18 September 2003, Volume 4, Number 24
IN FOCUSCLAIMING SOME VICTORIES, ANTIMINE CAMPAIGNERS PRESS THEIR CAUSE. This week, on the occasion of the fifth meeting of states parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, hundreds of activists convened in Bangkok to urge governments to do more to ban deadly land mines that each year maim or kill hundreds of civilians, nearly one-quarter of them children. Many of them are joined together in a nongovernmental network called the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its impressive work in convincing governments to sign the agreement to ban and destroy mines, known as the Ottawa Convention.
The Soviet Union and its satellites and allies were among the world's largest producers and users of land mines and accordingly, the post-Soviet states and some of their old friends are among the world's largest stockpilers today. By the reckoning of ICBL researchers, Russia is responsible for the greatest number of civilian casualties due to land mines used in Chechnya, AP reported on 9 September. In 2002, 5,695 people were killed in Russia by land mines, more than double the 2,140 casualties the previous year. Both Russian troops and Chechen fighters use the mines in the ongoing conflict, say ICBL researchers. Worldwide, thanks to the efforts of campaigners, mine use has decreased and currently there only two governments -- Myanmar and Russia -- planting antipersonnel mines on a regular basis, according to ICBL.
The campaigners were also very concerned about Turkmenistan, which, despite its professed "neutrality" and claims of having already destroyed 1.1 million mines, said it must retain 69,200 mines for "training." The ICBL believes this number is unacceptably high and likely illegal, since the treaty allows retention only of the "minimum number absolutely necessary" for training and development purposes. Most states choosing to retain training mines are keeping only hundreds or a few thousand.
A victory for the campaign in the last year was the 30 percent worldwide increase in spending on de-mining. Most of the increased expenditure in 2002 went to Afghanistan, where the need to remove both Soviet-era and subsequently deployed land mines is enormous.
In their public statements timed for the Bangkok meeting, groups active in the campaign, such as Human Rights Watch, mainly set their sights on the U.S. This year saw marked progress with 18 countries destroying their stockpiles of mines, a decrease in the use of the weapons, and increased funding, but a lack of U.S. leadership, Human Rights Watch complained. "The Bush administration cannot seem to decide if it wants to play a leadership role in ridding the world of antipersonnel mines, or to reverse the progress of the past decade," Human Rights Watch said in a statement published on 9 September at hrw.org.
Campaigners tend to focus on the U.S. for a number of reasons -- the U.S. has not yet signed the treaty and activists believe it could set an example for other nonsigners. Unlike Russia, China, and others who have not signed the convention; the U.S. is presumably more susceptible to pressure from both special interest groups and general public opinion, and also has better de-mining technology and financial resources. Activists praised the U.S. for not using antipersonnel mines in Iraq, although it deployed them to the Persian Gulf for possible use.
Russia was able to deflect criticism at this year's meeting by announcing that it had unilaterally, without yet signing the treaty, destroyed more than 16.8 million stockpiled mines from 1996-2002 -- many more than the million previously reported. This wasn't the result of new transparency about its stockpiles, but a different method of counting -- each cluster mine of the KSF-1 and KSF-1S type was previously counted as one mine, whereas each KSF-1 contains 72 PFM-1 antipersonnel mines and each KSF-1S contains 64 PFM-1S antipersonnel mines. Russia also vowed to continue a moratorium on the export of antipersonnel mines, although its eight-year moratorium expired in December 2002.
Last year, the ICBL identified Tajikistan as the "State Party of greatest concern" and was "greatly impressed" by Tajikistan's efforts in the last year to fulfill its treaty obligations in addressing the aftermath of the civil war of the 1990s and cooperating more transparently with the international community.
