4 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 7
IN FOCUSANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT BONDS RUSSIAN, EUROPEAN PUBLICS. Russians still have to endure the ignominy of discussion of their government's behavior in Chechnya in select forums like this week's session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which reviewed a proposal by a German delegate to hold a war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed by both Russian federal and Chechen rebel forces. But the mass marches in the capitals of Europe aren't turned toward Russia's war, they are aimed against the war in Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict. The war in Iraq has achieved what no amount of Council of Europe-sponsored workshops on racism could expect. Now a diverse range of social groups across the continent, from immigrant Muslim youth in France, to German Greens, to Muslim clerics in Russia are bonding with each other against a common target -- the U.S. and its war against Iraq, which they are unanimous in believing is ill-conceived and illegal in terms of international norms, whatever the cultural or religious issues, such as attitudes toward women, that might divide them.
More than 2,000 people led by the pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together held a rally on 22 March in front of the Moscow residence of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). The activists brought cans of oil so that "Americans won't be freezing in their homes" and "cars won't be abandoned on the streets of New York because of empty gas tanks," movement leader Vasilii Yakemenko explained, according to the news agency. No matches were lit.
Smaller antiwar rallies were held near U.S. facilities in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Nizhnii Novgorod, where on 23 March around 50 people -- mostly members of an antiglobalist youth group and a Communist youth movement � protested in front of a McDonald's restaurant, "Kommersant-Daily" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003).
Some Russian commentators did not agree antiwar street protest was growing. "Instead of demonstrations running into the millions," there are "meetings of 100 'hired hands,'" Leonid Radzhikhovskii wrote in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 29 March, commenting on the absence of the kind of mass demonstrations that used to be orchestrated by the state in the Soviet era, or which spontaneously grew from public discontent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "We have no civil society, we are not accustomed to organizing demonstrations, and there has been no command from above...it is not yet over, though! Perhaps some weekend demonstration will be put together?"
Other analysts chalked up the new anti-Americanism to electioneering. In an essay titled "If Iraq Wins, Russia Loses" published on 2 April, "The Moscow Times" columnist Andrei Piontkovsky commented: "Our tireless political strategists seem to have realized that whipping up anti-Chechen feelings to galvanize Russian society doesn't work all that well anymore. In preparation for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, they seem to be planning to rally the nation on the basis of anti-Americanism. And society, like an old war horse whose ears prick up at the familiar battle cry, is ready to respond with every last ounce of self-destructive passion."
Not usually known for their international discourse on pressing humanitarian issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin was calling up U.S. President George W. Bush and telling him to be mindful of civilians in combat zones, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was excoriating those who wish to "bring democracy on the wings of a Tomahawk missile."
Although Russian human rights groups who have protested their own government's human rights violations in Chechnya might have been expected to exclaim, "look who's talking!" instead, they lined up to condemn the war in Iraq, and filed petitions with the U.S., British, and Iraqi embassies in Moscow. Memorial Society and Moscow Helsinki Group called on the U.S. and others in the coalition to stop bombing and shelling cities from which the population has not yet been evacuated, to create "humanitarian corridors" free from attack via which people could flee, not to prevent people from fleeing into enemy territory, and to provide water, food, medicine, and shelter to those fleeing. Some of their requests would likely elicit criticism from international NGOs, who are mindful of the UN's failure to guarantee a "safe haven" to the men of Srebrenica in the Balkan wars. They are also leery of having the military dispense humanitarian aid (see below under "Recommended News Links"). Memorial called on Iraq not to block the exit of civilians fleeing battle zones or into enemy territory, not to block humanitarian aid, and not to place military sites among residential areas or hospitals, dams, food warehouses, etc.
Only a few months ago, the Russian Muslim community might have felt themselves on the defensive, as the Russian press was filled with stories of "20,000 'zombified' youth" ostensibly created from dozens of special camps said to be run by Islamic fundamentalist centers in Russia. Now, just as Muslim immigrant youth in France can bond with the President Jacques Chirac and others against the war in Iraq, Russian Muslims who generally refrained from criticism of the handling of the Chechen conflict have an acceptable target -- the United States and its allies -- and a reason to back Putin.
