Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
The Work of Human Rights Watch
The Role of the International Community
Fearful of spillover from Kosovo to neighboring Macedonia, the United Nations extended the mandate and increased the size of its Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP), which focused on warding off instability from abroad but did not speak out against the human rights abuses that fueled instability within the country. Meanwhile, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights dropped Macedonia from the mandate of its rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia, leaving a worrisome vacuum in human rights monitoring and reporting there.
The Security Council reacted more swiftly on Georgia, with a presidents statement in May expressing grave concern at renewed violence in Abkhazia and a strong July Security Council resolution about the events. It also extended the mandate of the U.N. Observer Mission in Georgia until 1999.
In Tajikistan, the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan through November 1998. However, U.N. policy on Tajikistan floundered. The U.N. had been deeply involved since 1993 in peace negotiations, but in 1998 UNMOT had no coherent response to the parties failure to meet most deadlines established by the peace accords. After four UNMOT staff were murdered in July, UNMOT recalled all U.N. staff to the capital, Dushanbe.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia continued to advance the cause of international justice for war crimes in 1998. NATO arrests and surrenders brought the number of those indicted for crimes committed during the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina to twenty-eight. The tribunal had six trials underway during the year against a total of fourteen defendants. Arguing that she needed to devote scarce resources to prosecuting major war criminals, the prosecutor dismissed charges against fourteen minor defendants. Her strategy of targeting the big fish was substantially undermined, however, by the persistent unwillingness of the NATO-led SFOR troops to apprehend Radovan Karadzic, the primary architect of Bosnias ethnic cleansing. In Kosovo, the prosecutor acted quickly to announce her intention to conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes, but the subsequent slow pace of that investigation squandered some of its potential deterrent effect and may have cost the tribunal key evidence of war crimes.
E.U. relations with Turkey remained chilly, in the wake of the 1997 E.U. decision to postpone consideration of Turkeys application for E.U. membership. Although Turkeys human rights record was cited as a reason for this decision, ulterior motivesincluding discomfort with the prospect of admitting a largely Islamic countryundermined the impact of its critique of Turkeys human rights record. Moreover, when other E.U. interests were at stake in relations with Turkey, human rights concerns slipped from the agenda. This was evident when the E.U. pressed Turkey to contain Iraqi refugee flows within its borders, notwithstanding serious deficiencies in Turkeys asylum law and procedure. Similarly, notwithstanding the E.U.s Code of Conduct on weapons transfers, which was adopted in June and contains human rights criteria for weapons sales, E.U. member countries continued to promote their arms industries in lucrative deals with Turkey, which has reportedly earmarked U.S. $30 billion for arms purchases over the next ten years.
Despite a clear obligation to make the granting of trade concessions contingent upon respect for human rights, the E.U. signed an important trade agreement with Turkmenistan in February, utterly squandering an opportunity for leverage in one of the regions most repressive countries. The interim agreement established favorable terms of trade that were to remain in effect until the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) enters into force. The PCA itself contains clear language about human rights compliance, yet the government of Turkmenistan systematically repressed civic freedoms in 1998, as it had done in previous years. Regrettably, the E.U. moved to end its suspension of the PCA with Uzbekistan, making way for approval despite persistent human rights violations. The E.U.s 50 million ecu (U.S.$35.7 million) Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Central Asia project represented a major E.U. investment in the region, aimed at creating an east-west transport corridor by improving roads, port facilities, and other transport networks. The E.U. did not appear to match this investment with heightened concern for human rights in the region as a whole.
E.U. assistance to NGOs and independent media in CIS countries contributed significantly to building civil society. In Belarus, for example, such support, in tandem with support from the U.S. government, served as life-support for independent NGOs and the independent media, which that countrys government had attempted to drive out of existence.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The OSCEs monitoring and liaison missions in the CIS improved their human rights efforts compared with previous years. The liaison office in Uzbekistan was engaged in trial monitoring, and the OSCE lodged official protests on several cases of illegal detention and pressed for access for the international community. The OSCE Permanent Council increasingly raised human rights issues in Tajikistan, based on reports from its mission. The mission in Tajikistan, however, did little follow-up on cases of abuse, thereby compromising its role as principal guarantor of the development of human rights during the peace transition period. The OSCEs human rights office in Sukhumi, a joint effort with the U.N., had a mandate to monitor human rights violations only of Georgians who are attempting to resettle in Abkhazia; it made very few public assessments of human rights there, however. To its credit, the OSCE opened a mission in Belarus in 1998; as of this writing it was too early to assess its work.
The OSCE continued to play an important role in implementing and monitoring elections throughout the region. Its largest election effort in 1998 was in the September general elections in Bosnia. While the general environment in which the elections took place reflected significant improvements over the 1997 municipal elections, the OSCEs performance was disappointing. More than one hundred polling stations did not open as scheduled because they had not received the voters register or sufficient ballots, and the names of many voters did not appear on the register or were spelled incorrectly. These and other technical difficulties should have been anticipated, as they had occurred in previous elections.
The OSCEs Office on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is to be commended for pulling together at very short notice an efficient team to monitor the snap presidential elections called in March in Armenia, although it did not appoint an experienced specialist to head the mission. This served to undermine the missions legitimacy in the eyes of the political opposition and drew criticism from international observers. Ultimately, however, it did not interfere with the missions ability to be critical. Indeed, its final report concluded that the elections did not meet OSCE standards. In Azerbaijan, ODIHR actively urged the government, through a series of meetings and written critiques, to improve its presidential election law. As a result of this dialogue, the government made some important amendments.
