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Watch List: May 27, 1999

27 May 1999, Volume 1, Number 20

MILOSEVIC INDICTED AS WAR CRIMINAL. On the basis of evidence gathered solely in Kosova, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic have been indicted as war criminals, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia announced on May 27. On May 20, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a 19-page plan for repatriating up to 1.5 million Kosovar refugees. The plan estimates that those displaced within Kosova now number 600,000, with another 900,000 scattered over Albania, other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and the West. But the agency stressed that the plan could not be put into action until Serbian forces "responsible for suspected atrocities" are withdrawn. Other prerequisites listed by the UN include Yugoslav security guarantees for refugees and humanitarian staff, and a "robust" international force to protect them. On May 24, a UN fact-finding team that had visited Kosova verified widescale expulsion of ethnic Albanians and called it "revolting."

SERBIAN ARMY BANS ANTI-WAR PROTESTS, THREATENS DESERTERS. On May 25 the Yugoslav army banned anti-war rallies and warned that it will court-martial deserters unless they immediately return to their units. Two days earlier, hundreds of reservists who had gone AWOL were among the 2,000 marchers who protested the draft in Krusevac, a 160 kilometers from Belgrade, the independent Montenegrin daily "Vijesti" reported. Smaller demonstrations were held in several other towns. According to AP, police detained three anti-war leaders. Zoran Djindjic, the opposition Democratic Party leader who fled to Montenegro last week, told the press on May 21 that he will defy an order to report for military duty. "Those who started the war and who are advocating the war must go first," he said, adding that President Milosevic and his deputy, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, ought to be drafted.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES HANDLING OF REFUGEE ISSUE. The Macedonian government is playing politics with Kosovar refugees, according to an Amnesty International field report released on May 19. As for NATO's involvement in some of the refugee camps, AI suggests that Western alliance actions in some cases contradict "the fundamental principles of refugee protection" which include "the civilian character and non-political nature of the camps." AI charges that despite protests from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Macedonia has posed many obstacles in setting up and supervising camps, and is still "holding to ransom" refugees waiting on its border. Among its recommendations, AI lists financial aid to Macedonia and "respect" for UNHCR's supervisory role.

SERBIAN NGOS CONDEMN BOTH MILOSEVIC AND NATO. In a strained and convoluted letter to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, 23 Serbian NGOs reiterated that they have been "equally opposed" to ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova, as well as to the current NATO intervention. The Helsinki Federation had urged the Serbian NGOs to abandon their stance of moral equivalence and voice moral condemnation of the Belgrade regime (see "RFE/RL Watchlist," Vol. 19, 20 May 1999). The Serbian response, dated May 23, stressed that NGOs "should be supportive of peace" rather than of the "war option of their governments."

U.S. CONDEMNS REPRESSION IN BELARUS... On May 20, the U.S. State Department used strong language to condemn the Belarusian authorities for suppressing the May 16 elections which Washington characterized as an effort to engage in a dialogue with the Belarusian people that "the regime has so far rejected." The statement cited President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's suppression of human rights and dismissed the charges against former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, now in jail, as "trumped-up." In addition, it called on the Belarusian government "to change course" and open unconditional dialogue with the democratic opposition. In a statement before a Senate panel on the same day, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called attention to "the rise of repression in Belarus" and noted that the United States supports Belarusian NGOs and news media "to help opposition views reach the public." She was reacting to Lukashenka's crackdown on the independent sector, in the form of a demand that all NGOs, trade unions, and political parties reregister. Hundreds of groups are involved, and some of their leaders fear that a condition for reregistration will be a pledge of allegiance to Lukashenka's 1996 constitution, declared illegal by the Belarusian opposition and the West.

...BUT UCSJ HOPES BELARUSIAN PROSECUTORS WILL ACT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM. On May 19, Yacov Basin, director of the Belarusian bureau of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, offered cautious praise for the Belarus Public Prosecutor's Office's response to charges of anti-Semitism in the local mass media. The complaint, prepared by Basin and presented to the prosecutor on March 17, accused three Minsk newspapers and one radio program of anti-Semitism. The prosecutor acknowledged that those accused promoted "an unfriendly attitude" toward Jews which could create "intolerance and discord." Basin said that it remains to be seen if the prosecutor's letter will have an effect.

