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Watch List: August 19, 1999

19 August 1999, Volume 1, Number 31

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR 'WIPING OUT' DAGHESTANI FIGHTERS. In a move that has disturbed many human rights activists, the Russian Duma on 16 August unanimously passed a resolution calling "immediate and tough measures to wipe out the illegal armed groups" in Daghestan. Among those voting for the resolution was Grigorii Yavlinsky, leader of the centrist Yabloko faction and an outspoken opponent of the earlier war in Chechnya. Writing in the "St. Petersburg Times," Boris Pustintsev, the president of the Russian human rights group Citizens' Watch, argued that Yeltsin had fired Sergei Stepashin as prime minister because he failed on his watch to bring to heel Chechnya and its neighbor Daghestan. Pustintsev argues further that the Russian Federation "may be still too vast for its own good," is "unmanageable," and may turn into a "confederation" in 10 to 15 years. But for most Russians, the respected former dissident says, such thoughts are unthinkable.Echoing their feelings was Army Chief-of-Staff Anatolii Kvashnin who said on 15 August that "We are talking about the total annihilation of the militants."

TATARSTAN'S MUSLIM CLERICS CALL FOR NEGOTIATIONS ON DAGHESTAN. In the middle Volga Republic of Tatarstan, the Muslim Religious Board on 12 August called for an end to the fighting in Daghestan, the start of negotiations, and the development of new state policies toward ethnic and religious groups in Russia, according to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service. The board also went on record as opposing any participation by Muslim soldiers "in a combat against brothers in faith."

MOSCOW BLAMES THE WEST FOR SERBIAN FLIGHT. In a sharply-worded statement on 17 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that continuing violence against Serbs in Kosova is the result of the West "appeasing" Albanian separatism and declared that "ethnic cleansing is in full swing" in the province. The statement followed a mortar attack by unidentified attackers on the Serbian village of Klokot in eastern Kosova, which killed two and wounded five.

UN AND KFOR DIFFER ON HELPING SERBS LEAVE KOSOVA. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may have to consider evacuating the remaining Serbs in Kosova, UNHCR special envoy Dennis McNamara told BBC television on 16 August. McNamara acknowledged that his agency already had helped some Serbs leave the province, because if it had not, they would have been killed. "The pressures seem to be mounting so much on an almost daily basis," he said. According to UNHCR, 90 percent of the prewar Serbian population of 200,000 have left. But a spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR, Lt. Col. Robin Hodges, stressed that it is against KFOR policy to assist Serbs to leave. "We will always assist them to stay," he said, "to help repair their houses if they are attacked" or to "help them move to other houses."

DE FACTO PARTITION IN NORTHERN KOSOVA. Beginning in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, a de facto partition is taking shape in northern Kosova, reports "The Los Angeles Times." Though French peacekeepers deny that partition is evolving in their zone, the newspaper's David Holley noted the presence of Serbian visitors from Belgrade and Serbian refugees from other parts of Kosova, while ethnic Albanians still in the northern part of the city "keep low profiles." Some of the ethnic Albanians are still being driven out, and move to the town's Albanian south side, the reporter adds. On 16 August, 200 Serbian railway workers returned to Kosova, AP reports, the largest group of returning Serbs in six weeks.

SERB GENERAL SEEKING TO REPLACE MILOSEVIC MAY NOT BE MUCH BETTER. According to Yugoslav human rights sources and their friends in neighboring countries, the strongest candidate to unseat President Slobodan Milosevic is the former army chief-of-staff he sacked last year, Momcilo Perisic. But many Croatians and Bosnians consider Perisic a war criminal, and some suspect that he is on the list of those secretly indicted by the international war crimes court in The Hague. Moreover, these sources say, Perisic's opinions on how to treat non-Serbs are not far from those of Milosevic.

NUMBER OF JOURNALISTS KILLED RISES AGAIN. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, a Paris-based group that monitors media freedom, 20 journalists have been killed since the beginning of this year, a figure higher than the total for 1998, and one that reverses the decline over the last several years.The civil war in Sierra Leone is responsible for half of the death toll. RSF is also concerned that "a majority of these crimes may remain unpunished." The report singles out the case of Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija's assassination in April and suggests that his killers may never be identified because they are "close to circles of power."

RUSSIAN JOURNALIST DISAPPEARS, SERBIAN JOURNALIST IN JAIL. In a letter to Russia's Minister of Interior Vladimir Rushailo, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) expressed its concern over the disappearance in North Ossetia of Vladimir Yatsin, a photographer of the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. Rushailo is the second journalist to disappear in that republic since the beginning of the year. Robert Menard, RSF's secretary-general, noted that in 1997 at least 13 journalists were kidnapped for ransom in the region. RSF also called for the immediate release of Neboja Ristic, director of Yugoslavia's TV Soko, who was sentenced to one year in jail for having displayed on 23 April a poster calling for press freedom. In a letter to President Slobodan Milosevic, RSF identified Ristic's "crime" as "passively defending the freedom of informing and to be informed, which is a fundamental right in all democratic societies."

