31 October 2001, Volume 2, Number 43
INTERNATIONALUNHCR EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER POSSIBLE WORSENED STATUS FOR REFUGEES... As the agency mandated to protect and assist millions of the world's most vulnerable people, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is very concerned about the potential impact of 11 September on millions of vulnerable refugees. There is an increased public perception of refugees and asylum seekers as "criminals" and there are efforts to make unwarranted links between refugees and terrorism. Even before 11 September, asylum seekers faced increased obstacles in some countries, such as gaining access to asylum procedures or overcoming presumptions about the validity of their status claims due to their ethnic background or mode of arrival. UNHCR is also aware that several governments are now looking at additional security safeguards to prevent terrorists from gaining admission to their territory through asylum channels. While this governmental concern is inherently reasonable, the new safeguards should strike a proper balance with possibly threatened present refugee protection principles. UNHCR stands ready to work with governments on these issues.
...AND DRAWS UP 10 REFUGEE PROTECTION PRINCIPLES. As governments examine various additional procedural safeguards in efforts to combat terrorism, UNHCR has formulated 10 concerns over possible actions that may directly affect asylum seekers and refugees.
1. Racism and Xenophobia: UNHCR is seriously concerned over the all-too-common tendency to link asylum seekers and refugees to crime and terrorism. Equating asylum with the provision of a safe haven for terrorists is not only legally indefensible and unsupported by facts, but makes refugees subject to prejudice and exposes persons of certain races or religions to discrimination and harassment.
2. Admission and Access to Refugee Status Determination: All persons have the right to seek asylum and to undergo individual refugee status determination. Rejection at the border can result in people being sent back into danger, violating international refugee legal obligations. UNHCR's concern is that legislation may be enacted which effectively denies access to refugee status determination procedures -- or even to rejection at the border -- of certain groups or individuals due to their religion, ethnicity, national origin, or political affiliation with assumed links to terrorism. The 1951 Refugee Convention already has a so-called "exclusion clause" which excludes persons who have committed very serious crimes as well as lifting the ban on refoulement for those who are a danger to national security. If properly applied, this Convention will exclude those responsible for terrorist acts and may assist in their identification and eventual prosecution.
3. Exclusion: Governments may automatically or improperly apply exclusion clauses or other criteria to individual asylum seekers based on the assumption that they may be terrorists because of their religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliation. Genuine refugees are victims of terrorism and persecution, not its perpetrators. When appropriate, UNHCR encourages governments to apply exclusion clauses in present international refugee instruments such as the 1951 Convention. The application of any exclusion clause must be on an individual basis and should be part of a general status determination process.
4. Treatment of Asylum Seekers: Governments might be inclined to resort to mandatory detention of asylum seekers or to set up procedures that do not comply with due process. UNHCR position is that detention of asylum seekers should be the exception, not the rule, and should always comply with due process rules. Detention is only acceptable when individual circumstances justify it, such as if there are good grounds for suspected terrorist links. Refugee status determination procedures, put in place to deal with suspected terrorists, must also comply with minimum due process standards, involve officials who are qualified and knowledgeable, and include the possibility of review.
5. Withdrawal of Refugee Status: States may be inclined to withdraw the refugee status of individuals based on the assumption that they may be terrorists due to their religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliation. The rule is that refugee status can only be withdrawn if there is evidence of fraud or important factual misrepresentation. A refugee's ethnicity or origin cannot alone be grounds for determination of status.
6. Deportation: Governments may be inclined to deport groups or individuals on the assumption that they may be terrorists because of their religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliation. While the 1951 Refugee Convention allows for the expulsion of individual refugees on grounds of national security or public order, this should only be rendered after a decision under due process of law, including giving the refugee an opportunity to counter these allegations.
7. Extradition: States may be inclined to speedily grant the extradition of groups or individuals on the assumption that they may be terrorists based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliation. Extradition should only be granted after necessary legal proceedings, and where it has been shown that extradition is not requested as a way to return a person to a country for later persecution, not prosecution.
8. Resettlement: Resettlement to third countries is one of three main durable solutions for refugees (the others are repatriation to country of origin and integration in the country of first asylum). States may now be inclined not to maintain their resettlement programs at promised levels, particularly for certain ethnic groups or nationalities. Resettlement remains imperative, especially for vulnerable refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, where women are in particular risk. Continued support for resettlement is vital. UNHCR is attempting to diversify the number of resettlement countries.
9. UN Security Council Resolution 1373: Security Council Resolution 1373, adopted on 28 September 2001, includes a provision calling on states to cooperate to prevent and suppress terrorist acts and to complement such cooperation with additional domestic measures. Resolution 1373, if properly interpreted and applied, is in line with principles of international refugee law. But care must be taken in its implementation to ensure that bona fide asylum seekers and refugees are not denied their basic rights under cover of the need to take antiterrorism measures.
