Release of IHF Annual Report 2000: "A Year of Brutality"


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Date: Thu, 1 Jun 2000 17:15:32 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: Release of IHF Annual Report 2000: "A Year of Brutality"

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Original sender: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
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Release of IHF Annual Report 2000: "A Year of Brutality"


After Twenty-Five Years of the Helsinki Process,
Grave Human Rights Violations Persist
 
1999 "A Year of Brutality"
 
Vienna, 1 June 2000 - The International Helsinki Federation for Human
Rights (IHF) published today the 488-page report Human Rights in the
OSCE Region: the Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North
America, Report 2000.  The report was discussed in a special
presentation to delegations of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
 
The report covers the main human rights violations in 44 countries
during 1999 and is based mainly on research by the national Helsinki
committees of the IHF and its secretariat. To mark the year 2000 and
the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, the report also
includes essays on the history of the Helsinki process and the
Helsinki human rights movement.
 
"Twenty-five years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, and
over 10 years following the collapse of the communist system in
Central and Eastern Europe, the human rights problems in the OSCE
region are in a number of ways worse than they were before 1989," said
Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the IHF. He continued: "But
they are not limited to the 'transitional' countries:  For example,
the IHF received information on torture or ill-treatment by police or
prison officials in 31 of the 44 countries covered by our report. 
Increasing police brutality seems to reflect policy rather than lack
of education and reform. All in all, 1999 was a year of brutality in
the OSCE region. "
 
The political dynamics of many of the post-communist states indicate a
trend toward disrespect for religious, ethnic, and political
minorities, and toward autocracy. The judicial and electoral systems
continue to be politically manipulated and are part of a massive
pattern of corruption. With democracy faltering and poverty deepening,
most of the citizens of these countries have not greeted the "New
Millennium" with much hope.
 
In March 1999, NATO launched air strikes against Serbia-Montenegro and
Serb military forces in Kosovo as a response to the increasing
brutality against the ethnic Albanian population by Serb forces. By
early 2000, more than 500 mass graves have been found at various
locations in Kosovo. The fate of at least 5,000 Kosovars remains
unknown. Following the war, both Kosovo Albanians and members of other
ethnic groups have fallen victim of harassment and violence. In
Serbia, authorities used mounting repression and violence as the only
response to widespread dissatisfaction of citizens. A series of
decrees passed in the context of the declaration of a "state of war"
further restricted many rights and freedoms of people living in
Serbia. Montenegrin citizens were recruited by force and against the
decisions of the Montenegrin authorities. The federal army challenged
the authority of the Montenegro authorities and threatened the human
rights of its citizens.
 
Russia continued to violate most human rights obligations it has
undertaken. Serious setbacks occurred with respect to the freedom of
the media.  In the new Chechen war, justified by Russian authorities
as an operation against terrorism, Russia repeated - and even exceeded
- the grave violations of international humanitarian law standards
committed during the 1994-1996 war. Russian forces have resorted to
mass killings, extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions,
torture (including rape), and pillage. Between September and December,
most of the total population of 300,000 people fled their homes. At
least three large-scale massacres by Russian forces in Chechnya have
taken place. Starting in mid-January 2000, Russian authorities began
the mass arrest of well over a thousand civilians. They were taken to
undisclosed detention facilities, beaten constantly, and tortured
severely during interrogations. Also Chechen rebels resorted to grave
human rights violations.
 
In Belarus, the government continued to trample upon the fundamental
principles of civil society, democracy, the rule of law and human
rights. The standard of living continued to fall.  President Alexander
Lukashenka's legitimate term in office expired on 20 July 1999
although he did not step down. In Moldova (and in Ukraine in 2000),
the separation of powers was threatened by referenda giving
presidential administrations exaggerated powers in relation to
parliaments.
 
In Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan),
authoritarian presidential rule was also strengthened. In Kyrgyzstan -
once regarded as a model Central Asian state by Western observers -
the recent elections were flawed, pressure against the media
increased, members of NGOs and peaceful protesters were harassed and
arrested, and there was no independent judicial system. In
Turkmenistan - perhaps the most repressive OSCE member state - the
government pressured the parliament to make President Niyazov
"president-for life."  In the December elections, no independent or
opposition candidates were allowed to participate. The opposition has
been virtually silenced or forced to exile, and the media remains
under strict governmental control.
 
In the United States, human rights violations included impunity for
brutal police and prison officers; discrimination against ethnic
minorities and homosexuals; the curtailment of internationally
recognized rights of asylum seekers and other immigrants.
State-sponsored executions, even of juvenile offenders and the
mentally ill, continued at a record pace. Prisons were increasingly
populated by racial minorities convicted for nonviolent property or
drug crimes. Overcrowding, poor conditions and sexual abuse was
commonplace.

Some experts estimated that 50 percent of police detainees in Russia
were subjected to torture or ill-treatment. In Ukraine, 30 percent of
detainees in some institutions reported having been tortured: the
actual number was estimated to be considerably higher. On 28 July
1999, the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that France
had violated Ahmed Selmouni's right to freedom from torture and right
to a hearing within a reasonable time.
 
Freedom of religion appeared to be at jeopardy in numerous countries.
In Central Asia, the fear of Islamic fundamentalism resulted in
restrictions of Muslims' activities. In addition, other small
religious groups were increasingly targeted. In Western Europe, the
fear of "sects" led to measures that threatened religious freedom
(e.g. in Belgium, France and Germany).
 
In Switzerland, many immigrants who fulfilled stringent formal
requirements for citizenship were not granted it because the decision
was left to the discretion of residential communities. In Sweden, the
partially use of illegal surveillance methods by police forces raised
concern as did the escalation of racially motivated violence and the
lack of reaction by courts to such cases. In Germany, major concerns
involved the status of aliens and the rise in racially motivated
violence, particularly in the eastern federal states. Excessive use of
violence during forced deportations of unsuccessful asylum applicants
- sometimes resulting to their death - was reported from Austria,
Belgium and Germany. In Austria, racially motivated police violence,
the newly permitted method of electronic surveillance, and minority
rights raised concern.
 
In many countries (e.g. Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Moldova and Norway)
the rights of the mentally ill or handicapped raised concern. The
rights of homosexuals were violated, for example, in Austria, Latvia,
Romania, United Kingdom, and the Unites States.
 
Human rights defenders put their freedom and even their lives at risk
when carrying out their duties, for example in Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and
Turkmenistan.
 
---------------
 
Copies of the IHF report Human Rights in the OSCE Region: the Balkans,
the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2000 are
available at the IHF Secretariat,
tel. +43-1-408 88 22, 
fax +43-1-408 88 22-50, 
E-mail office@ihf-hr.org 
and accessible at
http://www. ihf-hr.org
 
__________________________________________
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50
______________________________________

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