BEIJING ARRESTS UIGHUR BUSINESSWOMAN, FIVE OTHERS. On 13 August, Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of Rebiya Kadeer, 50, a prominent Uighur businesswoman and mother of ten children, taken into custody on 11 August in front of Yingdu Hotel in Xinjiang's capital city of Urumqi, along with two other women who were scheduled to meet a group of visiting Americans. As she was arrested, HRW reports, she called out, "Tell my son!" The next day at 1:30 a.m., two of her sons, Ablikim and Abdiryim, both in their 20s, were detained as well. Police also rearrested Kadeer's secretary, Kahriman Abdukirim, who had been released only a few days earlier after more than eight months in incommunicado detention and without charges filed against him. Charging "multiple violations of human rights" and arbitrary detentions "either for contact with foreigners or in an effort to stop overseas broadcasts critical of China," Sidney Jones, HRW's Asia director, urged the release of all six individuals involved in Kadeer's case. Amnesty International added that Kadeer has suffered harassment and restrictions since 1997, either because her husband fled to the United States and engaged in political activities, or because of her own efforts to promote the entry of Uighur women into business ventures.

UIGHUR DEFENDANT WHO SAID HE'D BEEN TORTURED SENTENCED TO DEATH. A court in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region sentenced Zulikar Memet to death after he told the court that his "confession" to trumped up charges had been extracted under torture, according to new information received by Amnesty International. In a press release on 12 August, AI identified Zulikar Memet as one of ten Uighurs, including his brother Hemit Memet, who was forcibly returned from Kazakstan in February, sentenced to death on 25 July rather than 25 June as previously reported. The charges against the ten defendants are not known, though initially Zulikar Memet was accused of helping Uighur separatists to hide or escape. AI explains that under Chinese law, an allegation of torture is supposed to form the object of a separate investigation, and normally a trial in which such charges are made is suspended pending the results of that investigation.


By Charles Fenyvesi

Increasingly paranoid about any hint of dissent, the governments of China and Uzbekistan are bullying their neighboring states and demanding the forcible repatriation of their critics who have escaped harassment or imprisonment by fleeing across the border. The fugitives' total number may be only in the hundreds, but the rulers in Beijing and Tashkent expend disproportionate time and energy in tracking down even a few of them, some as far away as Ukraine and Turkey.

All the governments involved have signed the UN conventions which prohibit the deportation of political refugees to a country where they may face prosecutions that would violate their human rights. But letters of protest from human rights organizations reminding these two governments of their legal obligations have not elicited meaningful responses. Nor does it seem to bother the authorities handing over the refugees that they will be tortured, subjected to patently unfair trials, and in some cases executed.

Those who track forcible repatriation are especially concerned because they know that they have information about only a fraction of the number of such cases they believe exist. For instance, virtually nothing is known for certain about Turkmenistan's record. It appears likely that in this region, each state security apparatus, whose interest is in cooperation with opposite numbers across the border, delivers most of the refugees quietly, without following the kind of procedure demanded by the UN, OSCE, or human rights organizations. "Getting information about a person's extradition is a huge challenge for us," says Maureen Greenwood of Amnesty International. "It depends on whether the families have access to the West, and in most cases they do not."

The People's Republic of China has put demands for the forcible repatriation of those who have fled its jurisdiction high on the agenda in its contacts with other states, especially neighbors. From the prime minister down to border guards, Chinese officials continue to demand from their foreign counterparts the extradition of Uighur fugitives, who Beijing suggests, are common criminals. But inside China, Beijing routinely couples such charges with accusations that the Uighurs are "trying to break up the motherland," which have a resonance among Han Chinese sensitive to the historic record of rebels in outlying regions challenging the unity of China.

Kazakhstan, tightly controlled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has arrested and deported some fugitives sought by China, as has Kyrgyzstan. But those fortunate enough to find their way to fellow Uighurs settled years ago in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have often been able to hide out and even emigrate to Turkey, which receives them as kinsmen, and the United States. In Uzbekistan, the local Uighur community is closely watched by the authorities, and it is dangerous for any Uzbek to harbor a fugitive from China.

Like China, Uzbekistan appears to be caught up in a wave of hysteria which targets those who do not follow the government line 100 percent. Uzbek President Islam Karimov smears with the tarbrush of militant Islamic extremism any opposition group, whether it is Islamically oriented or not. Observers estimate that his great purge has netted thousands of people, some of them his enemies. It all began after an attempt to assassinate him, which might have been for real, followed by a still unexplained series of bomb explosions in Tashkent on 16 February in which more than a dozen people died.

According to Abdumannob Polat, a Washington-based specialist in Central Asian affairs, Karimov has made some headway in foreign capitals with his campaign to round up all the "terrorists" he claims were responsible for the bombings. Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have been reported to have extradited about 10 alleged plotters each, though unreported extraditions could be several times that number. Ukraine handed over all four men demanded by Karimov, but Turkey delivered only two men out of the 25 or 30 on the list. Turkmenistan too probably responded positively to Karimov, Polat speculates, but there the number of victims returned is not known. Last month, the "Turkish Daily News" noted that relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan had deteriorated because Turkey sought guarantees that the deportees would not face capital punishment. But Turkey subsequently caved in to Uzbek pressures and expelled Muhammed Salih, leader in exile of the banned Uzbek opposition party Erk, even though he had been granted political asylum.

Where the government is weak and the opposition is vocal, as in Tajikistan, the government has been reluctant to accommodate Karimov. Some Tajik officials would like to please the Uzbek regime, but at least part of the opposition--those with Islamicist tendencies--strongly objects. Pressure from the international human rights community also helps staying the Tajiks' hand.

However the Tajik government is wary of refugees streaming in from Uzbekistan, especially if they are armed, as some of them are, and they represent or may come to represent a threat to public order, which is not very stable. Hundreds of Uzbek refugees have registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees; others have more or less disappeared in the local population.

In both China and Uzbekistan, more arrests and more trials are expected. And such processes seem bound to produce more people fleeing in fear of being swept up in a nightmare dictated from the top. And more refugees will only prove to the leaders that they are surrounded by enemies who must be kept on the run.