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Watch List: December 16, 1999

16 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 47

SOME CHECHENS FLEE GROZNY... On 14 December Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that a total of 2,200 noncombatants have left the Chechen capital through the checkpoints the Russians have set up. The Russian command has said that only 6,000-8,000 civilians remain there, but Ingush President Ruslan Aushev estimates that 25,000-30,000 civilians are still in Grozny. Many of those remaining reportedly are afraid to leave because of constant Russian shelling, undiminished despite Western calls for a ceasefire.

...BUT MANY HAVE TO PAY AT RUSSIAN CHECKPOINTS. Russian soldiers along the newly-opened "safety corridors" are extracting bribes from Chechens to allow them to cross through the checkpoints, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on 14 December. Those leaving Grozny as well as refugees seeking to go back to their homes are subjected to "extortion, beatings, and insults along the two main exit routes from Chechnya," HRW said. Earlier, on 11 December, HRW reported that Russian troops had looted and destroyed many of the houses in the Chechen village of Alkhan-Yurt, 10 miles from Grozny. HRW characterized the rampage as "a shocking case of the Russian force's intentional violation of international law."

CHIEF RABBI CRITICIZES RUSSIA'S WAR ON CHECHENS. Adolf Shayevich, Russia's chief rabbi, told a 14 December press conference in Moscow that Russia should not substitute the legitimate task of fighting terrorism with an onslaught on the Chechen people. Shayevich is one of the few in Moscow to speak out against the war. But Western criticism of the fighting is growing. The European Community summit denounced Russian actions in Chechnya as "totally unacceptable" and cautioned Moscow against ordering an all-out assault on Grozny. Meanwhile, the executive of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe announced that Russian actions might lead to its suspension from that body.

ACHIEVEMENTS, CHALLENGES HIGHLIGHTED ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY. On 10 December, the 51st anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a day now known as Human Rights Day, some world leaders stressed how much had been achieved while others pointed to continuing challenges. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson argued that a great deal had been achieved and that "human rights are now center stage." But U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted that there are still serious challenges in Belarus which she said was sinking "deeper into authoritarianism" as well as in Burma, China, Cuba, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. And she ended by condemning Moscow for its "indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment of Grozny."

CHINA EXECUTED 61 UIGHURS IN 1999, KAZAKH UIGHUR SAYS. Since 1 January China executed 61 people charged with Uighur separatism, Kakharman Khozhamberdi, leader of the Kazakhstan-based Association of Uighurs, told AFP on 9 December in Almaty. In addition, Chinese forces killed 25 to 35 more in clashes during September. Khozhamberdi criticized Beijing for resettling the Xinjiang region with ethnic Chinese. Since 1949, the 300,000-strong ethnic-Chinese minority has grown to 10 million, he said, making up nearly half of the region's population.

VISEGRAD COUNTRIES ASK FOR EU HELP ON ROMA. In a joint statement issued in Bratislava on 10 December, government representatives of the Visegrad Four--Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary--characterized the "coexistence between the majority population and the Romany minority" as a problem which requires a solution of "European dimensions," the Czech news agency CTK reported. Speaking at a briefing on the Roma at The American University in Washington on 9 December, Slovak Ambassador Martin Butorov said that improving lives of Roma in Central Europe needs serious professional and financial assistance from the EU. "Slovakia is not a country of denial," he said. "We know that the work may take generations, but we have to start doing something now. We need not only expert help but emotional involvement. We need a politician who will declare, just as John Kennedy once did in Berlin for Berliners, 'I am a Roma!'"

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES KOSOVAR ALBANIAN DOCTOR TO 12 YEARS. On 12 December a Serbian court sentenced Kosovar Albanian pediatrician and poet Flora Brovina to 12 years' imprisonment. She was accused of assisting the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) by supplying medicines and treating wounded fighters in her clinic in Prishtina. According to Amnesty International (AI), the evidence against her consisted primarily of self-incriminating statements she signed under duress. In court she denied any connection with the KLA. AI, along with International PEN, is calling for her immediate release, noting that about 1,900 ethnic Albanians are in Serbian prisons and some have already been sentenced in unfair trials on the basis of statements extracted under torture.

