Accessibility links

Breaking News

(Un)Civil Societies Report: July 17, 2003

17 July 2003, Volume 4, Number 17
TAJIK MIGRANT WORKERS DYING IN RUSSIA. Recent reports in the Russian and Tajik media about the deaths of Tajik migrant laborers have highlighted the difficult work conditions and prejudice they face in Russia. The bodies of 211 Tajik migrant laborers were returned to Tajikistan in the first six months of 2003 by rail and air, the Tajik news agency Asia-Plus reported, citing Tajik transport prosecutor Kurbonali Muhabbatov. The prosecutor said the rate of the number of caskets returned appeared to be greater than last year, when he said 328 bodies were sent home, including 78 killed from assaults, 118 who died from disease, and 125 for whom the cause of death was not determined. The numbers have not been independently investigated and confirmed, but the Tajik diaspora and Russian human rights activists have been greatly concerned about frequent reports of mistreatment of Tajik migrants and attacks on them motivated by ethnic hatred.

On 12 July, the Moscow Society of Tajiks held a conference on Tajik migrants in Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 13 July. Karomatullo Sharifov, leader of the Tajik diaspora in Moscow, said that since 1992, as many as 38,000-40,000 Tajik citizens have passed through Russia's jails, many to remain for prolonged periods and some dying in detention. He estimated that currently in Moscow alone, 920 Tajiks had been held for more than six months, often without access to medical care. Some who paid bribes of $200 were released, he said.

While the total number of Tajik prisoners has not been confirmed by Russian Justice Ministry officials, some experts have found them credible, citing, for example, just one police sweep in Moscow last November where 740 Tajiks were detained. Conference participants cited the case of Khudoyor Doniyorov, charged with drug trafficking, who has been awaiting trial for 4 1/2 years. Doniyorov's lawyer, Aleksandr Akimov, said at the meeting that he believed prosecutors had not gathered sufficient evidence against his client, but were refusing to release him, apparently in a cover-up to avoid charges of unlawful detention themselves, as "someone must be responsible for these years in prison," he said.

Attacks against Tajiks have not been systematically monitored, but both human rights groups and the media have covered them from time to time, and the Russian NGO delegation to the UN's world conference against racism in 2001 included a Tajik woman active in defense of minority rights in the Moscow community. Two skinheads attacked several Tajiks in Rostov, the Union of Councils of Jews from the former Soviet Union (UCSJ) reported, citing an 8 July report in "Vechernii Rostov." A witness told the newspaper that the attackers had shouted "Glory to Russia!" and "Go home" as they beat the Tajiks.

While UCSJ described the report of this attack as sketchy and buried in the back pages of the newspaper, the Dushanbe press gives them more detailed coverage. A construction worker who went to Moscow to earn money for his daughter's wedding was killed while making a trip to a store alone, "Charkh-i Gardun" reported on 27 June. The Tajik paper describes how in a small town in Moscow Oblast, "local skinheads...stepped up their activities against foreigners...[and] there was no proper protection established by the local law enforcement agencies." The man's brothers were forced to pay approximately $1,500 to return his body home for burial, and were unable to recover their relative's wages in Moscow. They told reporters they had learned of two more Tajik bodies being returned when they placed the coffin on a Moscow-Dushanbe airplane, and four more bodies came from Novosibirsk the same day, "Charkh-i Gardun" reported.

Other press reports indicate a trend of large groups of Tajik migrants going to Russia and facing neglect there. More than 300 Tajik workers were returned by authorities from Omsk to Dushanbe, Asia-Plus reported on 16 July. Tajik Minister of Labor and Social Protection Mamadsho Khilolov told the news agency that the return could not be described as a "deportation" because it was based on a scheduling error by a construction company which had intended to hire the Tajiks for August. While seeking an explanation from the firm, the Ministry of Labor facilitated their return, paying for temporary housing and meals and train fare for the workers, who were mainly from Sughd Oblast.