PATRIARCHATE'S PLAN TO LINK UP WITH STATE STRUCTURE DEFIED. Metropolitan Mefodi is determined to retain the boundaries of his Voronezh diocese despite the plans of the Moscow Patriarchate to reorganize its 74 dioceses to coincide with the 89 oblasts of the Russian Federation, the Keston News Service reported. Mefodi came to public notice in 1992 when an emigre newspaper, "Russkaya Mysl�," claimed that he was a KGB officer. According to KNS, the metropolitan "has not been keen" to refute the charge "as it does not so much harm as strengthen his reputation as a powerful bishop and defender of Orthodoxy." While the Patriarchate's grand plan to link spiritual power with temporal seems to have the state's blessings, Mefodi has powerful friends in both hierarchies who might make his diocese an exception.

HARSH NEW UZBEK LAW ON RELIGION. A new Uzbek law on religion imposes harsh penalties--including up to 20 years in prison--for all who set up or participate in "religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist, or other banned organizations," the Keston News Service reported. Until now, punishments for such "crimes" had been limited to fines or imprisonment of three years or less. While Christians and Jews enjoy the support of Western governments, Uzbek officials reportedly believe that they are largely indifferent to the treatment of Muslims against whom the new law appears to be directed. According to one Uzbek human rights activist, the Uzbek authorities have arrested up to 32,000 Muslims for religious activism in recent years.

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES. Former Kazakh Premier and presidential candidate Akezhan Kazhegeldin is scheduled to appear in Almaty City Court on June 1 to answer questions about allegations that he failed to pay taxes and hid assets abroad, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. A television news program in Almaty said that Kazhegeldin has been investigated by a special unit formed by the Kazakh National Security Committee and the Interior Ministry.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO SUSPEND UKRAINE. Citing a poor human rights record, on May 20 the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe endorsed a measure to suspend Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe. Next month, the parliamentary assembly will vote on the matter. Ukraine was warned in January that the suspension would take place unless it made progress in human rights.

OSCE SCORES CROATIA ON HUMAN RIGHTS. The Croatian government rejected an OSCE report criticizing a lack of will to move toward democracy. OSCE charged lack of progress in three areas: allowing a return of Serbian refugees to Croatia, complying with international commitments, and liberalizing the news media.

NOGAIS CHARGE DISCRIMINATION. Nogais do not have equal rights, nor are they represented in the administration or law enforcement of Neftekumsk Raion, Nogai leader Murat Auvesov has told "Nezavisimaya gazeta." About a thousand Nogais, descendants of Turkic-Mongolian nomads, held an unauthorized meeting in a Stavropol Krai village in the northern Caucasus, following a killing by a local police officer of two Nogais, the Moscow newspaper reported on May 15.

UNREST INCREASING IN TIBET, XINJIANG. As China celebrated 40 years of its rule over Tibet on May 20, the London-based Tibet Information Network reported the deaths of two of the region's best-known dissidents: Buddhist monk and political prisoner Lobsang Tsondrue, 88, of Drepund Monastery, described as having spent "more than 30 years in resisting Chinese rule," and Sonam Wangdu, 44, political prisoner for five years but released in 1993 because he had been paralyzed from the waist down as a result of torture. The same day "Xinjiang Daily" announced the execution of four Uighurs convicted of terrorism and court orders to execute nine more. On May 18, Agence France Presse quoted Frank Lu of the Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement as predicting more protests. Lu cited a confidential report by China's public security bureau which said that there had been 60,000 protests in 1998 compared with only 20,000 protests in 1997. On May 18, U.S. lawmakers in both houses of Congress introduced a resolution condemning Beijing's "ongoing and egregious human rights abuses" and asking for an official Chinese inquiry into the army's crushing of peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