10. Draft Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism: UNHCR would welcome the development and swift adoption of a comprehensive convention against terrorism, but it should not give legal force to unwarranted linkages between asylum seekers/refugees and terrorists. Nor should such a convention be construed as implying that the 1951 Refugee Convention is inadequate for the exclusion of terrorists from refugee status, or that it somehow offers safe haven to terrorists. (UNHCR Press Release, 23 October) (MINELRES, 26 October)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: GLOBAL BACKLASH AGAINST REFUGEES? Human Rights Watch (HRW) cautioned against a global backlash against migrants and refugees in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the U.S. The backgrounder also traced new immigration legislation and antiterrorism measures introduced by countries around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and some other European Union countries in response to the 11 September attacks. See http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/refugees/afghan-bck1017.htm. (Human Rights Watch, 18 October)
OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR GREATER UNITY. Speaking to journalists in Baku on 22 October, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar called on Azerbaijani opposition parties, which are split into two rival camps, to cooperate more closely and to consider nominating a single opposition candidate in the presidential elections due in 2003, Turan reported. Gambar was one of five influential opposition leaders who jointly agreed to boycott the October 1998 presidential ballot on the grounds that the election campaign was undemocratic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
...WARNS OF REFUGEE CRISIS IN AND AROUND AFGHANISTAN... HRW released a statement on 18 October which stated that the government of Pakistan should halt plans to set up refugee camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghanistan border. These "tribal areas" are unstable and insecure, hard to reach, with inadequate water and infrastructure. HRW urged that alternative sites for incoming refugees be found. Although the influx of refugees into neighboring countries has been smaller than expected, refugees may be deterred by border closures, plus the high cost of transport or smugglers fees. There are heavily mined unofficial routes and passes which also pose risks to refugees forced to enter Pakistan. HRW called on countries neighboring Afghanistan to keep borders open to Afghan refugees in accordance with their international obligations. The HRW report also urged the international community to work with host countries and the UN to activate procedures at the borders to separate armed elements from civilian refugees. (Human Rights Watch, 18 October)
...AND ON ATTACKS ON HUMANITARIAN AID IN AFGHANISTAN. HRW urged donor governments to ensure that urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches those most needy in Afghanistan. The Taliban needs to cooperate to guarantee the security of humanitarian workers. For more on attacks on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, see http://www.hrw.org/press/2001/10/aid1018.htm. (Human Rights Watch, 18 October)
ARMENIAOPPOSITION CALLS ON GOVERNMENT FOR DIALOGUE. The Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties on 24 October called on the government to resume consultations on launching a political dialogue with the mediation of international organizations, Belapan reported. Such consultations were conducted before the 2000 legislative elections, but failed to produce any results. The council also appealed to Premier Henadz Navitski to start a public debate on the fate of Kurapaty, the site where the Stalin-era NKVD shot and buried tens of thousands of "enemies of the people." The council said it is concerned about the recent tension over the reconstruction of the Minsk beltway, which it is feared will damage the Kurapaty memorial site. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
OPPOSITION CLAIMS GROWING SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT'S IMPEACHMENT. Some 600,000 people have already signed a petition drafted by Armenia's three main opposition parties calling for the impeachment of President Robert Kocharian, National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 29 October. The opposition accuses the president of corruption, issuing decrees that were unconstitutional, and obstructing the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings. But Geghamian declined to specify how many of the 131 parliament deputies are prepared to back a call for the president's impeachment. The constitution stipulates that the support of at least 44 deputies is necessary for a debate on impeachment to take place. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
AZERBAIJANCOUNCIL OF EUROPE LISTS AZERBAIJAN'S POLITICAL PRISONERS. The Council of Europe unveiled on 25 October a list of 23 persons jailed in Azerbaijan whom it considers political prisoners, Turan reported the following day. Those 23, selected from a list of over 700, include former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov; former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev; former Premier Suret Huseinov; the leader of the self-proclaimed Talysh-Mughan Republic, Alikram Gumbatov; and former Gyandja city police chief Natig Efendiev, who was extradited from Turkey last year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
BELARUSPOLICE ARREST ANTI-FASCIST DEMONSTRATORS. Police on 26 October detained 12 activists of the opposition Youth Front who tried to march through Minsk with lighted candles and posters reading "No to Fascism in Belarus," Belapan reported. The Youth Front timed the march to commemorate the memory of the first underground resistance fighters executed by the Nazis in Minsk on 26 October 1941. The arrested activists included Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets, who had been released only hours earlier after serving 10 days in jail for an unauthorized picket. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
BOSNIABOSNIAN SERB HEALTH WORKERS STRIKE. Some 12,000 health workers went on strike in the Republika Srpska on 22 October to demand back pay, new contracts, and guarantees that they will have the resources they need to do their jobs, Reuters reported from Banja Luka. Union leaders say the strike will last until the demands are met. In the meantime, medical staff will handle emergency cases only. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
BULGARIAINTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF DENIES CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS. National Intelligence Service chief Major General Dimo Giaurov told journalists on 23 October that he has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to begin investigating the daily "Republika," which he accuses of "slander." The daily wrote in two articles earlier this month that Giaurov and President Petar Stoyanov's brother Emil Stoyanov have misused National Intelligence Service funds that were channeled for constructing apartments for them instead of renovating buildings of the service in Bankya, BTA reported. Giaurov said the company that built the apartments has never worked for the service he heads and has nothing to do with that service. He said he is "a wealthy man, not ashamed of it," and that he financed the construction of the apartments from inherited properties and restituted property. He also said it was "mostly chance" that Emil Stoyanov purchased an apartment in the same building and that he "hardly knows" the president's brother. Giaurov also said it was "not by chance" that the allegations were printed in a newspaper known for its links with the former communist secret service. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
UN REPORT SAYS BULGARIA INTOLERANT OF HOMOSEXUALS, ROMA. A report released on 24 October by the UN Development Program (UNDP) said Bulgaria "remains disturbingly intolerant" of homosexuals and Roma, although some progress has been made since 1988 in attitudes toward minorities, AFP reported. The report said 76 percent of Bulgarians do not want to have a homosexual as a neighbor and 50 percent do not want to live next door to a Rom. Intolerance toward Roma, however, dropped from 1998, when 78.3 percent said they did not wish to have a Rom as neighbor. The report said that in practice, interaction between Bulgarians and Roma occurs only in the poorest strata of society. It also said that in a number of schools, Romany children have been separated from Bulgarians "into differentiated and segregated classes." Bulgarians consider even former prison inmates preferable to Roma as neighbors, since only 47 percent replied in the UNDP survey that they do not want an ex-convict as a neighbor. Forty-five percent said they do not want to live next door to someone suffering from AIDS, and the same proportion would refuse to live next door to a drug addict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
CZECH REPUBLICINFAMOUS STREET IN USTI NAD LABEM RETURNS TO HEADLINES. Ethnic Czech inhabitants of Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem said on 23 October that some Roma living there must be evicted, CTK reported. They spoke at a meeting of the municipal council of the district in which Maticni Street is included. The district's mayor replied that he would like to evict Roma who do not pay rent to low-category apartments on the town's outskirts, but the council does not have such housing available. The mayor recommended that the 80 signatories of a petition launched last summer protesting the behavior of some Roma should launch legal proceedings. Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem acquired notoriety in the autumn of 1998 when a fence was built to allegedly protect ethnic Czech inhabitants of private houses on the street from the "noise and disorder" in municipal apartments on the street inhabited by Roma. The fence was eventually dismantled following Czech and international protests. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
CZECHS TOLERATE SKINHEADS MORE THAN ROMA. Petr Hrala, the director of the Prague-based Opinion Window polling institute, on 23 October said some 20 percent of Czechs declared in a recently conducted survey that they sympathize with the goals of skinheads, though not with skinhead behavior, CTK reported. Hrala said the ratio of skinhead support is particularly high among youth. He said support of Roma is lower than that for skinheads, and 26 percent of the respondents to the survey replied that they would not mind having a skinhead as neighbor, but only 14 percent are prepared to have a Rom as a neighbor. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SERVICE SAYS RUSSIA TRYING TO INFILTRATE INSTITUTIONS... In its annual report for the year 2000, which was recently released for publication, the Czech Security Information Service's (BIS) counterintelligence service said the Russian intelligence services are attempting to penetrate Czech ministries for the purpose of collecting secret information, CTK reported on 24 October. The report appreciates that there is a link between the increased activity of the Russian secret services in the Czech Republic and the coming to power in 2000 of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man. It says the Russian intelligence services have displayed an increased interest in nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare following the beginning of testing operations at the Temelin nuclear power plant. The BIS also said Russia is trying to "build a system of pressure agencies" to influence decision-making at the local-administration level, as well as to spread false information aimed at discrediting the Czech Republic abroad. It says these efforts are geared at casting aspersions on the country's NATO membership and its costs, as well as to raise questions on Czech participation in NATO peacekeeping operations and about the purchase of new fighters for the Czech air force. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
...WARNS AGAINST RUSSIAN-SPEAKING GANGS OPERATING IN CZECH BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT. The report also said "Russian-speaking gangs," most often involving Russian and Ukrainian citizens, "are among the most dangerous groups of organized crime operating in the Czech Republic," CTK reported. It said these gangs have links to Czech entrepreneurs and to Czech financial circles that "represent various firms on behalf of their real bosses." The BIS said many Czech firms have launched their activities using funds from Russian and Ukrainian criminal organizations, and that many such businesses focus on the purchase of luxurious real estate, and also on trading with, and the manufacturing of, strategic raw materials. The report said there are also illicit businesses operated by Chinese, Yugoslav, Albanian, and Vietnamese organizations. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