The difficulties of Tajik migrants in Russia have long been of concern to international organizations (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 6 March 2002). Worsening economic conditions in Tajikistan have impelled more and more people to seek work outside their homeland. The UN Development Program's Index of Human Development for 2003 shows declines for Tajikistan along with other Central Asian and Caucasian states, reported on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 10 July 2003). Tajikistan now ranks 113th out of 175 countries, putting it in the spectrum of least-developed countries, and one of the 20 poorest countries of the world, according to the UN. Recently, Tajikistan signed a food-aid agreement with the UN World Food Program to obtain food, seeds, and help in improving irrigation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 July 2003). The program will emphasize micro-projects to help individual farmers, a move officials hope will reduce the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, the pull of greater fortunes draws people out of Tajikistan. Russian businesses are eager for cheap labor, but do not always provide humane conditions, and are unable or unwilling to fight bureaucratic obstacles that arise from Russian officials increasingly responding to public opinion against foreign laborers, and new restrictive legislation controlling the influx of foreigners. A group of some 50 Tajik women were found in a knitwear factor in Saratov Oblast working without wages, "Tribuna" reported on 2 July, quoting the Saratov Oblast ombudsman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). The factory's owners had taken away the women's passports and were housing them in what the ombudsman described as "horrible, inhumane conditions." The Tajiks had been promised wages of 12,000 rubles ($387) a month, but had not been paid for six months. Police fined both the factor owners and the workers, according to "Tribuna." It is not clear why the ombudsman became involved in the case or was unable to prevent punishment of the Tajik workers.

In an interview with the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) published at on 16 July, Deputy Prime Minister responsible for humanitarian and development affairs Zokir Vazirov said Tajikistan's problems are rooted in its history as the "poorest of the Soviet republics" and five years of civil war from 1992-97. In May, international donors attending a conference promised $900 million in aid, grants ,and credit over a period of three years, mainly prompted by concern about the spillover effect of the war in Afghanistan and the drug trade. The World Bank has approved $20 million for improving education, $7 million in the form of a grant, and $13 million as a loan, according to Vazirov.

Such help, while welcome, can hardly be expected to accommodate Tajikistan's growing demands for skills and jobs. In a separate interview with IRIN published on 9 July, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said nearly 70 percent of Tajikistan's population of 6.2 million are under 30 years of age. Fifteen percent to 20 percent of children do not complete compulsory state education. The rate of chronic malnutrition, meaning stunting, is nearly 30 percent to 35 percent, with a seasonal difference, and acute malnutrition, meaning wasting, is 8 percent to 10 percent especially after the summer season. Children have been sent into the streets by their parents to beg or do odd jobs, and are caught up in seasonal cotton picking as well, the UNICEF official said, cautioning that children's participation in seasonal harvest of the cotton crop was a long-standing tradition, and had to be researched to determine if it was exploitative or abusive, and taking children away from school for too long periods. Families also face disruption by the absence of male breadwinners for the long periods of their migrant work abroad.

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST PROTEST OSCE POLICE PROGRAM. When Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman-in-Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Bishkek last week, he found demonstrators outside the OSCE Center in Bishkek, protesting an OSCE-funded police-reform project to grant training and equipment to law enforcers in Kyrgyzstan. Activists complained that the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry should not be engaged in such efforts. The ministry has earned a reputation for brutality through active involvement in the suppression of recent waves of public unrest and the surveillance and harassment of dissenters, and is still largely unaccountable for the tragic events of Aksy last year, when police shot and killed demonstrators. The protesters, including Interbilim, Civil Society Against Corruption, the Bureau for Human Rights, and the opposition Ar-Namys Party, are building on a long-standing criticism of both the local and international OSCE offices for what they feel is failure to include the concerns of human rights activists and opposition leaders in their programs, and to make their activities and agreements with the government more transparent to the public.

The OSCE senior police adviser, Richard Monk, who visited Kyrgyzstan, further angered activists by expressing the hope that better training of police would prevent large-scale "disorder" in the future, to which activists replied that the authorities applied the term "disorder" to peaceful demonstrations by citizens trying to assert their rights (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report" 11 July 2003). OSCE officials denied they were intending to arm the police against dissenters. "The most important thing we want to do is to change the thinking of your law-enforcement bodies," "Vechernii Bishkek" quoted Monk as saying on 9 July.

While NGOs may not have been consulted to avoid conflict with the host government, an OSCE research team has spent five months visiting Interior Ministry departments in Bishkek, Chui, Osh, and Djalal-Abad oblasts to study police practices and help plan the reforms, "Vechernii Bishkek" reported. OSCE Chairman-in-Office de Hoop Scheffer offered to meet with protesters, but because he requested that government officials also be present, the human rights activists declined the offer, fearing that secret police presence would place undue pressure on them and leave them open to reprisals after the meeting.

