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(Un)Civil Societies Report: April 10, 2003

10 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 8
COUNTRY REPORTS SHOW CHANGING FACE OF U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS POLICY. Each year, human rights groups around the world eagerly await the release of the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," particularly to see if their special issue or case has been noted and validated by this authoritative world report (the reports can be accessed at

Although in past years, the publication has shown the pressure of geopolitical concerns, and continues in a few spots to be tempered by them, even wary human rights advocates concede that the U.S. State Department's reports are a highly competent resource of record to determine a country's human rights status. Activists used to release their own alternative studies to counter what they viewed as whitewashing by the U.S. government, but nowadays they have abandoned that exercise, instead challenging the government to draw the right conclusions for foreign policy regarding those countries with especially poor records (see "U.S.: Human Rights Report Criticizes Friends, Foes,", 1 April 2003).

One serious implication for foreign policy is that many governments criticized in the report this year, released on 1 April, are dismayed that the U.S. seems to be sitting as judge and jury over them at a time when its own practices as a nation at war are called into question at home and abroad. Domestic groups are also raising issues such as the suspension of habeas corpus in some cases related to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and the continued holding of prisoners without charge or access to lawyers, as well as increased police surveillance in major cities. Some advocates have begun to discuss the possibility of releasing a collective human rights report next year at the time the State Department's report is issued on other countries, in order to dramatize what they see as the recent erosion of civil rights in the U.S.

Although perceived by some as a harangue by a hypocritical U.S., the reports are actually mandated by law as part of a process begun by President Jimmy Carter in the 1970's to make human rights a central part of foreign policy and foreign aid, drawing on the best liberal traditions of American governance. U.S. law requires a certain threshold of human rights performance before aid can be released in some cases, providing incentive by one of the world's largest donors for countries to live up to their obligations.

The document can also be read as a manifesto of America's vision of itself as an actor in the world, and its relationship to other countries and the worldwide struggle for human rights. A glance at the introductions over the past four years reveals a change from passive affirmation of universal values to which the U.S. adheres even as it upholds them, to a more activist role, exemplified by the war in Iraq, that many countries in the world are now finding, to their intense discomfort, to be unrealistic or even messianic. The new focus of U.S. human rights policy is inspired by the ideals of the U.S. Constitution even more than universal rights, and is impelled by a quest for security to spread democratic values vigorously outside U.S. territorial borders.

In 1999, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. saw itself as an integral part of an international "coalition of the willing" of governments and nongovernmental actors, a part of a "new globalization" not only economic in nature, bringing justice to Rwanda, Kosova, and East Timor. The preface to the "Country Reports" that year enthused about the rise of transnational human rights networks of both public and private actors that had "helped develop what may over time become an international civil society capable of working with governments, international institutions, and multinational corporations to promote both democracy and the standards embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

In 2000, while dropping the notion of an "international civil society," the U.S. speaks of the expansion of democracy and human rights which the world has experienced as a force of its own. The report itself is characterized as speaking "for those who have no voice, bearing witness for those who have not had access to free trials, nor have enjoyed other fundamental human rights and protections...they represent the nation's commitment to respect for universal human rights...." A humanitarian concern for victims, rather than exclusively U.S. needs, is still emphasized that year.

In 2001, as they tried to articulate the U.S. vision of itself, the authors of the "Country Reports" were clearly challenged by the traumatic events of 11 September. Now the war against terrorism (the protection of U.S. citizens) was paramount and had to be integrated into the other goals of foreign policy. "Our fight against terrorism is part of a larger fight for democracy. In the words of President [George W.] Bush, 'America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: The rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance.' This world of democracy, opportunity, and stability is a world in which terrorism cannot thrive." The strains between liberty and security are beginning to be felt, but still, there is a recognition of human rights as a force of their own, not "owned" or "imposed" by any one country.