In the Soviet era, such international gatherings devoted to demilitarization and peace would be attended by a contingent of balding KGB agents and Communist Party apparatchiks posing as "youth activists," focusing on the West's exclusive need to disarm, and dodging even the mildest criticism of their own country's arsenals -- which in any event they would not be likely to hear from Western groups. Today, while Western activists still tend to focus on their own governments, they are far more critical of the post-Soviet nations, and using their own research, they have shown them to be among the world's worst offenders. And more importantly, they now have counterparts of sorts in the countries with large stockpiles who themselves pressure their governments at home and help document the continuing presence of land mines. The Eurasian groups have broadened their community-education efforts, have mastered the use of the Internet and e-mail as communication and networking tools, and are more open to debate. To be sure, the movements in Eurasia are not as strong or as vocal as those in the West or other geographical areas, and tend to be closer to and less critical of their governments, quieter in their lobbying, and wary of appearing as political opponents. Some of them are in fact are not indigenous, but are local chapters of movements founded in the West, such as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, or Norwegian People's Aid.
Unlike the U.S. and Europe, where many of the groups involved in the mine-ban campaign are nongovernmental humanitarian organizations whose staff have witnessed civilian casualties firsthand, or human rights groups generally concerned about violations of international humanitarian law, or disabled rights organizations helping civilian victims, in Eurasia some leading antimine groups are made up of experts on foreign policy or on weapons, including former military personnel and injured war veterans. The most outspoken human rights groups from Russia such as Memorial Society did not have a visible presence in Bangkok and have not focused so much on the single issue of banning land mines, although they support the cause. Partly this lack of symmetry is due to the remote relevance of norm setting in distant capitals for Eurasian NGOs. Campaigns to compel more responsive governments to sign treaties seem exotic compared to the everyday exigencies of monitoring and publicizing gross violations of human rights on the ground, including injuries from land mines. There is also a kind of predetermined resignation on the part of local activists that Russia and other Eurasian states cannot be expected to sign such international treaties much less abide by them.
Two NGO leaders who traveled to the Bangkok Meeting of State Parties, from Belarus and Ukraine, have used their proximity and access to their governments to press the anti-land-mine cause with some success, although their governments have far to go to destroy their huge stockpiles. Yury Zagoumennov of Belarus's Support Center for Associations and Foundations (SCAF) reported from Bangkok that his fellow activists hugged him for what they viewed as a single-handed accomplishment: the announcement by the Belarusian government that it had added its signature to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and was intent on destroying its stockpiles. The news was not even noticed by governments and NGOs monitoring Belarus, possibly because of competing stories like allegations surfacing in the press of Belarus's sale of weapons to Syria and Belarusian-Russian currency and oil disputes. Antimine campaigners take such declarations seriously, however, because they believe that greater accession to the treaty and compliance with reporting requirements creates a climate of impunity for those countries that continue to defy the new global norms.
BELARUSIAN CAMPAIGNER LAUDS MINSK'S SIGNATURE OF MINE BAN TREATY. With a presidential decree on 28 July, Belarus, the world's seventh-largest stockpiler of land mines, set the stage for its 3 September signature of the Ottawa Convention. The Minsk-based Support Center for Associations and Foundations (SCAF), a self-described NGO think tank and resource center, established in September 1996 by a group of Belarusian educators and researchers, is widely recognized by fellow NGOs as deserving credit for the Belarusian signature.
Dr. Yury Zagoumennov, the director, is a professor of educational administration and political sciences. SCAF began its land-mine campaign in Belarus and joined the ICBL in January 1998. In an interview with "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," Zagoumennov said that at the time, there was growing international concern over large stockpiles of antipersonnel mines and the expiration of their shelf life, and the lack of transparency on these issues by the Belarusian government. SCAF's first attempts to get information from the Defense Ministry were rebuffed -- the data was classified and the government, already under the leadership of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, had neither the experience or the desire to cooperate with NGOs. Next, SCAF went to the Education Ministry to obtain information on how many children were injured or killed by land mines and unexploded ordnance in Belarus, where some 4.5 million mines are stockpiled. They were ignored. "At that moment, many NGOs would stop their attempts to establish cooperation with the government and some of them would probably attack the government; SCAF decided not to give up trying to find a peaceful solution to the problem," Zagoumennov said.
