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Watch List: April 15, 1999

15 April 1999, Volume 1, Number 14

ANNAN RANKS HUMAN RIGHTS ABOVE SOVEREIGNTY. In a speech to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on April 7, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued that "No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples." He emphasized the importance of "an international norm against the violent repression of minorities that will and must take precedence over concerns of state sovereignty." He named "the Serbian authorities in Kosovo" as having "one aim: to expel or kill as many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as possible." And he stated: "We should leave no one in doubt that for the mass murderers, the 'ethnic cleansers,' those guilty of gross and shocking violations of human rights, impunity is not acceptable." Annan's words, some of the toughest ever delivered by a UN secretary-general, are likely to become a new benchmark in the fight for human rights.

CLINTON, ZHU DISAGREE ON HUMAN RIGHTS. The issue of human rights was a major theme during Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji's visit to Washington. He and President Bill Clinton publicly disagreed, with Clinton calling it "troubling" that over the past year China's human rights performance declined. The American president cited the arrest of citizens seeking to voice their political views and the lack of a dialog with the Dalai Lama. Zhu countered that his people "enjoy unprecedently extensive democratic and political rights" and claimed that China made progress "in freedom of speech and freedom of press." But, the premier conceded, "there is room for improvement in human rights conditions." In a rally outside the White House, 500 Tibetans, Uighurs, and Taiwanese joined American friends in protesting Beijing's harsh suppression of minorities.

RUSSIAN JOURNALIST TRIED IN CAMERA FOR REVEALING NAVY SECRETS. By mid-April, 22 witnesses testified in a Vladivostok naval court against journalist and former naval captain Grigorii Pasko, accused of publishing information that the Russian Navy considers secret, the Associated Press reports. But the prosecution has not proved Pasko's guilt, AP quotes defense lawyers as saying. The trial is behind closed doors. Pasko, detained since his arrest in 1997, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

CRIMEAN TATARS PROTEST DISCRIMINATION. On April 8, the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea in 1783 by Catherine the Great, some 3,000 Tatars staged a rally in front of the Crimean Supreme Court to protest what they call "the world's longest ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing." They demanded representation in parliament, official status for their language, and changes in both the Ukrainian and Crimean Constitutions. Their protests are scheduled to continue until May 18, the day Stalin's deportation of Crimean Tatars began.

UZBEK LEADER EXPANDS CRACKDOWN. Amnesty International (AI) has called on Uzbek authorities to live up to their obligations to observe fair trial laws and to repudiate statements ascribed to them which criminalize members of independent Islamic organizations and their families, as well as opposition figures. AI has expressed "grave concern" with the circumstances under which hundreds of supposed conspirators, including many of their family members, are held. They are accused of responsibility for bombings in Tashkent on February 16 resulting in the deaths of 13 people and a shootout on March 29 that left eight dead. On April 1, President Islam Karimov told journalists: "I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic." On April 4, Interior Minister Zakirdzhon Almatov urged Uzbeks abroad studying "non-traditional Islam" to return home and "admit their guilt," and he warned those who fail to return that they would be held accountable along with their fathers.

PRAGUE APPROVES PLAN FOR ROMA EQUALITY. On April 7, the Czech cabinet approved a plan to help the Romany community achieve social equality. The second such plan in Europe, following Bulgaria's (see "RFE/RL Watchlist," 1 April 1999), it calls for the creation of a network of civic organizations to deal with Romany issues and monitor human rights protection. "It will be a difficult process mainly aimed at education and care for the language and culture of the Romany ethnic minority," Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky told the Czech news agency CTK


By Charles Fenyvesi

Even as it faces continuing NATO bombardment for its actions in Kosovo, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his militant supporters are turning to new targets: independent-minded journalists in Yugoslavia, Montenegro's independent government, and the Hungarian minority in the province of Vojvodina.

Journalist Murdered

The assassination of one of Belgrade's most prominent journalists, Slavko Curuvija, may indicate rising hysteria among supporters of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The Yugoslav leader has not only silenced Serbia's once vigorous, independent news media, but created a reign of paranoia. One newspaper which reflects his views, "Politika Express," accused Curuvija of urging 'NATO to bomb Yugoslavia and then warning him that "people like him" would neither be "forgiven nor forgotten." The truth did not seem to matter: Curuvija did not support the bombing.

The two masked gunmen who shot at Curuvija's head several times on April 11, Easter Sunday, were "professionals," said his companion, Branka Prpa, who was herself hit in the head and pushed aside. The murder took place mid-afternoon and in the heart of Belgrade, a few hundred yards from the parliament building.