By 2002, with the cumulative effects of the international war on terrorism and the impending war in Iraq, the focus shifted markedly away from affirmation of universality in its own right, and any cautionary note about not "imposing our culture" has been dropped. In its place is an activist role for the U.S.: "Spreading democratic values and respect for human rights around the world is one of the primary ways we have of advancing the national security interests of the United States," says the preface forthrightly in what may be an indication of a new doctrine that melds national security with not only human rights but democratic values, and also envisions the U.S. as the agent of global change. "The defense of liberty is both an expression of our ideals and a source of strength that we have drawn on throughout our history. Democratic values have also been at the heart of America's most enduring and effective alliances, partnerships which continue to help us meet the challenges of tyranny and deprivation." Gone are the seamless "transnational human rights networks of both public and private actors" and in their place are alliances and partnerships for freedom, on the one hand, and the tyrannies they oppose, on the other.

In this vision, America's own constitution is as much an inspiration as universal human rights. "We realize that liberty is not a finished product, and that the course set out for us by our Constitution requires vigilance. Our history is a narrative of a nation confronting and overcoming obstacles to freedom, "write the authors in this year's preface. "The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reflect America's diligence in the struggle to expand freedom abroad.... It is a statement of our fundamental belief that human rights are universal; they are indigenous to every corner of the world, in every culture and in every religious tradition."

Thus, in a span of four years, through the Clinton and Bush administrations, the U.S. has moved from a perception of itself as defender of the silenced victims and an upholder of universal human rights, perceived as shared by others, to a force acting unilaterally if necessary but preferably with "partnerships against tyranny," to "spread democratic values" and to "expand freedom abroad" in the interests of its own national security. The U.S. Constitution's goal of "liberty and justice for all" is extended worldwide, as human rights, whatever their universality, surely require some vigorous, outside help to be expanded throughout the globe.

'COMMUNITY OF DEMOCRACIES' FOUND TO 'RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS.' In a year that saw a major NATO expansion and a U.S. search for coalition partners in the war on Iraq, the "alliances" and "partnerships" of those who share democratic values are emphasized in the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." This year's report indicates a new kind of "seal of approval," several years in the making, but now incorporated into the reports -- the "Community of Democracies."

This concept was begun by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration to shore up new democracies which the U.S. had helped come into being, and also (although not stated explicitly) to provide a counterweight to the strong caucus of nondemocracies and notorious human rights violators that hold sway in the United Nations. The first convention was held in Warsaw in 2000, and the second meeting at the ministerial level was held in Seoul in December 2002.

While the Community of Democracies did not receive a lot of attention in the media, possibly overshadowed by NATO's membership celebration in November 2002, it is part of a blueprint for U.S. action in the world. Countries accepted into the Community of Democracies without reservation and noted in the report are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Countries allowed in only as observers included: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Countries demonstratively not invited included: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Members of the Community of Democracies all earned the designation "generally respected human rights" in the report -- although some had "problems." They included Bulgaria, Croatia (with only a "few" problems), the Czech Republic (a "few" problems being dealt with by judiciary with some "effective means"), Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova (except for the record of the Transdniester authorities, which was poor), Poland, Romania, Slovakia (the "effective judiciary" here, too, dealt with "individual abuses"), Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovenia. Regarding the Baltic states, the State Department said that these countries generally respected the human rights of citizens as well as the large ethnic Russian noncitizen communities, although it noted some difficulties.

In the case of some of the "observer" countries in the Community of Democracies, still-troubled countries in transition with poor records, an effort was made to come up with praise for some kind of improvement, however small. Countries that were characterized as having "poor" human rights records although with "some improvements" and yet with "serious problems" remaining included Albania, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine, where it was also noted that some areas had worsened. In most of these cases, poor prison conditions, corrupt judiciary, abusive security forces, suppression of press freedom, hate attacks on Jews, Roma, and other minorities, or trafficking in women and children were singled out as reasons for the "poor" designation whereas efforts to change some laws would earn them the mark for "improvement."

Azerbaijan's record was described simply as "poor," since it was hard to find any indication of improvement after major crackdowns on the opposition and independent media in connection with a hastily called national referendum. Predictably, the government of Azerbaijan blasted the "Country Reports" as biased, and the opposition characterized them as "too soft" when describing the flawed referendum.

Countries whose records were deemed "very poor" and even "worsening" were Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan; Turkmenistan was described as "extremely poor" -- the only country in the region with such a designation. Jailing of journalists and opposition leaders and abusive justice and prison systems as well as excessive executive control over government and society were cited as reasons for the label of "very poor."