After seeking advice from seasoned ICBL campaigners abroad, SCAF decided to look for "stake holders," experts and knowledgeable persons as well as those with a vested interest in solving a problem. They next turned to the International Security Department of the Foreign Ministry. In doing so, they were tracking a Soviet and post-Soviet pattern of finding the more "liberal" agency with a greater interest in international cooperation and deploying it with more conservative ministries. SCAF believes they also happened to find individual officials genuinely concerned about the toxic environmental effects of stockpiled land mines, but who were restricted by their worries that Belarus's already existing political isolation, due to its rollback of democracy, would mean that negative information about arsenals would only be used against the government.
Gradually, SCAF was able to convince Syarhey Martynau, then first deputy minister and now foreign minister, to look at the issue, and ultimately received a letter promising cooperation that they characterized as unprecedented for an NGO in Belarus. Armed with the Foreign Ministry's letter, they could now go to the Education Ministry and Defense Ministry and others in the government to enlist their cooperation, ultimately convincing them to meet with international land-mine experts and share data. Zagoumennov has dubbed this painstaking, step-by-step strategy the creation of a "democracy corridor." In fact, the method of bureaucratic jujitsu exploits an ingrained bureaucratic habit of waiting for "clearance," with more conservative bodies following the initiative of liberals if they are convinced permission has been granted through official imprimatur. Rather than using the methods of other NGOs involving public shaming or prodding through exposure of information gained from investigative journalism, with patience and small steps, SCAF used inside connections and quiet discussions to gain access to the information used to compile the Belarusian chapter of the ICBL "Landmine Monitor," an authoritative independent annual report. Next they obtained the moratorium on export of land mines (already approved by that time in neighboring Russia), and gradually reached the point where the signature could be granted to the treaty.
"This is a step-by-step approach that helps to avoid unnecessary confrontation and keeps transformation going. NGOs can play a central role in the process, creating pressure in the 'corridor' and gradually making it broader and broader without undermining stability," Zagoumennov said.
During this period, several opposition leaders disappeared, independent newspapers, human rights defenders, and various civic groups were harassed and are now being closed, and the more outspoken "democracy corridors" established outside courtrooms or impenetrable government bureaucracies by "the chain of people who care" as the political opposition groups have dubbed themselves, have been dispersed by police, with participants often arrested. Local critics of SCAF have complained that the dialogues organized by the think tank are mainly with the more compliant political parties, and the presence of the Russian ambassador has legitimized what they see as unwelcome state control over political life and Russian interference.
Zagoumennov disagrees, and points to the accomplishment of the land-mine campaign as an example of what can be done by NGOs even in constrained circumstances, and what can serve as a model for the region. While Russia is a "special case" due to its concerns on its southern borders, Zagoumennov agrees that the accession of Belarus to the treaty may have some impact on Russia, with its even larger stockpiles. He also believes Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia will likely follow Belarus's example to sign and ratify. Already, Belarus has destroyed over 120,000 non-PFM mines.
While signing of the treaty was likely a bid by a cash-strapped, isolated government in disfavor with the West to find some area where it can be seen to be cooperative and get much-needed financial aid, Zagoumennov believes the move was altruistic. "You may say we are naive but we truly believe that they [the government] have done this because we have managed to build trust and provided them with an opportunity to do good things beneficial and safe both for Belarus and the international community," he said. There is a practical motivation as well. With 3.6 million of the mines expired, accidental detonation could lead to a chain reaction that would pollute not only Belarus but neighboring countries and have the devastating effect of a Chornobyl, Zagoumennov said. Belarus has experts in de-mining, but it will need considerable resources from outside to undertake the mammoth task. Asked about the success of his campaign and the continued existence of his organization at a time when a dozen civil rights and other civic organizations, such as Ratusha, Viasna, and Public Legal Assistance, are being closed down or harassed by authorities (see below), Zagoumennov said he has simply developed different strategies to achieve what he sees as the same goals of civil society and democracy. "The NGOs you mentioned have a political agenda and try to promote changes from the top down. We adhere to the bottom-up approach and believe in the power of grassroots civil society initiatives most of which are currently nonpolitical in Belarus," he said.
