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Human Rights Watch's Findings On RFE/RL's Broadcast Countries In 2009

The passage of a discriminatory religious law in Afghanistan was among the losses for women's rights in 2009.
The passage of a discriminatory religious law in Afghanistan was among the losses for women's rights in 2009.

The August presidential elections were marred by widespread fraud, low turnout in conflict areas, and high levels of violence and intimidation, primarily by insurgent groups.

Human Rights Watch says the vulnerability of women’s basic rights was demonstrated by President Hamid Karzai’s signing into law of a discriminatory Shi’a Personal Status Law.

"In general terms, we've seen many problems in Afghanistan over the last 12 months," said Iain Levine, program director at HRW. "Recall the very, very flawed election process where eventually we did see President Karzai reelected, but in a way that gave no real credence and credibility to the elections. We've seen continuing repression of women, we've seen continuing violence against civilians, both by coalition forces as well by Taliban forces."


International observers reported intimidation and attacks on domestic observers and journalists during the May 2009 municipal elections in the capital, Yerevan.

HRW says broadcasting law amendments have brought greater transparency to the licensing process, but an independent television station that has been off the air for over seven years remains without a new license.

Authorities have also failed to conclusively investigate physical attacks on journalists.


A February 2009 referendum on constitutional amendments abolished presidential term limits, which observers believe will make it possible for President Ilham Aliyev to remain in office indefinitely.

New amendments to the religion law restrict freedom of conscience.


Four more political prisoners were placed behind bars, several demonstrations were violently dispersed, and at least two NGOs and three newspapers were denied registration for unfounded reasons.


An escalating political crisis about the constitution and the status of the Serb entity Republika Srpska further weakened the central state and polarized the country along ethnic lines.

National security policy had a negative impact on human rights, while war crimes accountability remained an area of progress.


Threats to media freedom came increasingly from political interference in state media and pressure on journalists, rather than violent attacks.


Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets in the capital, Tbilisi, in early April 2009 demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili’s resignation.

During the two-month protests, unidentified assailants attacked opposition activists. HRW says police used excessive force against opposition supporters and attacked journalists.

"We've seen serious problems in the criminal justice system, including prison overcrowding and poor conditions," HRW's Levine said. "And the media environment remained mixed, with issues around the transparency of media ownership."


The government unleashed the most widespread crackdown in a decade, following the disputed June presidential election and the massive protests it provoked.

"In recent weeks and months, we've witnessed unfair trials, the jailing of those who've demonstrated for political freedom, and we've seen a very severe and brutal crackdown against not only opposition activists, but writers, journalists, bloggers, and lawyers," Levine said. "Iran unquestionably represents one of the worst and most repressive countries in the world at the moment against human rights defenders."


Serious tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi central and provincial governments continued over control of territories lying between the mainly Kurdish- and Arab-inhabited areas in northern Iraq.

Escalating conflict there worsened the human rights situation for non-Kurdish and non-Arab minority groups living in these contested areas.


The report says the government dealt a series of blows to human rights that undermine Kazakhstan’s role as the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010.

Authorities sentenced the country’s leading human rights defender to four years’ imprisonment following an unfair trial, adopted restrictive amendments to media and internet laws, did not allow peaceful demonstrations and protests, and used national security interests to justify incommunicado detention and denial of access to legal counsel.


Respect for human rights deteriorated, especially in the run-up to the July presidential election that was won by the incumbent, Kurmanbek Bakiev. The government violated freedom of association, assembly, and expression, with civil society activists and journalists being a particular target of pressure.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections “failed to meet key OSCE commitments” and noted many problems with the conduct of the vote, including fraud.


The murders of at least five civic rights activists and violence and harassment toward others marked a severe deterioration in the human rights climate, despite some positive rhetoric by President Dmitry Medvedev recognizing the importance of civil society.

"We see there a real trend of repression and brutal attacks against those seeking to address human rights issues in Chechnya, and a prevailing climate of impunity is only exacerbating the situation," Levine said.


The government continued on the path toward greater domestic accountability for war crimes, but failed to arrest the region’s most wanted war crimes suspect, Ratko Mladic.

Tensions in the Albanian-majority Presevo valley flared into instances of violence in July, while the forced eviction of more than 100 Roma from their homes in Belgrade underscored that minority’s vulnerable position in Serbia.


Human rights violations remain rampant, affecting disparate spheres of life, from housing to religion, political and media pluralism, and treatment in custody.

The country adopted a new religion law that expanded already significant government restrictions on faith groups and worshippers.


The government retained excessive restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and religion, and embarked on a new assault on freedom of movement and the right to education by preventing dozens of students studying in private universities abroad from leaving the country.

"There's been no serious change at all," Levine said. "We ourselves are unable to gain access to the country; there is massive repression such that no serious domestic human rights movement can function; and those few organizations that do seek in some way or another to promote and protect human rights found themselves subject to criminal charges -- [which are] often faked -- and staged attacks against defenders."


Despite some improvements, Ukraine’s overall human rights record remains poor, with torture and ill-treatment in detention still commonplace.


Authorities intensified their crackdown on civil society activists, members of the opposition, and independent journalists. Torture and ill-treatment remain rampant and occur in a culture of impunity.

"We've seen new attacks on activists, new arrests of activists, credible new reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees including one suspicious death in custody, compulsory relicensing of lawyers which the government seems to use to try and prevent lawyers defending political detainees, and the refusal to allow Human Rights Watch staff into the country. So [it is] a definite negative situation compounded by the absence of serious measures by the international community," Levine said.