LOWER CHAMBER REJECTS SAME-SEX PARTNERSHIP BILL. The Chamber of Deputies on 25 October rejected a government-sponsored draft law that would have legalized same-sex partnerships, AP reported. The vote was 86 to 60, with 21 abstentions. This is the third time that a bill on same-sex partnership has been rejected. The chamber decided to return the draft to the government for revision. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
CZECHS ASK GERMANY FOR HELP IN PROSECUTING SUSPECTED RFE/RL SPY. The Czech authorities have asked Germany to provide documentation needed for the prosecution of former communist agent Pavel Minarik, CTK reported on 26 October. Minarik, who operated as an intelligence agent in the former RFE/RL headquarters in Munich in the mid-1970s, is suspected of having planned a bomb attack on the building. Minarik returned to Czechoslovakia several years before the RFE/RL building in Munich was bombed in 1981. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
HUNGARYOFFICIAL REJECTS ROMANIAN PROPOSAL FOR HUNGARIAN ID CARDS. Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath on 24 October said membership in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) cannot be the equivalent of membership in the Hungarian minority, "Mediafax" reported, quoting a BBC report. Rejecting Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's recent proposal, Horvath said the Hungarian Status Law will not be applied on ethnic criteria, but will be based on individuals' declaration of their Hungarian identity. The number of Romanian citizens of Hungarian nationality is much larger than the number of those who are members of the UDMR, Horvath concluded. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
JEWISH COMMUNITY OBJECTS TO MIEP FORUM IN FORMER SYNAGOGUE. The Jewish community of Zalaegerszeg on 24 October expressed "outrage" after the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) held a political gathering in a former synagogue that is now a concert and exhibition hall. Vilmos Siklosi, the head of the town's Jewish community, said the community objects to the "desecration of the former synagogue." Siklosi told "Nepszabadsag" that events such as a male striptease contest, an exhibition called "Lebensraum," and "party functions that not only verge on the borders of good taste but are cynical and humiliating to our community," have also been organized in the former synagogue. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said his party has repeatedly organized functions in the concert hall despite protests from the local Jewish community because "the hall is owned by the town, and the community cannot have a say in what functions take place there." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
KAZAKHSTANKAZAKHSTAN MARKS REPUBLIC DAY. The 11th anniversary of the Kazakh parliament's declaration of state sovereignty within the USSR was celebrated in the former and current capitals and in administrative centers on 25 October. Addressing a crowd on Astana's central square, President Nursultan Nazarbaev noted that the economy is flourishing, the political situation is stable, and the population is becoming increasingly prosperous, Interfax reported. But teachers and doctors in Almaty clearly do not agree with that latter assertion: on 24 October they submitted an appeal to the office of the Almaty mayor demanding a salary increase and amendments to the policy on social support for their professions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
KYRGYZSTANOPPOSITION MARKS JAILED LEADER'S BIRTHDAY. Some 40 supporters of jailed Ar-Namys party Chairman and former Vice President Feliks Kulov congregated in Bishkek on 29 October and held a protest march to demand Kulov's release from prison, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was sentenced in January to seven years imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
LITHUANIACATHOLIC CANDIDATE IS NEW RELIGIOUS ADVISER. Julius Ratkus, a school teacher and a Catholic, has been chosen as the Lithuanian government's new religious affairs adviser, Linas Vangalis, head of the department of education, science, and culture in the central government apparatus, told Keston News Service from Vilnius. Although the Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius had told Keston that Ratkus was his Church's candidate, Vangalis denied this. "He took part in the competition as an individual and was not recommended by any specific denomination. He was certainly not chosen because he is a Catholic." Vangalis pledged that as religious affairs adviser Ratkus would work on behalf of all religious denominations. "He is above all an official who has the duty to treat all denominations equally. His own faith must not play a role." (Keston News Service, 16 October)
MACEDONIAWORKERS SEEK GOVERNMENT BAILOUT. More than 10,000 workers blocked roads in Skopje and other cities on 23 October to demand a $150 minimum monthly wage and a government bailout for insolvent state industries, dpa reported. Macedonia, like Serbia, retains much of its communist-era state-run sector and benefits greatly from the gray economy and from remittances from its citizens working abroad. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
OSCE UNIVERSITY SET TO OPEN DOORS IN MACEDONIA. Former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel said in Skopje that classes will begin at Southeastern European University in Tetovo on 20 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 October. The university has a rigorous curriculum meeting international standards, and offers instruction in Albanian, English, and Macedonian. Most of the prospective students have expressed an interest in law or business degrees. The university represents the OSCE's answer to long-standing Albanian demands for university-level education in their own language, while paying heed to Macedonian fears lest an Albanian-language university turn into a diploma-mill for nationalists, which many feel Kosova's Prishtina University became in the 1970s. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