As a political science professor with considerable contacts in the diplomatic community and well-received in government ministries, Zagoumennov is perceived by some in Minsk as working at the grass tips rather than the grass roots. Yet he believes he is part of international civil society and shares its values, which he said should be "nonconfrontational and nonviolent ways of promoting changes." In fact, judging from the pointed comments on the Bush administration, international movements value confrontation and public shaming just as much as quiet diplomacy and make the distinction between such confrontation and violence.
The message of the Belarusian antimine campaign appears to be that nonconfrontational work on single issues (especially those pre-cleared by the government) with universal appeal (such as banning land mines or preventing AIDS) is likely to be far more successful in today's hostile anti-NGO climate in Belarus. "I do not think that the land-mines issues are more generic and universal than civil/human rights and national identity issues," Zagoumennov said. "But it is true that political opponents in Belarus have chosen these fields for their political battles." Political opposition groups like the United Civic Party, whose members have disappeared or been arrested in the past, and who are denied seats on election commissions and access to television, tend to make human rights the leading element of their campaigns, with ample justification. Zagoumennov said he has involved both opposition and government in the anti-land-mine cause, and maintains that such slow coalition building, as well as cross-sectoral cooperation, is the key to effective civic work in Belarus. He and his colleagues deny any control by the government, as they accept no government funding, and are supported by the European Commission, the United Nations Development Program, and other foreign donors and also have some contributions from Belarusian businessmen.
AFGHAN-WAR VETERAN LEADS ANTIMINE CAMPAIGN IN UKRAINE. Ukraine signed the Mine Ban Treaty in 1999 but has not ratified it, citing as its major obstacle the treaty's requirement of four years to destroy its land-mine stockpiles of 6.35 million. The Association of Peacekeepers in Ukraine is the local NGO partner of the ICBL, founded in 1995 by Ukrainian generals and officers who served as peacekeepers under the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia. The Ukrainian group is affiliated with the Soldiers for Peace organization headquartered in Lyons with UN NGO consultative status. The current leader is Yuriy Donskoy, a former officer and Afghan-war veteran. The military people held their first meeting on land mines in 1998, and subsequently joined the group of researchers who prepare the "Landmine Monitor" of the ICBL. They began to campaign against antipersonnel mines and formed a coordinating committee on the issue with other NGOs such as the Union of Veterans of Afghanistan and other veterans and disabled persons groups under the aegis of the governmental Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
The Peacekeepers have conducted a number of training seminars and public education campaigns with the support of the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry, and other agencies. They are proud that President Leonid Kuchma attended one of their public events, and that they are acknowledged as partners by the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other international bodies. The group hosted the international coordinating meeting of the "Landmines Monitor" in the Crimea in 2000. They have maintained a website in Russian with information about land mines which they see as a resource for NGOs throughout the former Soviet Union.
In its plans for the future in Ukraine and in cooperative work with the United Nations, the group does not have an explicit challenge to the government of Ukraine to ratify the treaty and accelerate de-mining. Rather, they see such symbolic efforts as getting the president to declare a National Peacekeepers Day in line with a UN General Assembly resolution as helping to create a hospitable climate for peace work. They have convened meetings with other experts in the ICBL network in the post-Soviet region and would like to see a more formal structure emerge to coordinate NGO work in the region. A practical consideration driving the group is the need for social and medical services for injured war veterans. Their goal is to work with official CIS structures to centralize care of veterans wounded by land mines and to cooperate with international agencies involved in de-mining.