BELGRADE REGIME MOVES AGAINST INDEPENDENT MEDIA. A Belgrade court fined daily newspapers "Blic" and "Danas" and the TV station Studio B a total of $32,300 for slander on 8 December. Though the fines were paid within the required 24 hours, the three news organizations fear that economic pressure of this kind could drive them out of business. The slander charges stem from reporting statements by opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, who accused the Secret Service of being behind a recent assassination attempt against him. The plaintiffs were Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, both of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party. The International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontieres accused Serbian authorities of waging a war against the independent media. Also last week, Serbia's financial police blocked accounts and froze assets of the daily "Glas Javnosti" and of the company ABC Grafika which prints much of the independent press. The charge is nonpayment of taxes, which the two organizations deny. In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists called the fines and the blocking of accounts "arbitrary" and accused the Serbian government of "choking press freedom."

AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON RUSSIA'S REGIONAL PRESS. Local authorities have been cracking down on opposition press in the Russian provinces, according to "Novaya Gazeta." Besides expropriation and banning, authorities deploy new methods such as evicting publications from their premises and confiscating entire print runs as well as property. In November, a printing press in one Mordvinian town suddenly "lost" an entire page of a local newspaper that contained critical material about the city administration. In Yekaterinburg, the local Property Ministry evicted the opposition paper "Vechernii Yekaterinburg" from the House of the Press. In Rostov-na-Donu, policemen conducted an illegal search of Radio Rostov's premises, seizing two computers and one notebook. They returned the computers after several days, but with all files deleted. In Novosibirsk, city officials seized 50,000 copies of the newspaper "Gorodovoi" because, they disclosed, they contained too much material critical of Mayor Viktor Tolokonskii. In Vladivostok, an appeals court overturned the decision of a lower court that had ordered the seizure of the local opposition paper "Arsenievskii vesti." But the print runs of the newspaper continue to be confiscated.

UKRAINE AUTHORITIES HARASS MEDIA. Serhiy Sholokh, owner of the independent radio station Kontinent and chairman of the Ukrainian Radio Broadcasters Association, told "RFE/RL Watchlist" that during the recent presidential campaign, 25 of the association�s 64 member stations had received both anonymous threats and harassment at the hands of tax authorities. He added that under a recent government decree, radio stations must apply for a new license which costs three and one-half times the average annual advertising income of a radio station. On 3 December the Radio Broadcasters Association filed a court case challenging the new licensing requirement as unconstitutional. Solokh and his colleague Heorhiy Gongadze came to Washington to distribute a declaration signed by some 60 Ukrainian journalists warning that their country faces "the true danger of the dissolution of a free and independent press, not to mention democracy as a whole."

OSCE BOYCOTTS TURKMEN ELECTIONS, RFE/RL REPORTER THREATENED. On 9 December the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced that it would not deploy a team to observe parliamentary elections in Turkmenistan on 12 December. OSCE officials explained that this decision reflected their "grave concerns" that the electoral framework "falls far short of the OSCE commitments." The statement cited the absence of "even a minimum level of pluralism," severe restrictions on "fundamental freedoms," and the state's "complete control over all electoral activities." On election day, the Turkmen police detained RFE/RL correspondent Saparmurat Overberdiev for two hours after he interviewed people in Ashgabat. The following day, the local KGB came to his home and insisted that he immediately conduct and air interviews with 15 people who would give a "positive" evaluation of the country's elections.