MOLDOVAU.S. EMBASSY REJECTS ALLEGATIONS OF HUMAN ORGANS TRAFFICKING. The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau has rejected allegations made last week on a local television program that adopted Moldovan children are used in the United States for the purpose of trafficking in human organs, Infotag reported. The embassy said it is "disturbed and offended" by the allegations and called them "ridiculous and baseless." A statement released by the embassy said the United States has fully cooperated with the Moldovan authorities since the decision was adopted earlier this year to suspend all international adoptions while Moldovan authorities conduct an investigation into possible irregularities in the adoption process. The embassy said the acts attributed to U.S. citizens in the allegations are punishable in the United States by long prison terms and "any credible evidence of such actions presented by the government of the Republic of Moldova will be immediately passed on to the appropriate authorities in the U.S. and prosecuted to the fullest extent provided for in the letter of the law." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
PRIESTS APPEAL TO ROMANIAN PRESIDENT. Three Moldovan priests belonging to the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church on 23 October appealed to Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nastase, as well as to the Romanian Embassy in Chisinau, saying the Moldovan authorities are "waging an interconfessional war." The three priests were recently forbidden by the Moscow-subordinated Moldovan Metropolitan Church to officiate in their parishes. They wrote that the present leadership in Chisinau is "openly encouraging phobia against Romania" and that the Bessarabian Church is being attacked "by the communist leadership at all levels, on all fronts." The priests wrote that in view of this situation, "the time has come to abandon...compromise in relations with the current leadership in Chisinau." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
POLANDPRESIDENT MOVES TO AMEND LUSTRATION LAW. Aleksander Kwasniewski on 22 October submitted to the Sejm amendments to the 1997 lustration law that obliges state officials to make written statements on whether they collaborated with the communist-era secret services. PAP on 24 October provided details of the president's amendments. Kwasniewski wants persons who provided information to intelligence, counterintelligence, and border guards to be exempt from the law. He proposes a provision obliging the lustration prosecutor to examine lustration statements made by top state officials before any other statements. He also wants any person suspected by the lustration prosecutor of having lied in his/her statement to be notified about this in advance of his/her lustration trial. One amendment stipulates that the Lustration Court is obliged to pass either a "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict and is forbidden to drop lustration cases for lack of sufficient evidence. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
ROMANIAKING CAROL II TO BE REINTERRED? Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu on 22 October said in the Senate that the earthly remains of King Carol II, who died in Portugal after having abdicated the throne in 1940, must be returned and "buried in the Orthodox Romanian earth." Theodorescu made the comments in response to a parliamentary interpellation by Social Democratic Party Senator Adrian Paunescu last week. Theodorescu said Carol II "was a historic personality, who had his lights and his shadows." He added that Carol II, who was King Michael's father, was "the first Orthodox Hohenzollern." Last week, Paunescu demanded that the remains of King Carol II and of his second wife, Elena Lupescu, be reinterred in Romania. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
RUSSIAFSB, CIA BELIEVE NEO-NAZIS, NOT BIN LADEN BEHIND ANTHRAX SCARE. According to an article in "Izvestiya" on 29 October, experts at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) are now inclined to believe that the recent spate of anthrax-laden powders in letters was the work of neo-Nazis rather than that of the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS AGAINST HAVING INTERIOR MINISTRY SUPERVISE MIGRATION. Russian human rights and migration rights groups on 23 October spoke out against Interior Ministry control over migration issues, Interfax reported. The groups, which included among others the Forum of Resettlement Organizations and the Committee for Assistance to Refugees, said that "force ministries by their very definition are not in a position to implement national migration policy and consequently they should be freed from such incompatible functions before it is too late." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
MOSCOW SAID TO HAVE 850,000 ILLEGAL RESIDENTS FROM BEYOND CIS. In an interview published in "Trud" on 26 October, Moscow Federal Security Service official Mikhail Tkachev said there are approximately 1 million people from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) living in Moscow, of whom 850,000 are there illegally. He said that his agency is cracking down on tourist firms that arrange for people from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran to come to Moscow on tourist visas and then simply disappear. He added that the FSB has closed some 5,000 such firms this year alone. But he said that more needs to be done, including strengthening laws to punish those who are in Russia illegally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
DUMA PLANS APPEAL TO PUTIN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. The Duma is planning to appeal to President Putin to take action against illegal immigration, Interfax reported on 23 October. Among the actions the deputies of several of the parliament's committee seek are a prompt review of visa-free travel agreements with some members of the CIS and an enhanced effort to have all CIS governments ratify the March 1998 Convention on Cooperation in the Struggle Against Illegal Immigration. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
RUSSIAN LAUNCHES THIRD PHASE OF AID TO AFGHANISTAN. Russian officials announced on 22 October that Moscow has begun the third phase of its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. More than 70 train cars full of food, medicines, and other goods will be dispatched to Tajikistan in the next few days, the officials said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