In approaching the problem of destruction of Ukraine's stockpiles, like SCAF in Belarus, the Association of Peacekeepers has preferred to take a cooperative approach with a daunting array of official agencies with claim to the issue -- the Emergency Situations Ministry, the State Committee on Veterans, the Defense Ministry, the Labor and Social Policy Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Interregional Associations of Special Forces Veterans, the Academy of Military Medicine, the Verkhovna Rada or parliament, and even the State Standards Committee, along with the UN and various foreign governments.
They envision the formation of a nonprofit association for antimine actions and de-mining with the direct participation of the Emergency Situations Ministry, which would serve as the "curator" and manager of activities to avoid direct competition with other unspecified organizations which they believe also have a claim on receiving international technical assistance. They believe because of their existing profile on the issue and cooperation with authorities, in tandem with the Emergency Situations Ministry, they should be involved on a nonbidding basis in performing antimine work. They see a rapid-response and humanitarian-operations center being created jointly with the Emergency Situations Ministry and envision such an agency "entering the market for foreign de-mining and material and technical support for activity in the interests of the Emergency Situations Ministry of Ukraine."
The concept is quite different from the approach of Western and Asian groups, usually staffed by nonmilitary people who see their role as pressuring governments to meet obligations and perform de-mining but without necessarily joining them, or at least performing the task in their independent capacity. Still, given the limited scope for independent NGOs to maneuver in Ukraine on military issues, it is likely that only a group with these types of cooperative working contacts in government and military could accomplish the task of locating, documenting, and tracking the stockpiles of mines and seeing to their destruction. At the international level, the ICBL has been more forthright about Ukraine's foot-dragging in implementing promised de-mining under a framework agreement made with Canada. According to the 2002 "Landmines Monitor" report, although a presidential decree mandating the beginning of the process was issued in 1991, officials have spent time in meetings over the last two years determining the specifications for the destruction of PFM mines, and organizing an international tender on the destruction of the mines.
One of the difficulties Ukrainians face is that Russia possesses the technology for manufacture of weapons such as the infamous "butterfly" mine used in the war in Afghanistan, and has kept the information classified. When Ukrainians attempted to destroy several thousand "butterfly" mines in 1998, they wound up contaminating an area 2 kilometers in radius.
In July, the Association of Peacekeepers worked with the International Youth Summit and an action called the Peace Caravan, traveling around Ukrainian cities and holding public meetings with the help of local government, journalists' associations, and businesses to increase awareness about mines. Recently when some young boys discovered a World War II explosive, they were able to contact authorities to have it defused. But in general, the Peacekeepers found the level of knowledge about the dangers of mines to be very low in the provinces and they are working to correct the situation.
BELARUSGOVERNMENT CLOSES MORE NGOS AS EU CONDEMNS 'DELIBERATE CAMPAIGN.' This week in Minsk, a major human rights group, Viasna (Spring) faced closure by authorities on specious charges of defending victims of abuse who were not among its own members, and for monitoring past elections, the organization reported on its website (http://spring96.org). Last week, authorities ordered the closure of Public Legal Assistance, a legal-aid group serving numerous people, ranging from the relatives of the victims of the Nemiga metro-stampede tragedy to the wives of disappeared politicians, charter97.org and local media reported. The groups were the latest targets in a dozen government actions against human rights groups and other civic associations in the loosely-structured democracy movement of Belarus, clearly designed to clear the scene of any potential rivals in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
Viasna leader Ales Bialetsky said his group would not surrender, and Public Legal Assistance head Ales Volchek, a former district attorney turned human rights lawyer, vowed to keep on providing services, local NGO websites reported. Volchek and his colleagues were charged with "illegally" offering legal aid in violation of laws controlling the bar as well as public associations. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, another national group with local chapters, was warned of "violations" of the law for printing its name without the customary quotation marks. The Free Society for Legal Research, an organization known for critiques of draft legislation, has now been reprimanded three times by the Minsk justice department, charter97.org reported 10 September, for allegedly collaborating with unregistered organizations. The Lev Sapiega Foundation was informed by the Justice Ministry that it was violating its own charter by holding seminars with unregistered, banned organizations.