U.S. REPORT ON RUSSIA CAUTIOUS, AMBIVALENT. The State Department's relatively cautious report on Russia this year may indicate some strains in conflicting policy goals. Although the kinds of abuses that occur in Russia (especially in provincial areas), are no different in kind or in number than in Ukraine or even Belarus, and some of them were worse this year, Russia is characterized somewhat ambivalently as having "generally respected the human rights of its citizens in some areas" even as "its record was poor in other areas."

Russia has been an important ally in the international war on terrorism and the former superpower is still most carefully cultivated by the White House as a special case because of its continued possession of nuclear weapons and its presence on the UN Security Council. Russia -- now accepted into the G8 and preparing for the WTO -- is needed as a partner in solving the world's problems from AIDS to Iraq to Afghanistan. All of these realities may have helped in making the judgement to declare Russia as having "generally respected human rights" and include it in the Community of Democracies.

In a year where press freedom was significantly eroded with government pressure on outlets, when political killings continued and past assassinations remained unsolved, where "spy cases" piled up and foreigners were expelled, where atrocities in Chechnya continued unabated, the designation of "generally respected human rights" might seem misplaced, or at least not the same kind of "generally respected" as defined for Poland, the Czech Republic, or Romania.

What distinguished Russia from Ukraine or Azerbaijan or Macedonia is that a much-discussed judicial reform effort was launched last year which earned Russia a certain credit of good will; "significant reforms occurred in law enforcement and judicial procedures," and were welcomed by local NGOs, says the introduction. Further down in the report, the U.S. notes that at year's end, proof of the real implementation of these reforms was not yet in hand.

While the absolute numbers of persons detained by prosecutors in pretrial detention appear to have been reduced, as the report itself noted, President Vladimir Putin seems to have been driven just as much by the need to empty overcrowded, disease-ridden prisons as to observe the rule of law. The real proof of enhanced judicial reform will be seen if there are growing numbers of prosecutor's warrants for detention thrown out by judges along with judges' dismissal of prisoners' testimonies made under the duress of torture. Torture remains rampant in Russia's prisons, and reforms have not yet adequately addressed the practice.

Last year, human rights groups such as Amnesty International felt there was a shift in U.S. policy for the worse as for the first time, the term "rebel" instead of the more neutral "fighter" was used in the report to describe the forces in Chechnya. This year's report provides some more tea leaves for scrutiny, as the term "fighter" is used in some places, "rebel" in others, and "terrorist" in still others. For example, the forces that took a theater hostage in Moscow are described as "terrorists" and the forces that blew up the administration building in Grozny are "rebels." This may or may not reflect the State Department's recent designation of some Chechen groups as international terrorists on its "watch list," and a tacit recognition, previously made by the U.S., that the conflict in Chechnya has been fueled mainly by an armed self-determination movement rather than instigated only by Islamic fundamentalists abroad.

The report is also extremely careful to equate violations by Russian forces with those by Chechen rebels. In past years, the scale of criticism seemed to be tipped toward Russian federal troops, which had used excessive force, especially in military sweeps of villages and bombardments of cities. This year, following the theater-hostage incident and the killings of numerous pro-Moscow officials and some other civilians by Chechen forces, the need to equate the two sides in the conflict, despite the great disparity in numbers, seemed to be far greater.

MUSLIM EXTREMISTS ARRESTED. Just as Central Asia felt the whiplash of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the form of government crackdowns, including increased scrutiny and even persecution of unofficial Muslim religious groups, so the war in Iraq is having a spillover effect in the region, where autocratic governments' relations with Muslim communities are already fragile.