On the popular website islam.ru, readers can find an ardent call -- "Stop the war! Stop Zionism! Stop fascism!" -- reminiscent of the old discredited Soviet-sponsored slogan "Zionism is racism," which was repudiated by the UN after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but has resurfaced. "Break the battle spirit of the aggressor! Let them go into battle with trembling hands and knees!" says a message on the website. "Deluge the soldiers with letters of hatred to the aggressor and to this war! Let this be our concerted bombing of their lying souls! (see http://www.islam.ru/pressclub/jihad/no-war). The campaigners at islam.ru call for readers to bombard what they characterize as "the personal sites of American soldiers in the war" with such anti-war messages. The list includes pro-war sites like blogsofwar.com, whose owner says while he has received some messages routed from islam.ru, there has not been any attempt by hackers to subject his server to a "denial of service" attack.
A minority of commentators in the dwindling liberal press in Russia caution against unleashing the anti-American tide and riding the wave of European discontent with American exceptionalism. "Europe does not have to decide what sort of society it is building -- Western, market-democratic, or, on the other hand, 'Byzantine,' Eurasian, authoritarian. We, as before, are at the crossroads. This is why with them, anti-Americanism means hysteria, with us, paranoia. In our country anti-Americanism has very clear-cut ideological implications -- back to the USSR! God bless you, 'Uncle Hussein!' Other alluring black moustaches entirely -- 'Papa's' -- are preserved in our society's subconscious. Perfectly respectable citizens, with a keen sense of smell, have recently tried to kiss these virtual moustaches -- they know which way the wind blows!" Radzhikhovskii wrote, referencing Stalin.
In an article titled "Condemn and Then Reconcile," polit.ru carries a VTsIOM survey of 1,600 citizens polled in 100 population centers from 21-24 March. VTsIOM found that 35 percent think U.S.-Russian relations are "good and calm," down from 45 percent last August, (see http://www.polit.ru/docs/612780.html) Twenty-eight percent think relations are "chilly," up from 20 percent last year; 14 percent think relations are "tense," increased from 6 percent. Of those polled, 38 percent said they were favorably disposed to the U.S.,55 percent said they were very poorly or mainly poorly disposed, down from 60-70 percent well-disposed in previous years.
While condemnation of the war in Chechnya and/or advocacy of a cease-fire and peace talks by Russians has not reached 50 percent in polls, regarding the war in Iraq, 83 percent say they are "outraged" at the war, 9 percent are "ambivalent," 2 percent "approve," 5 percent said they were insufficiently informed, and 1 percent said they found it difficult to reply. Eighty-eight percent believed the U.S. had deliberately provoked war; only 5 percent believed it had sought a peaceful solution to the conflict. Eighty-eight percent also believed the U.S. definitely had no right to start war against Iraq without sanction from the UN Security Council; 87 percent believe the U.S. violates international law and the UN Charter.
Regarding motivation, 64 percent believe the purpose of hostilities is to gain control of oil fields, 56 percent to overthrow Saddam and put in place a regime loyal to the U.S., 48 percent say it was "to show who's boss," 19 percent said it was to give a boost to the U.S. economy with military supply orders, 17 percent said it was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and thus increase security, 11 percent said it was to destroy international terrorists' bases, and 10 percent said it was to distract attention from the U.S.'s own economic crises. Russians did not just condemn the war: 45 percent took the side of Iraq in the war, 5 percent were on the side of the U.S., 46 percent took neither side, and 4 percent found it difficult to reply. Although 74 percent said they didn't want the U.S. to achieve success with its military campaign in Iraq, 46 percent thought it would achieve success anyway, and 54 percent said the war in Iraq would lead to a world war. Nonetheless, while 29 percent thought there might be a new "cold war," 53 percent believed relations with the U.S. would return to their previous friendly level.
INTERNATIONALCOUNTRIES TRADE ACCUSATIONS AT TENSE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS. When the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights opened on 17 March in Geneva, as the new Libyan chairwoman, Najat al-Hajjaji, gave her opening speech, six members of Reporters Without Borders, a French press-freedom group, silently dropped leaflets with a picture of a large boot over words like "censorship" from the gallery. "At last the UN has appointed someone who knows what she is talking about!... Disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial, pervasive censorship, harassment of opponents' families," the text proclaimed ironically. Long perceived as the most important human rights body of the world, the UN Commission on Human Rights (not to be confused with the Human Rights Committee or the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which are separate bodies) has been targeted by NGOs all over the world for deteriorating to the point where a country known for gross violation of human rights could become the chair. In the UN's arcane world of "geographical distribution," where blocs of countries select their representatives (in this case the Africa group), it can happen.
