moldova, the People's Party Christian Democratic, at an RFE/RL briefing on 14 February. http://www.regionalanalysis.org/events/briefings/2003/02/14022003.asp
RUSSIA. The website of Memorial Society Human Rights Center whose link was posted in last week's issue of "(Un)Civil Societies" was attacked on 21 February by unknown hackers who destroyed some 26,000 files about the Northern Caucasus. Most documents have been restored but some recent files were lost. Latest news can be accessed at http://www.kavkaz.memo.ru/ as well as http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/index.htm
UZBEKISTAN. "The Changing Role Of The 'Mahalla'" On 7 February, the cabinet of ministers of Uzbekistan issued a resolution proclaiming 2003 as "The Year of the Mahalla" as a way of strengthening the mahalla as a component of civil society. The measure hopes to create 160,000 new jobs and help to poor families. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/02/24022003174709.asp