ASSISTANCE NEEDED FOR ORPHANED CHECHEN CHILDREN. Natasha Nelidova, director of the Moscow-based refugee organization, A Warm Home, has just returned from Ingushetia. She made an appeal for assistance for Chechen orphaned children. Six children aged 3-14, most girls aged 9-14, urgently need winter clothes and shoes in sizes 37-38. No one is taking care of these children; they are living in one tent in the Sputnik Camp. One child also has TB. Donations of vitamins and sleeping bags would also be appreciated. English speakers can respond to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Center for Civil Society International, 18 October)
FOREIGNERS SAID TO DOMINATE SECTORS OF MOSCOW CRIME. Vladimir Sedykh, the deputy chief of the passport-visa service of the Moscow Internal Affairs administration, told Interfax-Moscow on 25 October that Africans and Asians dominate part of the drug business in the Russian capital and that gangs made up of Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians dominate other sectors. He added that foreigners committed 1,844 crimes in Moscow during 2000 and that some 81 of them have been forcibly deported from Russia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
UKRAINIAN CULTURAL CENTER IN MOSCOW FIREBOMBED. Two vandals set fire to the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Moscow on 21 October but did little harm, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 October. The paper said that the attackers had thrown leaflets criticizing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and condemning Ukraine for downing the Russian aircraft over the Black Sea with an errant missile. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian media, the paper said, have devoted much attention to the firebombing or explained what it means. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
RUSSIAN REGIONS WANTS CITIZENSHIP PROCESS SIMPLIFIED FOR ETHNIC RUSSIANS ABROAD. Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Georgii Tikhonov said on 26 October that his faction intends to introduce amendments to the citizenship law in order to allow Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics to be able to acquire Russian citizenship more easily, Interfax reported. Tikhonov, the deputy chairman of the Duma CIS Committee, said the measure will specify that "all citizens of the former USSR and the Russian Empire, who have not voluntarily taken citizenship in another country automatically will become citizens of Russia." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
AFGHANS IN ROSTOV ORGANIZE SCHOOL. Refugees from Afghanistan in Rostov-na-Donu have organized a school to teach their children Dari, Russian, and English in the hopes that the children will eventually be able to return to Afghanistan, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 October. The school works in the evenings until 2:00 a.m. The article also reported that there are some 3,000 Afghan orphans in Russia, most of whom were brought to the USSR during the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and have since lost all contact with their fellow Afghans and all knowledge of their native languages. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
WIDESPREAD CORRUPTION REGISTERED IN USE OF IMF LOANS. A probe into the way in which Russian officials handled loans from the International Monetary Fund found widespread corruption, "Novaya gazeta" reported on 29 October. The paper noted that much of the corruption involved a small, 53-person office called the Federal Center of Project Financing that does not have any rules for keeping track of how the loans, all of which passed through its hands, were distributed. The paper noted that this center gained the status of an open-share holding company when the current chief of the Audit Chamber, Sergei Stepashin, was prime minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
RUTSKOI'S BROTHER CONVICTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES. The brother of former Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, Vladimir Rutskoi, along with a group of officials who worked under him at the state-run company he headed have been convicted of misappropriation and embezzlement, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 October. One of the governor's former advisers, Angelina Prokhorenko, was also implicated in the crimes. Aleksandr Rutskoi's former administration has been dogged by accusations of corruption since then-Governor Rutskoi was barred from seeking re-election last fall. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October)
THREE SENIOR CUSTOMS OFFICERS FIRED FOR CORRUPTION. Customs Committee chief Mikhail Vanin announced that he has fired three senior customs officials in the Northwest Directorate because they falsified reports about the transit of nonexistent goods in order to pocket customs duties, the Interior Ministry website cry.ru reported on 24 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
PROSECUTORS CONFIRM CHARGES AGAINST AKSENENKO. A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office said on 22 October that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko has been indicted for the misuse of $500 million of funds, polit.ru reported. The spokesman added that Aksenenko's ministry underpaid its taxes and illegally purchased apartments for its managers. Aksenenko for his part said that the charges have been the result of a frame-up outside the prosecutor's office, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTORS GET THREE YEARS FOR TAKING $10 BRIBE. Three instructors at Altai State University have been sentenced to prison terms of three to four years for taking bribes of $10 to $35 from students seeking to change their grades, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
DUMA VOTES FOR PENSION REFORM ON FIRST READING. By a vote of 235 to 162, the Duma on 25 October approved on first reading the draft pension reform bill presented by President Putin, Russian and Western agencies reported. The bill provides for the transformation of the Pension Fund into a nonprofit organization and expands the functions of that body to include setting pension rates and establishing a single federal data bank on pensioners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