Last year, the U.S. was voted off the commission, and the "West European and Other Group" chose Austria and Germany rather than the U.S. Resuming membership this year, the U.S. found itself under attack for launching the war in Iraq. The U.S. fended off a proposal by Russia and others to hold a special session just on the war in Iraq by a vote of 28 to 15; some delegates were deliberately absent. Although some countries voted against the proposal because they did not want to establish a precedent for holding country-specific special sessions (and possibly find themselves targeted), Russia and others who voted in favor of the session would themselves be unlikely to ever face such scrutiny in the politicized body and preferred to venue-shop to another UN body after losing the battle in the Security Council to stop the U.S.-led military offense. The motion failed because of the unwillingness of other countries to take the business of the Security Council into the human rights body, although, as High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello pointed out, the special session could have stuck to the topics of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the war.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers spoke at the commission on the "suffering that comes with war, the fear, the destruction, the loss of innocent lives, the desperation of refugees fleeing their homes," even as he urged on 17 March that Hussein should understand "that it is time now for him and his sons to go." Lubbers said that in the last three years, more than 100,000 Iraqis had applied for asylum in other countries, making Iraqis "the largest group of asylum seekers in the industrialized world -- a sad testimony to the state their country is in." Iraq responded by calling Lubbers comments "an invitation to war."
In speech after speech, countries who opposed the war against Saddam Hussein emphasized such issues as attacks on civilians in marketplace bombings and the shooting of civilians, including young children, in a van near a checkpoint, and what they characterized as a looming humanitarian disaster with scarce water supply and difficulties in deliveries. The U.S. and other coalition members highlighted the human rights violations of Hussein's regime.
Anticipating a war over the very meaning of the concept of human rights and how they are achieved, the U.S. had appointed conservative thinker Jean Kirkpatrick, a former UN ambassador, as head of the delegation. She denounced Iraq's horrifying practice, reported by groups outside of Iraq based on refugee accounts, of decapitating women accused of prostitution or political disloyalty as well as some men associated with them. Kirkpatrick cited 200 such cases, although the source for the figure is not known. Amnesty International, in a report on Iraq published in August 2001, said "dozens" of such decapitations had been reported of women accused of prostitution. "In October 2000, dozens of women suspected of prostitution were beheaded without any judicial process in Baghdad and other cities after they had been arrested and ill-treated. Men suspected of procurement were also beheaded. The killings were reportedly carried out in the presence of representatives of the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi Women's General Union. Members of Fedayeen Saddam, a militia created in 1994 by 'Uday Saddam Hussein, used swords to execute the victims in front of their homes," Amnesty International reported.
Various Internet campaigns to protest the decapitations organized by women's groups, academics, and exiled Iraqis referred variously to "dozens" or "80" such cases. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in a speech at the House of Commons on 24 September 2002 said there was "the beheading of dozens of women allegedly for prostitution," citing a dossier of human rights violations issued to help make the case to topple Hussein's regime by force. Amnesty International was angered by what they believed was selective use of their materials to make a case for war which they were not themselves making -- since the coalition began the military offensive, Amnesty International has issued statements denouncing attacks on civilians and condemning the use of cluster bombs. The UN's special rapporteur on Iraq told reporters at the current commission that he has no more reports of beheadings. In its 14 March issue, "Human Rights Issues," published by the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Network, noted that the "Like-Minded Group" (LMG, a caucus of countries in the developing world at the Commission for Human Rights sometimes dubbed "the bad-minded" for their gross violation of human rights) had set their sites not just on U.S.-bashing but an end to the very system of country-specific resolutions itself, as has long been their aim. They'd already succeeding in eliminating them in the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and now they were enlisting support from Europeans weary of hard negotiations with countries reluctant to face scrutiny and condemnation. "Many in old Europe, still committed to the liberal-democratic framework, are aware of the LMG's designs on the [commission]. However, awareness has not led to concerted action to make the sessions more than the 'talking shop' that they are presently," "Human Rights Issues" said. Although the EU and others in the Western caucus could be expected to protect the system of country resolutions and the special procedures often set in motion by the commission, such as designation of a special rapporteur to examine a country's human rights situation, they "seem incapable of mounting a worthy defense," the Asian NGO wrote.
