IHF New Annual Report


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Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 21:53:44 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: IHF New Annual Report

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IHF New Annual Report


New Report Documents Human Rights Abuses in OSCE Region; Escalation in
Central Asia

Vienna, 25 May 2001. The International Helsinki Federation for Human
Rights (IHF) today published its report Human Rights in the OSCE
Region: the Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North
America (Report 2001). The 428-page report covers main human rights
concerns in the member states of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the calendar year 2000. It is based on
research by the Helsinki Committees and other independent,
non-governmental groups and the IHF Secretariat. The report describes,
inter alia, attacks on human rights defenders; violations of the
rights of minorities and minority religions; persecutions of
journalists and scientists; restrictions on free expression and the
right to association; violations of humanitarian law; and torture and
ill-treatment in detention - all problems that cannot in many cases be
remedied because of the absence of independent courts securing fair
trials.

The most precarious human rights developments took place in Central
Asian member states of the OSCE - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - where an escalation of violations was
reported in almost all fields of human rights, combined with
increasing centralization of the authority of presidents and their
administrations. 

Massive abuses continued in Chechnya and the international community
failed to put effective pressure on Russia to halt violations of
humanitarian law by Russian forces.

In Belarus, most basic human rights were violated and President
Lukashenka enjoyed almost unlimited powers. Ukraine appeared to follow
the same path and took efforts to expand presidential powers and to
increase authoritarian rule.  

With Slobodan Milosevic's departure new hope emerged for more respect
for human rights and the rule of law in Serbia. Yugoslavia was soon
readmitted to many international organizations. However, the new
government of Vojislav Kostunica continued nationalist politics and
equivocated on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal
for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Five years after the signing of the Peace Agreement in Dayton and
Paris, Bosnia and Herzegovina remained unstable both in respect of its
domestic political reality and its international position. The three
nationalist parties in power obstructed the implementation of Peace
Agreement and blocked the development of a system of authority based
on the rule of law.  

Elections and referenda in the new democracies were riddled with
violations of international standards (e.g. in Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan). In
some countries authorities were mobilized to coerce the electorate to
support them - e.g. under the threat of losing one's job - and
opposition candidates were refused registration (e.g. in Belarus,
Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine). Due to lack of competition, international
organizations deemed the presidential elections in Uzbekistan a priori
unfair and refused to send observers.

Freedom of expression suffered in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Greece, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and all Central Asian countries.
The situation was worst in Turkmenistan, while Greece received the
lowest score among countries with a long democratic tradition. In many
countries, criminal defamation laws were still in force or government
critics and outspoken media were issued huge fines under the Civil
Code endangering their existence and resulting in self-censorship.
Media outlets were shut down under various pretexts and journalists
faced harassment and violence. Critical journalists were often denied
access to information. On the positive side, the Croatian media
enjoyed significantly more freedom as a result of the change of
government, although problems still remained.

In most former Soviet Republics, judicial systems still reflected
Soviet practices. The prosecutors enjoyed wide powers that should have
been transferred to other authorities and tended to protect state
interests rather than individual rights. Violations of due process
standards were commonplace. The judiciary was poorly paid, enjoyed
little public respect, was vulnerable for bribes, and often took sides
with the prosecution. But also in Austria, a member of the EU, judges
protested against attempts of political forces to interfere in the
administration of justice.

Misconduct by law enforcement officials was reported from all over the
region, including Western Europe and the United States. In numerous
countries such conduct amounted to torture (including in Bulgaria,
Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine, Central Asia). Foreigners and ethnic
minorities (particularly Roma) were frequently singled out for abuse.
The pressure for high clarification rates - which in many countries
were linked to compensation for police officers - contributed to the
use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Abuse of military
recruits was frequently reported (in Armenia, Kazakhstan, and other
countries).

Restrictive laws and practices on freedom of religion remained in
force (in Belgium, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia and elsewhere).
Increasing measures were taken (or draft laws were pending) in several
countries to restrict the activities on "non-traditional" religious
communities (for example in Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Hungary,
Kazakhstan).

Overcrowding, abuse by prison staff and other poor prison conditions
gave rise to revolts in Italy and Turkey. Other problems included poor
hygiene, the spread of diseases, and lack of adequate medical care and
recreation. Holding juvenile delinquents under conditions totally
unsuitable to them led to self-mutilation in Kazakhstan and suicides
in Latvia.

Asylum seekers faced significant problems finding shelter. Although
the asylum laws in EU countries were frequently criticized by human
rights organizations for containing vague formulations such as "safe
countries of origin" or "safe third countries" and for using
accelerated procedures even at their borders, many former Socialist
states adopted or considered similar laws (for example in the Czech
Republic, Lithuania). In violation of international law, minors were
frequently held in custody pending the processing of their asylum
procedure in Austria, Germany, Hungary and other OSCE states. 

The return of refugees to war-stricken areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Croatia was still slow and those who risked return often faced
harassment and violence. 

Many countries lacked laws on conscientious objection or their
legislations were not up to par with international standards,
including Armenia, Belarus, Greece, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan,
Ukraine, and Montenegro. 

Ethnic discrimination and racism increased. In Germany, the number of
racially-motivated criminal acts by extreme rightist groups increased
by 50% from 1999. In many countries the lack of legislation directly
dealing with discrimination, racially motivated acts, the organization
of groups that promoted racial intolerance or legal provisions
providing for redress for discriminatory acts or behaviour encouraged
the spread of such practices (in Austria, Finland, Hungary, Sweden).
In many countries (including Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden), authorities
were reluctant to identify racially motivated crimes as such. Latvia
witnessed the mobilisation of small groups of Latvian and Russian
racist extremists, but, positively, law enforcement agencies responded
vigorously. 

Greece continued to recognize only one minority: the Turks as a
religious minority. Roma faced discrimination, harassment and violence
in almost all OSCE states. Roma fleeing violence in Kosovo were not
welcome anywhere; in Macedonia and Hungary they enjoyed virtually no
protection. In Italy Roma were regarded as "nomads"; authorities
conducted abusive raids in Roma camps and police misconduct was
commonplace. On the other hand, in Estonia and Latvia positive new
legislation in the area of the use of minority languages was adopted. 

Other topics covered by the report include, among other things, the
death penalty, the right to peaceful assembly, women's rights, the
rights of the child, and activities of security services.

For further information: 
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, 
Dr. Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director, 
or Brigitte Dufour, Deputy Executive Director, 
phone +43-1-408 88 22 (IHF) or mobiles +43-676-635 66 12 (Rhodes), 
+43-676-690 24 57 (Dufour). 

Copies of the report are available at the IHF Secretariat,
Wickenburggasse 14/7, A-1080 Vienna, e-mail: office@ihf-hr.org. The
report is also posted at http://www.ihf-hr.org

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