**UPDATE** The protest march of 18,000 Crimean Tatars on the regional capital Simferopol (see "RFE/RL Watchlist," No. 19, 20 May 1999) achieved its goals, Mustafa Jemilev, leader of the so far unrecognized Tatar Mejlis, said on May 25. Crimean Tatars, who number some 270,000 or 12 percent of the peninsula's population, will be able to own land, open their own schools, and have a council to represent their interests. Jemilev, who is to head the council, reached an accord in separate negotiations with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Kunitsin. However, the Mejlis information service adds that on May 19 the mosque in Yalta was set on fire and anti-Tatar slogans were painted on the walls in Yalta and a few other locations.

END NOTE: A Threat to the Growth of Civil Society

by Paul Goble

A Russian government program to reregister the country's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appears likely to deprive many of them of the legal standing they need to continue to operate and thereby weaken one of the main institutional supports for the development of civil society there.

In an interview carried by the Moscow newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on May 21, Russian Federation Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said that his country now has approximately 100,000 NGOs. But he noted that only 25 percent of them had reregistered with the authorities and that only 25 percent more were likely to do so by the July 1 deadline.

Without such registration, these groups will not be able to participate in elections. They will not be able to own property or maintain a bank account. And they will not be able to act as legal persons for purposes of contracts or in court cases. In the justice minister's own words, those that do not register will simply "fall out" of the civil and legal order.

Krasheninnikov attempted to portray this in the best possible light. He said that a higher percentage of the 3,500 such groups which operate on a country-wide basis would in fact re-register. He suggested that many of the 100,000 are currently more or less inactive and that their names might be misused by others. And he claimed that the reregistration process would give Moscow greater control over those with extremist agendas.

Even if all of Krashenninikov's arguments are correct, both this process and the outcomes he suggests inevitably cast a chilling shadow over the development of this key element of civil society, of a space between individuals and the state that serves to maximize the power of individuals and to limit the power of governments in modern democracies.

For many democratic and human rights activists, the emergence of NGOs in the Russian Federation and other post-communist countries was a major reason to expect that these countries would be able to escape their authoritarian pasts.

Until the Gorbachev era, public organizations were invariably controlled by the Communist Party and the Soviet state and were often dismissed by both Soviet-era activists and Western organizations as oxymoronic GONGOs -- that is, Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. And even under Mikhail Gorbachev, only a few groups successfully escaped state tutelage and control.

After 1991, the number of genuinely non-governmental organizations grew rapidly. Some of them flourished; some did not. Some advocated democratic positions; others, anti-democratic ones. But virtually all of them provided an opportunity for Russians and others to act without constant supervision from the authorities. And that in turn contributed to the kind of individual self-confidence on which democracy depends.

But over the last several years, the pendulum has begun to swing in a very different direction, with the state insisting on having an ever larger say over the activities of these and other groups and thus reducing their effectiveness as schools of democracy.

Like Krasheninnikov, Russian officials often insist that they are doing nothing more than regularizing the situation and that a requirement for registering in order to rent property or have a checking account is neither onerous nor dangerous.

But there are three reasons to be skeptical about such arguments. First, recent experience suggests that Russian officials carrying out this program are unlikely to register all those who apply, thus opening the door to blatant favoritism for those the officials approve as well as discrimination against those they dislike. And that in turn opens the way for various kinds of corruptions.

Second, the reregistration process is almost certain to create two classes of NGOs: those who continue to operate with the government's blessing and those who continue without it or who are forced to go out of business as a result. Not only does that undermine the purposes of such groups, it may lead to the radicalization of those who believe they have been excluded.

And third, this process suggests that at least some Russian officials are anything but committed to the principles of democracy that are proclaimed even by the December 1993 Russian Constitution. And consequently, democrats--Russian and otherwise--are likely to see this reregistration process as portending even more restrictions against public activism in the future.

Such people will certainly not be reassured by the title "Nezavisimaya gazeta" gave to its interview with Krasheninnikov: "The Justice Ministry is Involved in a Cleansing of the Political Field."