As some groups either fail to meet stiff registration requirements or are shut down, they became "radioactive" and can cause even those with legal status to suffer harassment themselves and then be declared "illegal." Whether lawyers or human rights advocates offer services for free, or accept some fee to maintain the capacity of their organizations, they are accused by the authorities of illegal activity. Helping people, publishing reports, monitoring elections -- all activities that are themselves not questioned in even quite oppressive countries of the world -- are challenged at the root by the Soviet-style Belarusian state because they challenge its monopoly over the public sphere.
The Union of Poles was warned it could not use the Polish language, "Transitions Online" reported this week. Earlier this year, the Youth Christian Social Union; Ratusha, a resource center for other local groups; Varuta, and others were "liquidated" under various pretexts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 22 August 2003); Ratusha was accused of operating a printing equipment without a license. Some groups in the provinces that have faced harassment have not even managed to get their stories heard yet, and still others are reluctant to complain for fear of unleashing further persecution.
International groups like the International Federation for Human Rights and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights have repeatedly condemned the actions in recent months and tried to draw the attention of governments to the crackdown -- the worst since President Lukashenka came to power in 1996. A presidential decree of April 2003, "On Some Questions of Civil Justice" stipulates that NGOs can only represent their own members in court. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee has pointed out the decree violates the Belarusian Constitution's guarantee of the right to chose one's counsel, as well as the Criminal Procedures Code.
The restrictive spin that the Belarusian government has made on the concept of human rights defense -- that only approved groups can represent only their own members and not the public at large -- is a notion that was thrown out during 13 years of often cantankerous negotiation of the UN's "Defenders' Declaration" of 9 December 1998. The idea that legal and human rights defense was only the state's prerogative was purveyed at the UN negotiations by some of the post-Soviet parties but it was ultimately rejected in favor of the affirmation that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others...to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant legal advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms." Several years ago, the Belarusian government attempted to whittle away at human rights defenders claims that they were in fact professionally qualified or able to provide relevant legal advice by disbarring some crusading human rights attorneys and eliminating the independent, fee-paid bar.
Intergovernmental bodies have predictably wrung their hands at the latest outrage, but not proposed any serious measures or sanctions against the Belarusian government. The mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is now shorn of its previous mandate to promote democracy, in a 12 September statement called the NGO closures "harsh" and "disproportionate" to the alleged deeds. The public condemnation from the often-silent mission was welcome, and yet appeared to leave some doubt as to the validity of the charges and failed to reiterate the basic premise of the 1975 Helsinki Act, which promised citizens "the right to know and act upon their rights" -- a phrase claimed for 2 1/2 decades by human rights defenders in their work. In a statement to the press this week, the European Union, which is not likely to have Belarus as a member any time soon, said it was "disappointed" at the closure of Ratusha, noted "concern" about the action against the Union of Poles, and was "disturbed" about a new law allowing authorities to ban political parties for so much as a single violation of the restrictive law on rallies and demonstrations. "The EU is of the opinion that this is a part of a deliberate campaign to oppress civil society in Belarus" and urged Belarus "in the strongest possible terms" to reverse the measures.