The U.S. and the EU were reportedly planning submission of draft resolutions on Belarus and Turkmenistan, among other country resolutions. With the political dynamics of the commission, however, such actions related to what is perceived as Russia's sphere of influence could be stymied. In the past, when discussion of issues sensitive to Russia, such as the Chechen conflict or the crackdown in neighboring Belarus, some East and Central European nations at the commission became concerned that Russia would retaliate with its own hostile resolutions on topics such as the Russian minority in Latvia, and would opt to keep such issues out of the UN commission and leave them at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Over the years, the number of resolutions specifically related to the Soviet Union, and then Russia and other successor states, as well as Eastern Europe, have been very small for this reason. A resolution on the second Chechen war successfully ran for two years, although Russia did not comply with its mandated inspections, and last year the measure failed.
POLANDNEW REFUGEE ORGANIZATION FORMED. A new group formed to address the plight of refugees in Poland was finally granted legal status this week by the District Court of Warsaw, reported "The Warsaw Voice" (http://www.warsawvoice.pl) last week. The Refugee Association of Poland waited over a year from when its papers were first submitted to a court commission. From a European perspective, the decision is viewed as a significant step in Poland's aspiration to join the European Union, as the refugee phenomenon is "sensitive," and the EU is looking closely to see how its newer members taken on the obligations.
Poland has been a way station for many refugees, both inside and outside of the region, and a gateway to the United States or Canada for some. The U.S. does not recognize Warsaw as a "third-country processing center" on its list of cities around the world (Vienna and Frankfurt are on the list for the European region). Furthermore, the presence of refugees from Belarus, Chechnya, or Tajikistan who seek entry to the U.S. pose problems for U.S. relations with Poland, because if Poland has already become a country with a free and democratic society, then refugees should be able to remain in Poland. The reality is that they do not want to stay there, although Poland accepts applicants for asylum and refugee status and maintains a system of refugee camps. Some say that the security police who persecuted them in their homelands find it all too easy to roam across borders into Poland, a concept that Poland, eager to show the EU that it has control of its borders as befits a prospective member, must reject.
Refugees are not only from the region; Asian refugees pay "astronomical sums of money," "The Warsaw Voice" reported, to assure their passage to the West from Poland. In the past, some refugees would only stay in Poland for a time, perhaps only seeking asylum papers in Poland as a form of insurance in case they are rejected elsewhere. Now, "The Warsaw Voice" wrote, with EU membership coming up and the possibilities of a broader labor market across several countries, refugees are opting to stay in Poland.
The Refugee Association is open for business just at a time when it can expect to become more busy. Addressing members of the newly formed association in his office, the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Poland, Jaime Ruiz de Santiago, said: "Poland is increasingly becoming a significant location in both European and global geopolitics, as events in recent times testify. For one thing, its eastern borders will soon become EU borders as well. At our own level, we are already feeling the impact of this and most of our work is geared towards the eastern frontier, which is also the main point of entry for incoming refugees. Thus, your association could not have come at a better time. The association is going to relieve us and the government by playing an important role in helping your colleagues especially the new ones who are granted asylum by helping them to integrate into society."
Refugees from the Caucasus and peoples of color from other parts of the world anecdotally describe experiencing racism in Poland, where most of the population is Slavic and white. Most often, they point to their children's negative experiences in school as evidence of their painful adjustment in Poland. Meanwhile, NGOs such as the Polish Helsinki Foundation have worked to ease the ordeals of refugees in their country. Last month, Poland's compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism and Discrimination was reviewed by UN experts in Geneva, as it was Poland's turn to give its period reports. Poland was praised for establishing a parliamentary Committee for National and Ethnic Minorities and efforts to draft a law on the protection of minorities. In a press release describing the conclusions, the UN expressed concern that some cases of incitement to racial hatred had been dismissed based on conclusions that they constituted a low degree of damage to society; experts said any such case should be treated as serious.
The UN welcomed Poland's efforts to implement a comprehensive program to guarantee the rights of the Romany population in the Malopolska region, and encouraged it to extend the program to other regions of the country. It noted efforts to meet the specific educational needs of Romany children, yet said it was concerned that in some cases those efforts had led to segregated classes in which Roma received a lower standard of education than did their Polish counterparts. The committee recommended that new programs integrate Romany children into mainstream schools as far as possible.