Earlier on 7 July, the local OSCE meeting had convened an informal meeting prior to the chairman's visit and invited NGOs, but they were skeptical of the efficacy of such meetings when senior police and KGB officers were also invited, along with an outspoken pro-government civic group. Three representatives of the human rights community delegated to the meeting ended up leaving, the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee reported. They believed the OSCE did not provide sufficient documentation of the expected results and activities for the program on prevention of public disorder, nor a public explanation about the budget and those responsible for implementing it. NGOs say the OSCE failed to consult with the main human rights watchdogs who monitor police brutality and did not disclose financial information about the project so that NGOs could monitor it with the aim of preventing diversion of funds.

Aware of Kyrgyzstan's worsening human rights situation, de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged that "Kyrgyzstan has made certain progress in its democratic reforms," but "the republic still has to do a lot of things, in particular, to ensure the supremacy of law and human rights protection," including media freedom, Interfax reported on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 11 July 2003.) Activists said the Dutch media appeared enthusiastic about covering the controversy over the police-training program and the demonstration on the steps of the OSCE office in Bishkek after rather uneventful meetings on the rest of the trip through Central Asia. Dutch officials promised to continue the dialogue with NGOs and consider possible revisions of the program, but it is unlikely, given the OSCE's security in the region, that the program will be suspended.

The $4.07 million, 18-month program to provide modern equipment and technical training to the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry comprises eight projects, including streamlining criminal investigations, creating a municipal police service in the capital, and outfitting police and antidrug agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). Local journalists have discovered the details of the plans for equipment donations, which includes flak jackets, shields, handcuffs, helmets, batons, stun guns, guns with rubber bullets, bulletproof buses, and various sound, light, and video equipment, "Res Publica" reported on 15 July. Civic groups believe the clearly-designated riot control equipment may signify that the government foresees mass protests in opposition to its activities and seeks outside support. The OSCE will also provide two trainers to teacher Kyrgyz police how to use the equipment.

While human rights groups have been angered and bewildered as to why an international organization would want to appear to applaud the state's use of force in this way, in fact the OSCE has a long history of police training among members states in transition, often in very troubled settings. OSCE program officers proceed from the theory that contact with even abusive police forces might help mitigate harsh practices and expose law-enforcers from previously closed societies to Western values. The idea is not only that such Western concepts as civilian control of the military and democratic notions of community corrections work might "rub off" on Central Asians. The training also provides vital connections for Western governments to the internal affairs agencies of strategically important countries where increasingly they seek cooperation on a wide variety of fronts, from border control and combating of trafficking of humans and drugs, to the gathering of intelligence about international crime and terrorism.

According to reports of field activities on its website (, the OSCE has trained, for example, 6,000 police cadets in Kosovo -- ethnic Albanians as well as Serbs and other minorities -- along with Armenian and Georgian police on combating domestic violence, and Azerbaijani prison officials in Poland. The OSCE already ran a program to give human rights training to Kyrgyz border and migration officials in 2000.

While democratic training of police forces might seem a laudable goal, without dedication to true reform by civilian leaders the programs run the risk of serving as window dressing, regional experts say. In a troubling report issued last December, "Kyrgyzstan: The Politics of Police Reform," the International Crisis Group (ICG) painted a bleak picture: "In Central Asia the structures of most police forces have changed little since the Soviet period. While societies and economic systems have undergone rapid transition, the organs of state security remain largely unreformed. In many ways they are actually worse than under the Soviet state: more corrupt, less responsive to the population, more involved in organized crime, and often out of the control of political masters. The police are feared, mistrusted and viewed as ineffective in protecting the population from crime."

The ICG identified "high-level corruption, lack of professionalism, lack of cooperation with the general public, and serious resource limitations or misdirection of funds" as not only an obstacle to reform but a reason why the police force is "not effective in countering serious criminal and terrorist threats." The ICG complained about international assistance to police forces because they focused too much on technical assistance and not on structural reform or "cultural change." Although the police needed the training and modern equipment the OSCE is ready to provide, "assistance in these areas on its own without wider reform is unlikely to make significant difference to their overall effectiveness," the ICG warned. Worse, such assistance "can also on occasion merely legitimize existing practices and promote more corruption" -- precisely the concerns of local human rights and opposition groups skeptical of the program in the current level of repression. In its recommendations, the ICG presents a lengthy list of seemingly impossible reforms required to make police training work, ranging from ending torture, establishing an independent judiciary, and stopping the harassment of journalists, to ensuring oversight of programs by NGOs and parliament.

The OSCE police-training program has gone forward despite ICG concerns and recommendations and the vocal protests of local NGOs, illustrating the overriding security concerns of the OSCE and Western governments, which activists believe will undermine their efforts to get the Kyrgyz government to abide by the rule of law.

INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION, DOMESTIC REBUFF FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. Svetlana Gannushkina, head of Civic Assistance, the Russian refugee aid organization, was awarded Amnesty International's award for achievements in the field of human rights, Prima news agency reported on 8 July. Peter Frank, a director of Amnesty's German section, presented Gannushkina with a diploma and a hand-sculpted statuette to honor her work in defending the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons.

In an acceptance speech for the award, Gannushkina warned that people from the Caucasus Mountains regions of Russia and neighboring republics were particularly vulnerable to attack after acts of terrorism, such as the siege of the Moscow theater or the recent suicide-bomber explosions at a rock concert. She also highlighted the plight of Turkmenistan's Russian population, which is facing nonrecognition of dual citizenship and difficulties both in living Turkmenistan and in leaving it. In the kind of direct comment for which she is known, Gannushkina remarked that world leaders are moving humanitarian values to the background and facilitating a potential humanitarian crisis when, at such events as the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac embraced the Turkmen president.

Gannushkina, a modestly dressed middle-aged woman with cropped hair and large eyeglasses, is well-known in Russia and abroad for cutting a quiet but determined swath through desolate refugee camps as well as prestigious international conferences in quest of justice for the world's most vulnerable people. Her frequent outspoken comments about official indifference to the plight of refugees has brought her some pressure from authorities and even a fire in her office set by unknown persons several years ago. Nevertheless, she has persisted both in trying to solve desperate cases one individual at a time, as well as working to reform legislation that would improve the lot of Russia's numerous displaced from wars and other upheavals.

In a tribute to Gannushkina published by on 10 July, Anna Politkovskaya, a crusading journalist known for her hard-hitting coverage of the war in Chechnya, praised Gannushkina's goodness as "the type that sheds few tears," characterized by an "extremely high concentration of action against the powers of evil, during every hour of life lived."

Politkovskaya, who often crossed paths with Gannushkina on her own trips to Chechnya, recounts how once on the fateful day of 27 December 2002, when the government building in Grozny was blown up by suicide bombers who drove a truck into the compound, Gannushkina was tugging reluctant officials around the euphemistically named "temporary placement points" where displaced Chechens were living in miserable conditions. Gannushkina's mission was to explain that Chechens should be paid compensation for their homes destroyed in war by Russian forces, and should also not be forced to return to Chechnya from Ingushetia because conditions were not safe. Then-Grozny Mayor Oleg Zhidkov and Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov wanted to leave Gannushkina's depressing tour to go to lunch, but she insisted that they go to two more places to meet with the people whose fates they were determining. Shamed by her persistence, the officials remained with her to visit the displaced persons -- and thus saved their lives by being away from the government building when it was bombed. Ultimately, officials agreed to pay the compensation for destroyed homes, but the issue of forced return of the displaced is one Gannushkina continues to raise in meetings with the government and in statements to the press.

Typical of her organization's focus and modesty, the website of her organization at carries no mention of Amnesty International's award or the praise of journalists. The group maintains a network of legal aid centers, "Migration and Law," which have helped numerous refugees and displaced persons defend their rights both in courts of law and in petitions with officials.

The ceremony for Gannushkina was attended by other human rights leaders such as Ludmila Alexeeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Vyacheslav Igrunov, now a Duma deputy, who have worked with Gannushkina closely on the issue of refugee rights -- but government officials were conspicuously absent, Politkovskaya said.

Politkovskaya attributed the lack of recognition from officials such as Ella Pamfilova, head of the presidential commission on human rights, of which Gannushkina is also a member, not only to preoccupation with other urgent affairs or the summer heat wave, but the very times we live in, "when the years of the generation of [Andrei] Sakharov have passed, never to return, and those who persecuted him are once again in power, relegating human rights activists to the role of outcasts or portraying them to society as marginals with their own private perspective having no relationship to reality."

Unbowed by such attempts at marginalization, Alexeeva, Gannushkina, and their colleagues vow to present an alternative report on human rights in Russia to the UN's Human Rights Committee, now in session this week in Geneva. In an unprecedented move, only three days before a long-scheduled time slot to report to the committee, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it was postponing its report. No reason was cited for the sudden decision, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' website ( merely notes "postponed" next to the slot provided for the Russian Federation, where the report normally uploaded long before such sessions is missing. Government officials have not made any comment about the plans of human rights groups to present an alternative report.