The Kyrgyzstan Committee on Human Rights (KCHR) reported on 4 April, citing Interior Ministry reports in Djalalabad, that four members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party), not registered in Kyrgyzstan, were arrested. The brothers Ahmadjan and Yakubjan Kaldarov were charged with "agitation" of the illegal party's ideas after being found with 84 leaflets. Others, including Dilshat Usmanov and Shuhrat Musurmankulov, were caught distributing leaflets calling all Muslims to unite in support of Iraq and fight against Christians, and were charged with incitement of hatred. The KCHR also reported that at least 13 representatives of Hizb ut-Tahrir were arrested in Osh, according to Interior Ministry sources, and charged with distributing leaflets opposing the war on Iraq. Two hundred leaflets urging all Muslims to oppose the war in Iraq in Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek and other literature in Arabic were reportedly confiscated. One man, not named, 33, was said to be arrested for distributing religious literature and seven booklets calling for a jihad against those who launched the war in Iraq. Another man, 27, was arrested in Osh with the same booklets and about 100 copies were confiscated, and criminal cases were opened. The KCHR also claimed that police have a watch list of some 900-1,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir members in the Osh province, and that their numbers "drastically" increased since the start of the war in Iraq, the KCHR quoted a police spokesman as saying.

As with past waves of arrest in the region, the detention of religious believers for peaceful expression, as well as the refusal of authorities to give out information or provide access to detainees, angered their relatives, and led to further rounds of protest and repression. On 7 April, the KCHR reported that 15 mainly female relatives of Ulukbek Kochkorov, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member and a resident of Sharq in Karasuu district, came to the police in Karasuu, demanding to meet with Kochkorov and give him food. After being told that Kochkorov was taken to a temporary detention facility in Osh, the women reportedly began to shout, swear, and shake the gates and fences of an administration building and said they would be forced to take further action unless Kochkorov was released.

Police dispersed the protest and the police chief did not provide any other information, but a lower-level police officer told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the Hizb ut-Tahrir members had been arrested on suspicion of stirring up religious enmity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). Kochkorov's mother told that she believed her son had been detained unlawfully at the market on the basis of an informer's tip, and not because he possessed literature. Another 80-year-old woman told that her son, Anvarjon Iminjon, was detained for distributing leaflets denouncing the war against Muslims in Iraq.

Although Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev formally supports the U.S.-led war in Iraq, government officials appear to have supported some antiwar coverage in the official press, commented on 7 April, and tacitly encouraged some demonstrations by the easy granting of permits. About 2,000 people, mainly from pro-government NGOs, took part in a 27 March demonstration against the war in Iraq in Bishkek, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 7 April. Their expression was tolerated, but the Hizb ut-Tahrir members' leaflets with much the same message, were not.

A minority of groups appeared to support the war in Iraq. According to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society President Edil Baysalov distributed a statement at the rally supporting the U.S.-led military action against Saddam Hussein's regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003) and opposition leader Topchubek Turgunaliev, head of the Erkindik Party, attacked fellow opposition members who have criticized the United States for its actions in Iraq and have stirred up anti-U.S. sentiment, and said he approved of the war as one of liberation, and noted pointedly that the opposition opposing the war existed on foreign grants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003).

Public unease appears to be growing with the continued presence of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, opened in 2001 in connection with the international war on terrorism, and the Kyrgyz parliament does not want to see the base used for support of the war effort in Iraq. Kyrgyzstan's parliament appealed to U.S. President Bush and to the U.S. Congress on 24 March to stop the war against Iraq and to resolve the crisis in the UN Security Council, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003).

Akaev appeared to want to ride the tide of anti-American and anti-war sentiment enough to satisfy some constituents and keep the U.S. off balance, but evidently sanctioned the arrest of Hizb ut-Tahrir extremists to make sure the leafleting did not threaten Kyrgyz society and his own rule. With mounting arrests of its members, Hizb ut-Tahrir is the subject of ongoing discussion in Kyrgyzstan, with law enforcement officials insisting the group is dangerous and human rights activists and the Kyrgyz ombudsman arguing that it is not because its ideology eschews violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). In doing so, they are repeating the mantra of the Hizb ut-Tahrir itself, which says it does not advocate violence to achieve its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate, or theocracy, throughout the Muslim world. Human rights activists already critical of the corrupt and harsh criminal justice system in Kyrgyzstan wish to remain "color blind" about the political or religious content of cases about freedom of expression or association in order to protect such freedoms in general.