TURKMENISTANWILL ASHGABAT BE LET OFF THE HOOK? Facing a possible resolution on Turkmenistan -- one of the few issues that North and South delegations could likely agree on this year at a very tense session of the UN Commission on Human Rights dominated by the war in Iraq (see above), President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have made a few token concessions to deflect criticism by releasing one political prisoner, environmentalist Farid Tukhbatullin, on 2 April and allowing others to be extradited, including Turkish citizens and a Russian emigre with U.S. citizenship charged with the alleged assassination attempt on him last November (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 3 April 2003). He is not the first dictator to employ the spring-time "catch and release" program -- rounding up dissidents before a major world meeting such as the Commission on Human Rights and releasing them before or during the session to burnish his reputation, only to re-arrest them after the delegates go home and focus elsewhere.
Now that these few cases have been resolved, while the resolution could still be presented by Western delegations, Russia and others could make the argument that Turkmenistan had made at least some gestures to answer outside concerns and should get credit for doing so. Possibly either a "no action" motion should be entertained or else any existing resolution draft could be essentially watered down by incorporating praise for good deeds. The latter option would follow an already-existing tendency at the commission to make country resolutions encouraging rather than condemnatory, and turn them into texts about the technical assistance needed to help a country meet its obligations, rather than litanies of abuses.
The release of Tukhbatullin appeared less of a magnanimous gesture when it became clear that he had been forced to make a Soviet-style confession and denunciation of his own actions, as well as promises of fealty to the Great Leader. According to a text of his 27 March confession distributed by the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project on 3 April, Tukhbatullin said he received an invitation from Memorial Human Rights Center to meet with NGOs, including the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, outside Moscow "on the 3-4 of the month of Sandzhar 2002." It was at this meeting that he said he learned that Avdy Kuliev and Boris Shikhmuradov, former Turkmen government officials, were part of a "criminal band" who were allegedly "planning to seize power violently and with the use of weapons and change the constitutional order in Turkmenistan by attempting to assassinate President Niyazov." In fact, those present at the meeting, organized by known NGOs with good reputations, said no plans of violent coups were discussed, but rather strategies for advocacy with governments and the media about Turkmenistan's severe human rights problems.
On 5 March, a coalition of human rights groups condemned the three-year sentence of Tukhbatullin, and had been assured by Western officials that the case would be raised. In a meeting in Ashgabat with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Niyazov promised that Tukhbatullin "will be released soon." The NGOs took it as a particular slap in the face that in fact Niyazov ordered Tukhbatullin sentenced immediately after Scheffer raised his case. The human rights organizations also approached UN Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, who visited Ashgabat in March, asking him to raise the case, and then began pushing their governments to sponsor a resolution on Turkmenistan at the Commission for Human Rights.
Tukhbatullin, 41, was sentenced at a four-hour trial, during which the court apparently declined requests by his lawyer to review evidence of his innocence. According to Amnesty International, who adopted Tukhbatullin as a "prisoner of conscience," his lawyer was denied access to him under various pretexts, for more than a month, including one time when "repair work" at the Ministry of National Security entailed lack of access to his client. The case has served to illustrate the injustices of the judicial system under presidential control, and its resolution at a time when hostages needed to be taken and then released to relieve pressure on Niyazov does not constitute any real change of heart.
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSINTERNATIONAL. The officially recognized Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) accredited to the UN has opened up a site to follow the UN Commission on Human Rights. Features this week include a roundtable on democracy in Iraq after the war sponsored by Minority Rights and a forum on humanitarian implications of the war in Iraq moderated by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. http://www.room17.org
AFGHANISTAN. Afghans debate their new constitution and government. http://www.salon.com/news/wire/2003/04/03/afghan/index.html
IRAQ. Interaction, the largest American alliance of nongovernmental organizations conducting overseas relief and development, has issued a statement urging that responsibility for administration and implementation of relief activities in Iraq by the U.S. government be placed under civilian rather than military authorities. http://www.interaction.org/library/detail.php?id=1441
IRAQ. "Desert Dispatch -- Images Of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Fuel Antiwar Feeling In Arab World." The war in Iraq is producing horrific pictures of civilian casualties that are certain to complicate efforts by Washington and London to win popular understanding in the Arab world for the conflict. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/04/03042003115012.asp
IRAQ. "Arab Historian Says Iraqi Pride, Skepticism Of U.S. Intentions, Fueling Resistance." Historian Youssef Choueiri, a leading authority on modern Arab states and Islam and the author of several books, spoke to RFE/RL about the state of Iraqi society under Saddam Hussein and why, in his opinion, coalition forces are meeting resistance in their quest to "liberate" the country. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/04/03042003143100.asp