Russia's fifth periodic report about its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Liberties is already long overdue, since its last report in 1995. Ordinarily, commissioners will allow a country a grace period of some years, and usually not take any action to pressure late submitters with private or public action. In fact in 1993, the Human Rights Committee urged Russia to turn in its then-overdue fourth periodic report. But as Russia is one of the Security Council's permanent five members and it is viewed by the international community as an important partner on matters ranging from the war in Iraq to the war on international terrorism, the UN treaty body is not likely to show much urgency on the overdue human rights report.

The last-minute cancellation seems particularly inexplicable, given that Russia has already reported in recent years more or less on time to other treaty bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism and Discrimination (CERD), where it faced particularly hard questioning earlier this year on treatment of minorities, and to the Committee Against Torture last year, where it was drilled on numerous allegations of torture in the prison system.

Experts of the Human Rights Committee would no doubt have to ask some hard questions about mistreatment of the civilian population in Chechnya and the plight of the internally displaced. Alexeeva believes that failure to present the report as scheduled will damage Russia's image. "Our ministries and departments have shown the whole world their attitude towards human rights issues and Russia's international obligations in this respect," "Vremya novostei" quoted her as saying on 15 July. She noted that Uzbekistan had also postponed a report in this fashion, but two months before the scheduled day.

The UN committee does have a procedure whereby a country's human rights practices can be reviewed even without an official report, based on available information from the UN, press, and NGO submissions, but it is unlikely to invoke it for a "permanent five" nation. Furthermore, while the committee can hear presentations of alternative reports from NGOs, they usually schedule them for the session before the state delegation is due to report, so it is uncertain whether Russian human rights activists will get a hearing this month.

CENTRAL ASIA. "Islam and the State in Central Asia." A briefing on 10 July with senior analyst Azizulla Ghazi of the International Crisis Group Central Asia Project in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The policies pursued by the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov to restrict religious practice causes young people in the country "to look for underground ways" to gain religious information. These restrictive policies help to explain the rise of Islamic groups in the country. Ghazi, an expert on the region, says these groups, which often have peaceful intentions, are quickly and unfairly accused by the Uzbek government of having ties to terrorism, in order to restrict and control their activities. -81A4-49B3-9F4E-AA9DD9052A15.ASP

CENTRAL ASIA. "The Threat of Radical Islam in Central Asia." The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hizb ut-Tahrir, and other radical Islamist groups seek to promote their versions of Islamist ideology throughout Central Asia. Many of these groups interact with, and are inspired by, like-minded groups internationally and are intolerant of the moderate and traditional Islam predominant in Central Asia. Three experts provided a briefing on 18 July: Abdujabar Abduvakhitov, rector, Westminster International University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Marina Pikulina, FAST country coordinator, Swisspeace (Tashkent, Uzbekistan); and Zokhidilo Munavvarov, chairman of the International Fund of Imam al-Bukhari (Tashkent, Uzbekistan). -222B-44DF-956C-9B97157F8ED7.ASP

IRAQ. "Who is Buried in Saddam's Mass Graves?" The search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction continues. But proof of Saddam Hussein's cruelty toward his own people is already in plain sight. In the weeks since the fall of Baghdad, some 100 mass graves have been found. They contain the remains of thousands of missing Kurds, Shi'a Muslims, political prisoners, and Iranian and Kuwaiti prisoners of war -- all victims of Hussein's ruthless regime. Now Iraq faces a dual challenge: to exhume and identify the remains to assure a sense of closure for the loved ones left behind -- and to find the best way to bring to justice those responsible for the killings.

IRAQ. "NGOs Urge International Role in Trials." Iraq's new Governing Council decided to create a judicial commission to prosecute members of deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime accused of crimes against humanity. Two leading human rights organizations are hailing the decision. But Human Rights Watch warns that trying such crimes will be too complex for Iraq's battered and inexperienced judiciary to act alone. And Amnesty International says that such trials must be impartial and congruent with international human rights standards.

MACEDONIA. "Ethnic Albanian Party Reopens Division Debate." Macedonia's main ethnic Albanian opposition group, the Democratic Party of Albanians, has reopened debate on the potential division of the country along ethnic lines and a potential push for Albanian self-determination in Macedonia. Such rhetoric has been heard in recent months on both sides of Macedonia's ethnic divide, prompting the international community to worry the issue may undermine the August 2001 agreement that brought the country back from the brink of civil war.

RUSSIA. "Yurii Shchekochikhin: �How Long Can One Write About the Same Thing?" Profile of the State Duma deputy and investigative journalist who died on 3 July.