Despite the flurry of protests at home and abroad, the Belarusian government persisted with its crackdown. Soon, both Belarusian democracy-oriented NGOs and their foreign well-wishers are likely to have to cross the Rubicon between open, public activity and more clandestine or quiet work. Serious thought will have to be given as to how scores of democrats who have been trained and nurtured from the outside will be saved as repression mounts, and not abandoned to be totally crushed by a dictatorship. They cannot be expected to go on monitoring human rights, accepting cases of victims, and then filing reports about themselves as they are imprisoned. Virtually all government and private democracy assistance is structured around the notion that aid is overt and is for training and moving toward reform, not fighting repression. Regrettably, that era is over now in Belarus and donors are already having to shift tactics and work outside the country, particularly since the expulsion of IREX, a U.S.-funded agency promoting Internet connectivity and independent journalism. As in the Soviet era, and as with Chile and other countries during the time of military dictatorships Western supporters will have to increase support of visiting scholarships for Belarusians and other types of exchanges to help keep the intelligentsia alive until a better time.
One of the remedies proposed for Belarus is to have Western governments take up Belarus's deplorable human rights record with Russia, due to its presumed leverage with Belarus. Analysts Mark Brzezinski and Mark Lenzi, writing in "The Boston Globe" on 14 September, propose that at the top of the agenda for the forthcoming Bush-Putin summit should be "a candid discussion with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin about Russia's proxy state of Belarus -- a country that will soon border three NATO members."
Such interventions are reasonable in terms of keeping Russian awareness high about displeasure with the regime it largely subsidizes. The notion that Russian pressure would be wielded to bring about positive change in Belarus, however, should be discarded in view of the actual uses of such pressure to gain economic and political advantage, as can be seen with current tensions over the ruble exchange and gas deliveries. If the Kremlin turns off the gas to Belarus, it doesn't mean it will hail Belarusian democrats. Still, there are some liberal Russians who have made common cause with their counterparts. To a greater extent than anyone acknowledges, Russia has been a staging ground for some assistance to opposition to the Belarusian regime; witness increasing publishing of independent newspapers in Smolensk.
Other neighboring countries all tacitly allow opposition groups and NGOs to meet and plan activities and see Westerners who can no longer get visas into Belarus. Yet they -- and Europeans farther West -- are reluctant to challenge the regime on Russia's flank too greatly for fear of backlash. Because Russia's cooperation is required on so many geopolitical fronts, the issue of a vibrant and protected civil society in Belarus is likely to be ignored. The Belarusians at the front line of the struggle against Soviet resurgence have a role to play beyond the immediate confines of their country since the problem of the persistence of past police-state methods remain throughout the region and need to be systematically addressed.
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSBELARUS. The Support Center for Associations and Foundations (SCAF) is leading the campaign to ban land mines in Belarus. The site contains papers by SCAF leaders and links to a study of Belarusian civil society prepared for Civicus International. http://scaf.at.tut.by and http://www.dialogue.unibel.by
BELARUS. Viasna (Spring) '96, a group founded in 1996 to defend its own activists and help other victims of human rights abuse as President Lukashenka began to crackdown on civil society, is now itself a victim of the government's misuse of the legal system to close it down. It maintains a website in Belarusian, Russian, and English containing general news briefs and specific cases of human rights abuse. http://www.spring96.org
UKRAINE. The Association of Peacekeepers heads the campaign against land mines in Ukraine. The group maintains websites in Russian and English with translations of the international campaign's materials as well as news clippings and activities reports. http://www.ucbl.org.ua/
INTERNATIONAL. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a network of more than 1,200 NGOs in 60 countries working for a global ban on land mines. The site contains daily updates on this week's Meeting of State Parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in Bangkok and NGO statements delivered to the forum. Other resources include forms to contact regional leaders, such as those in the Balkans and Eurasia; the "Landmine Monitor," an annual report on individual countries' compliance with the treaty; the text of the treaty in English, Russian, and other languages, and calendar of meetings and events. For more advanced Internet users, an image library and an archive of films are also available on the site. http://www.icbl.org
INTERNATIONAL. "UN: Campaigners Hope Bangkok Conference Will Help Eliminate Land Mines." Campaigners against the use of land mines have gathered in Bangkok this week for a UN-sponsored conference on the international treaty against their use. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, has sent 250 delegates to the five-day event. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/09/15092003153638.asp