Curuvija, 50, owned and edited the mass circulation daily "Dnevni Telegraf," shut down last October after a court imposed a fine of $100,000. The offense was the publication of an open letter accusing Milosevic of having brought about "lawlessness, dictatorship, and terror." Undaunted, Curuvija had the daily printed in Montenegro, but its distribution in Serbia was hampered by the authorities destroying all the copies they could seize. In December, during a visit to Washington, Curuvija went to Capitol Hill and told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that questioning Milosevic's rule had become tantamount to treason. Last month, a Belgrade court convicted him for "spreading false information," but he had not begun serving his sentence of five months. He told friends that "any fool now has a license to kill me."

Pressures mount on Montenegro

In a statement following the assassination, the CSCE praised Curuvija as a patriot and a fighter for human rights, and pointed at Milosevic as responsible for the murder.

Last December, Curuvija warned that Milosevic was "preparing to wage war against his own people in Serbia and Montenegro." Since the NATO bombing began, news accounts from Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, have reported fears of a Milosevic-sponsored coup d'etat against Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who has defied Belgrade's order to declare a state of emergency following the first NATO attack. Milosevic appointed a close ally, Lt. Gen. Milorad Obradovic, to head the Yugoslav army garrisoned in Montenegro. Under Obradovic, officers have threatened independent journalists. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Montenegro is under increasing pressure from Belgrade to force its press to be "patriotic."

Montenegro-based journalist Drasko Djuranovic hints darkly that Obradovic has "additional orders apart from reorganization of the army in Montenegro." He predicts that Montenegrin authorities "would react fiercely" to an attempted coup, and he raises the possibility of civil war.

Tensions rising in Vojvodina

Other reports, coming from refugees and through the Internet, tell about police patrols in Serbia's northernmost province of Vojvodina cruising the streets in vans and combing through air raid shelters. They check identification papers. They look for young men, especially those who belong to the Hungarian minority which numbers more than 300,000. Many of the men picked up are taken to military camps and then quickly dispatched to Kosovo. According to unconfirmed reports, if a check of the records reveals that a young man has ignored two draft notices, he is branded a deserter, and some of them have been shot. Men between 16 and 60 are not permitted to leave Serbia, but in some Vojvodina border posts, guards reportedly claim that new orders raise the limit, and they turn back men up to 65 years of age.

Since NATO's bombing began, more than 44,000 Yugoslav citizens have made their way to Hungary, the only NATO member bordering Serbia. (Some of them travel as tourists, and so far only a fraction have applied for asylum; others cross the border illegally.) Tensions along the frontier, now being fortified by Serbia, and among Vojvodina's ethnic Hungarians, are rising. On April 11, Budapest radio quoted ethnic Hungarians as fearful about the influx of armed Serbian refugees fleeing NATO attacks in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia. Allegedly, some of them have seized houses and apartments belonging to ethnic Hungarians, just as Serbs fleeing from Croatia and Bosnia in Yugoslavia's previous wars had once done.

Though ethnic Hungarian leaders have criticized the bombing and some ethnic Hungarians have joined Serbs to serve as "bombing targets" around bridges and public buildings, others are afraid to leave their homes. The carefully chosen words of Jozsef Kasza, chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, speak volumes: "The danger is not so explicit at the moment to allow an atmosphere of panic to prevail in Vojvodina."

According to ethnic Hungarians, Serbian neighbors angrily remind them that NATO planes fly over Hungary's territory, authorized by an act of parliament in Budapest. Moreover, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi announced in Brussels on April 9 that a Tirana-Budapest air-bridge is being set up to fly humanitarian aid to Kosovars and that Hungary will not set quotas to the number of refugees it will admit.

The Budapest government is torn between its fear of furnishing the Serbs a pretext to expel ethnic Hungarians and its loyalty to the Atlantic alliance it was invited to join last month. No government in Budapest can ignore the vulnerability of ethnic Hungarians to Serbian revenge, and the prime minister, Viktor Orban, is known for his strong sense of responsibility for ethnic Hungarians.

Nevertheless, Hungary has a courageous, if expensive and risky historical tradition of not closing its borders to people fleeing from neighboring lands. During Yugoslavia's earlier wars in this decade, Hungary served as a safe haven to nearly 200,000 refugees, including Serbs. But now, with additional responsibilities as a NATO member, Hungary faces a cornered bully surrounded by his enforcers blinded by hatred.