TRADE UNION LEADER WANTS MINIMUM WAGE TO MATCH MINIMUM STANDARD OF LIVING. Mikhail Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, said on 25 October that the minimum wage should be raised so that those receiving it will be at least at the level of the minimum standard of living set by the government, Interfax reported. At present, he said, those earning the minimum wage receive a total of only 20 percent of the income needed to meet the minimum standard of living. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS THREATEN TO RESUME HUNGER STRIKE. Sergei Kovalev, the head of the Federation of Russian Air Traffic Controller Unions, told Interfax on 22 October that members may resume a hunger strike if the government and the airlines do not begin to negotiate seriously. The controllers struck on 10-11 October, but ended their hunger strike after being promised serious talks. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
REGISTERED UNEMPLOYED NOW FEWER THAN REGISTERED JOB OPENINGS. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 October reported that for the first time in nine years, the number of people officially registered as unemployed is smaller than the number of officially registered job vacancies. But the paper noted that the number of those officially unemployed is smaller than the actual number of those looking for work. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
RUSSIAN INVALIDS DEMAND BETTER SOCIAL PROGRAMS. The Third Congress of the All-Russian Society of Invalids on 24 October called for the government to devote more resources to help the more than 4 million people in Russia suffering from disabilities, Interfax reported. The congress represents more than 2 million people. At the opening session, a message of greeting from President Putin was read out to the delegates. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
MIXED DEMOGRAPHIC NEWS IN MOSCOW. Vladimir Semenov, the health minister of the Moscow Oblast government, said on 25 October that mortality among working-age people in the oblast is increasing as a result of both rising rates of illness and accidents, Interfax-Moscow reported. But at the same time, he said infant mortality has fallen from 15.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1999 to 13 per 1,000 in the first nine months in 2001. Perinatal mortality also declined from 47 per 100,000 births in 1999 to 38 per 100,000 in 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
AFGHAN FIGHTING SEEN REDUCING FLOW OF ILLEGAL DRUGS TO RUSSIA. Viktor Ushakov, the chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Administration for the Struggle Against Illegal Drug Sales, said on 25 October that the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan has had the effect of reducing the influx of drugs from there to Russia, Interfax-Northwest reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
MORE THAN 5 MILLION CRIMES IN RUSSIA PROJECTED FOR 2001. First Deputy Interior Minster Vladimir Vasiliev said on 24 October that he expects the number of crimes registered with the police to top 5 million for 2001, Interfax reported. He said that much of the increase reflects a new willingness by citizens to report crimes, and he also said that ever more people are applying to work in the militia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
PUTIN BACKS SALARY INCREASE FOR MILITARY. According to "Izvestiya" on 23 October, Deputy Defense Minister Lyubov Kudelina has reported that President Putin has approved a recommendation from the ministry to increase the salaries of soldiers at the beginning of 2002 as part of the antiterrorist and military reform efforts. Paychecks for those serving in combat zones will rise 70 percent, and commanders in these hot spots will get even higher raises. At the same time, "Vremya MN" noted the same day that the proposed increases are less than those required to make up for inflation and more funds will be required to meet these increases than the 2002 budget specifies. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
EVERY TENTH DRAFTEE IN KALININGRAD HAS CRIMINAL RECORD. Ten percent of the men drafted in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have criminal records, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 18 October. The paper said that all of the draftees there will serve their time in Kaliningrad Oblast. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
RUSSIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE. Russia's population declined by 589,700 people or 0.4 percent during the first eight months of 2001, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 October, citing the State Statistics Committee. Meanwhile, Interfax-Moscow reported on 22 October that the number of people in the Russian capital infected with hepatitis A has increased by 60 percent since the start of 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
GOVERNMENT PLANS TO INTRODUCE MORE RESTRICTIVE RELIGIOUS CODE. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 23 October that the Russian government is working on amendments to the existing legal code regulating religion that would restrict still further the activities of foreign religious groups on Russian territory and broaden the definition of religious "extremists" against whom the authorities would be authorized to act, Russian and Western news agencies reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD URGED TO UNITE WITH MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE. The Orthodox Church of America on 24 October urged the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to unite with the Moscow Patriarchate as the Patriarchate has requested, Interfax reported on 24 October. But even if theological and ideological issues are resolved, the two churches remain divided on property questions: In the emigre church, each congregation owns its property, while in the patriarchal church, the Patriarchate itself is the owner. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October)
DUMA SEEN READY TO MAKE RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE KNOWLEDGE MANDATORY FOR OFFICIALS. The Duma is currently considering and is likely to pass legislation making knowledge of the Russian language mandatory for all civil servants, pravda.ru reported on 22 October. The bill also calls for state support of the Russian language that it characterizes as "a convenient and universal vehicle for the realization of human and civil rights." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
ALFEROV SAYS RUSSIAN SCIENCE MUST RELY ON DOMESTIC SUPPORT. Academician Zhores Alferov told ITAR-TASS on 22 October that Russian science must demand more support from Russian government sources and not spend its time pursuing international assistance. He added that some Russian oligarchs are beginning to understand that they need to invest in science to improve their own positions in the future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