Such a position leaves unaddressed, however, the issue of whether Hizb ut-Tahrir or like-minded groups would be compelled to resort to violence if they came to power, either through social pressure or elections, and began to implement their dream of a caliphate against the will of many people in the secularized post-Soviet state, who would surely object to their suppression of human rights. It also overlooks the fact that in a closed society or a transitional nation without a vibrant free press and other democratic institutions, alternative religious movements do not have a means of encouraging open discussion or ensuring uniformity of belief and actions among their members, who can become isolated from one another and be prone to splintering and acting on their own.

Evidently West Europeans, with more established laws banning hate speech and extremism, have viewed the Hizb ut-Tahrir as more ominous. Germany banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in January 2003. German Interior Minister Otto Schily called Hizb ut-Tahrir "military" and "anti-Semitic," reported on 15 January. Schily said the group "opposed good relations and understanding between people" and said its representatives had used "very anti-Semitic language" against Israel at a recent university conference in Berlin. He characterized the group's main objective as uniting Islamic nations into a single state. In the British parliament, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been condemned for hate speech against Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs. "Our universities should be centers of tolerance and liberalism, but they are being used by a small group of Muslim fundamentalists who are waging a vicious campaign of anti-Semitism," British MP John Marshall said in a debate last year. Marshall said a Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflet had been found with the statement: "The last hour will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.... Peace with Israel, India, and Serbia is a crime" and said a meeting due to be addressed by Hizb ut-Tahrir representatives at University College London was cancelled.

Faced with a restless population of poor and often unemployed young people no longer educated in the Soviet secular system, before the current spate of arrests, Kyrgyzstan had preferred to take a milder approach than West Europeans or its neighbors in Central Asia to the problem of Hizb ut-Tahrir's extremism.

In a story for "International War and Peace Report" distributed by on 7 January, Nargiz Zakirova, a journalist with "Vechernii Dushanbe" in Tajikistan, quoted Natalya Shadrova, deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan's governmental commission on religious affairs, as saying that most Kyrgyz believe that persecuting Hizb ut-Tahrir may make it more extreme, specifically warning against blacklisting the group, believing "this would only boost its stature among Muslims and attract more of them into its ranks." Zakirova also quotes Svante Cornell, publisher of the "Central Asia Analyst" journal and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, as saying that the U.S. decision to include the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on its blacklist of international terrorists had only given the group more publicity. Cornell was quoted as saying he did not support the inclusion of Hizb ut-Tahrir on the U.S. list, as this may lead to more youths joining their ranks.

AFGHANISTAN. "UN: 'Light Footprint' In Afghanistan Could Hold Lessons For Iraq." The UN Security Council last month unanimously voted to extend the UN mission in Afghanistan for another year, an action little-noticed among the debates involving Iraq. But there are mixed views over whether the UN's "light footprint" approach in Afghanistan, still very much a work in progress, would be effective in Iraq.

IRAQ. "Desert Dispatch -- At Umm Qasr Clinic, Helpless Patients Wait For Benefits From Allies Victory." U.S. and British officials say they are waging two wars in Iraq: One for military victory, the other for the hearts and minds of the population. In Umm Qasr, the only Iraqi town fully under allied control, the military phase is over, but a visit to the local clinic shows how far efforts to win the population still have to go.

LATVIA. The Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, a member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, has issued its annual report "Human Rights in Latvia in 2002." Long pretrial detention periods, and numerous pretrial detainees remain a problem. In 2002 there were "new and disturbing" indications of xenophobia and intolerance, and a political party used openly racist images in its anti-EU stance while campaigning for the parliamentary elections. Controversial state language requirements for election candidates were abolished, but only after strong international pressure. In English and Latvian.

UKRAINE. "Millions of Ukrainians Work Illegally Abroad." Ukrainian Ombudswoman Nina Karpachova reported to the Verkhovna Rada that the problem of illegal migration of Ukrainians in search of work and earnings has become of "state importance." Ukrainians abroad belong to "the most-discriminated-against and least-protected category" of citizens. Between 2 million and 7 million Ukrainians are working abroad owing to poverty and unemployment in Ukraine.

UKRAINE. "Miners Choose Between Joblessness and Extreme Danger." The Ukrainian coal-mining industry has been in decline for a decade and has a horribly high fatality rate. RFE/RL went to Ukraine's eastern coal-rich Donbas region to talk to those involved in the industry. A two-part report.