BRIEFS BELARUS. Andrey Klimau, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, was badly beaten in prison on 13 December after he had refused to go to court, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported. Klimau was brought to the court in torn clothes and without shoes. Doctors found injuries to his stomach and head and urged that he be immediately taken to a hospital, but the judge refused, directing that he be returned to prison. Klimau was arrested in January 1998. KAZAKHSTAN. On 8 December, a team of officers from the secret police and tax police arrested several members of the opposition Kazakh Republican People's Party, three of them former bodyguards of party leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who is now in exile, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh service. Some of the officers wore masks as they searched the premises. The charge is illegal possession of weapons. One bodyguard who received a head injury in the course of the search was hospitalized. RUSSIA. ITAR-TASS news agency said that "computer terrorists" demanding an end to Russia's war on Chechnya had hacked into its Internet site. UZBEKISTAN. Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty in all cases, reports that Arsen Arutyunyan and Danis Sirazhev face imminent execution in Uzbekistan. The two men are described as lead singers of an Uzbek pop group sentenced to death in Tashkent in November 1999 for killing a third singer, Laylo Aliyeva, on the basis of confessions AI said had been coerced.

**UPDATE ON BELARUSIA'S MISSING PERSONS** Former Central Bank President Tamara Vinnikova, who disappeared while under house arrest in Minsk on 8 April, telephoned an editor of "Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta" on 10 December to say that she is now safe abroad. In an interview published on 13 December, Vinnikova said: "I was to die, and only chance and the will of the Almighty helped me avoid the fate prepared for me by the authorities." She said she knows what happened to the other prominent oppositionists who disappeared but declined to give details. Former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka disappeared on 7 May and Viktar Ganchar, deputy chairman of the de jure Belarusian parliament, the Supreme Soviet, disappeared on 16 September along with his businessman friend Anatol Krasovsky.


By Charles Fenyvesi

The sharp debates in the West concerning the extent of the humanitarian disaster in Kosova highlight the difficulties the international community now faces in establishing the facts even of that case. But as hard as that task has been in Kosova, political as well as military considerations make it likely that determining the extent of the tragedy in Chechnya will be far greater.

During the 78 days of the NATO bombardment, Serbian forces carried out "a well strategized and implemented campaign of ethnic cleansing," the just released annual report of Human Rights Watch sums up. According to NATO and UN estimates, Serbian forces massacred more than 10,000 ethnic Albanians during those 78 days, in addition to a still unknown number--but believed to be in the thousands--killed before the bombing. In a report to the UN Security Council on 10 November, Hague tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte listed more than 11,000 killed. She said her office had exhumed 2,108 bodies from 195 of the 529 mass graves and killing sites known. She cautioned that three categories of victims will have to be added in a final count: those buried in mass graves not yet located, a significant number of sites whose locations are unknown, and victims whose bodies were burned or otherwise destroyed by Serbian forces.

The State Department's second report on Kosova, released on 9 December, details such human rights violations as expulsions, looting, burning, detentions, uses of human shields, summary executions, exhumations of mass graves, systematic and organized mass rape, violations of medical neutrality, and identity cleansing. The report estimates that more than 1.5 million Kosovar Albanians--at least 90 percent of the 1998 Kosovar Albanian population--were forcibly expelled from their homes. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged. The department also reports on the aftermath of the war, following the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June: acts of retribution against the Serbian minority, including the killing of 200-400 Serbian residents. In addition, the report concludes, in Serbia as many as 23,000 conscientious objectors, draft evaders, and deserters are threatened with legal action.

The HRW report notes that as the Serbian forces left Kosova, they took with them Albanian prisoners, and their exact number, around 2,000, is still undetermined. Lately, Serbian courts have begun to try some of them for terrorism, and human rights organizations have condemned the unfairness of the trials. An additional 1,500 Kosovar Albanians are still listed as missing.

Despite the presence of peacekeepers and investigators in Kosova, the world is unlikely to be able to establish the precise numbers of people killed, abused, and displaced. The numbers will be even more difficult to arrive at in Chechnya, where the dimensions of the humanitarian catastrophe could prove to be far larger but where Russian officials seem determined to deny every report that does not come from them.