SERBIASERBIA BEGINS INVESTIGATIONS OF CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS. Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 23 October that the authorities have begun investigations into two separate incidents involving the disappearances of ethnic Muslims during the Bosnian war, Reuters reported. In one incident in 1992, a Serbian paramilitary unit took 17 Muslims off a bus in the Priboj district in southern Serbia. In the second incident, in 1993, 20 Muslims were forced off a train near Strpci in eastern Bosnia near the Serbian border. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA WERE 'SYSTEMATIC.' The NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 25 October that Serbian war crimes in Kosova in 1999 were "directed from the top" and that some of those responsible "still hold important positions today," Reuters reported from Belgrade. They include Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who has been indicted by The Hague-based tribunal, as well as army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic and police head Sreten Lukic. Both men were commanders in Kosova during the war. The NGO's report also referred to attacks on Serbs and other minorities by "elements" of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October)
TAJIKISTANMUSLIM MAYOR REFUSES TO REGISTER PROTESTANT CHURCH. The mayor of Kurgan-Tyube, Salijon Valiev, has categorically refused to register an Evangelical Christian church in the city. A Protestant from Tajikistan told Keston News Service that the official reason for refusing registration is that the church statute is practically identical to that of another Evangelical Baptist church that has already been registered in the city. However, the Protestant reported, VAliyev informed the church's founders in a private conversation that he had been on the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, and that he did not intend to defile himself by registering a Christian church. "Yes, I am a hajji," the mayor told Keston, "but at work I am first and foremost mayor of Kurgan-Tyube." The church has taken the city authorities to court. (Keston News Service, 17 October)
UKRAINEMINERS STRIKE TO GET MORE STATE SUPPORT. Some 140 coal mines continued their protest for the second day on 23 October by refusing to deliver coal to customers, New Channel television reported. The protest was sparked by what the miners see as a meager state subsidy to the coal sector projected in the 2002 budget draft that is currently before the parliament. A state program named Ukrainian Coal is calling for 6 billion hryvni ($1.13 billion) to the coal sector, while the draft budget envisages only one-third of this sum. "We have practically exhausted all civilized ways. We met the prime minister twice. We were given vague promises that the financing would be reconsidered. But the government has not actually taken any measures," the network quoted a representative of the Trade Union of Coal Industry Employees as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
UZBEKISTANOSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE CAUTIONS UZBEKISTAN ON HUMAN RIGHTS. Visiting Tashkent on 22 October, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana warned that while the international community appreciates Uzbekistan's support for and involvement in the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, and is prepared to grant Uzbekistan increased economic aid, it is not prepared to ignore what he termed "the human dimension," meaning the Uzbek leadership's suppression of political plurality and freedom of worship, AP reported. Geoana told journalists after his talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov that improving human rights is in Uzbekistan's best long-term interests. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October)
UZBEKISTAN AMENDS CRIMINAL CODE. Uzbekistan has amended its Criminal Code to narrow the range of crimes that are punishable by the death penalty from eight to four, including first-degree murder and terrorism; reduce prison terms; and increase the number of offenses punishable by fines rather than prison sentences, presidential administration official Nuridindjon Ismoilov told Interfax on 29 October. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October)
REGIONALSTATE DEPARTMENT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT OMITS UZBEKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN. The U.S. State Department's annual report on international religious freedom has not named several "egregious violators" that are members of the U.S.-led "antiterrorism" coalition, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on 27 October. The State Department's report, released on 27 October, HRW says, "candidly described violations of religious freedom around the world, but failed to designate Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan as 'Countries of Particular Concern.'" Uzbekistan, which is hosting U.S. forces involved in operations in Afghanistan, is not named as a country of particular concern, although several thousand non-violent Muslims have been arrested in the last three years for practicing their faith outside state controls. The State Department report does recognize that the Uzbekistan government has committed "abuses against many devout Muslims for their religious beliefs," "arresting people for proselytizing, for private teaching of religious principles, for wearing of religious clothing in public, and for distributing religious literature." It also acknowledges that authorities systematically torture religious prisoners. According to HRW, by omitting Uzbekistan from this special category of concern, "the administration missed an easy opportunity to show that the war on terrorism cannot be a campaign against Islam." Turkmenistan, which suppresses all forms of religious practice other than state-sanctioned Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, was also not listed as a country of particular concern. It is the only state in the former Soviet Union where authorities have confiscated and destroyed houses of worship (Seventh Day Adventist, Hare Krishna, and Muslim). (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 27 October)