Council of Europe
Work also proceeded on the establishment of a new Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights. In September, the Committee of Ministers approved a draft mandate for the commissioner, who would enjoy broad powers to monitor and report on human rights developments throughout the forty member states. The commissioners post was expected to be approved in 1999, after consultation with the Parliamentary Assembly.
In a less positive development, in May the Committee of Ministers determined to alter its internal procedure for monitoring member states compliance with Council of Europe commitments. In the recent past, its monitoring had been based on reports prepared by the councils secretariat. As a number of member states had been reportedly stung by the secretariats assessment, the committee decided that henceforth its monitoring would be based on self-reporting by member states. The member statess assessments of their own compliance with Council of Europe commitments, which will form the basis of future committee monitoring, are confidential and not subject to public scrutiny.
The Parliamentary Assemblys monitoring procedure proved more effective in addressing member states human rights records. The assemblys monitoring committee maintained active monitoring procedures in ten member states. The committees report on Russia noted that Russia had made undeniable progress toward the rule of law and democracy, but identified various areas in which further efforts were needed, including ensuring freedom of movement, reform of the criminal justice and penitentiary system, and full abolition of the death penalty. Although the report generally described the situation correctly, it failed to note significant backsliding from human rights standards over the past two years. The case of Romania, however, illustrated the danger of terminating such monitoring before important benchmarks had been met. After Romania promised key reforms, the monitoring of its compliance with Council of Europe commitments was terminated in April 1997. Although a year later some of Romanias promisesparticularly with respect to treatment of homosexualsremained unfulfilled, the assembly lacked the political will to restart the procedure, and Romanias abusive policies went unchecked.
In 1998, the Council of Europe entertained applications for admission to the organization from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Georgia. In light of its abominable human rights record, the accession procedure for Belarus remained suspended throughout 1998. Similarly, in light of the Yugoslav governments abusive campaign in Kosovo, at this writing, the Committee of Ministers had taken no action on FRYs application for admission. The councils approach to other applicant states was less principled, however. Eager to support the new moderate government of Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, in February, the Parliamentary Assembly initiated the accession procedure for Bosnia and Hercegovina, although many of the benchmarks it had previously set remained only partially fulfilled. In the Caucasus, where interests in oil development were paramount, human rights concerns were downplayed. At this writing, Georgia, which, of the three Caucasus republics, has been most responsive to Council of Europe demands, was the front-runner for admission. Consideration of the applications of Armenia and Azerbaijan hinged primarily on evidence of progress in settling the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, with scant attention to other serious problems in human rights practices in both countries.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
In Bosnia, the U.S. played a more positive role, with its troops participating in the arrest of two indicted war crimes suspects during the year. Spurred by legislation adopted in late 1997, the U.S. government also increased its efforts to prevent war crimes suspects from benefiting from its reconstruction assistance. At times, however, political considerations held sway, as when the Administration waived conditionality requirements to enable it to support the Republika Srpska police, although the U.N. had not yet completed its vetting, aimed at eliminating war crimes suspects and other human rights abusers from the police force.
The U.S. took a principled position in the face of Turkeys persistent violations of human rights, vowing to hold up a potential $3.5 billion sale of attack helicopters to the Turkish military unless Turkey lived up to human rights commitments made by Prime Minister Yilmaz in his meeting with President Clinton in December 1997. In the same vein, in September the U.S. Department of State agreed to allow the sale of armored personnel carriers to Turkeys Anti-Terror and Anti-Riot Police to go forward with U.S. Export-Import Bank financing, only upon the condition that the equipment be blocked for use in eleven provinces where these police have been connected to serious human rights violations.
The Clinton Administration squandered an important opportunity to recast Russias human rights problems by failing to raise human rights altogether during the September summit between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. Together with the E.U. and the Council of Europe, the U.S. government ignored the link between Russias economic and financial crisis and its long-term human rights problems, or the need to call for a renewed commitment to human rights in the face of near political chaos. This failure stemmed in part from the U.S. governments historic preference for offering unwavering support to President Yeltsindemonstrated most recently by its role in galvanizing support for the IMFs July bailout packagerather than encouraging the emergence of alternative political forces or supporting the development of democratic institutions.
The sharply deteriorating human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan both derived from their Presidents attempts to curtail political opposition in view of impending elections in their countries. Yet the U.S., together with other actors in the international community, continued to shower both countries with direct assistance and credits, showing no alarm at the creeping authoritarianism in both countries.
U.S. policy in Central Asia and the Caucasus remained driven by strategic concerns relating to energy resources and transportation routes, isolating Iran, and containing Muslim fundamentalism. This was evident in policy toward Turkmenistan, which benefited from U.S.$96 million in investments financed by the Export-Import Bank, and several pipeline feasibility studies paid for by the U.S. Trade and Development Administration. The first-ever state visit by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov did not hinge on fulfilment of human rights conditions, although the State Department and the OSCE successfully urged the government to release ten political prisoners. While this effort is to be commended, the releases represent little more than the Turkmen governments willingness to use political prisoners effectively as hostages to financial concessions; it must not be mistaken for a commitment to human rights. A White House press release issued during the visit, which stated that Turkmenistan is committed to strengthening the rule of law and political pluralism, including free and fair elections for parliament and the presidency, appeared disingenuous at best.
Oppressive control of non-state Islam put to the test the U.S. governments renewed and vigilant commitment to freedom of religion. The State Department charged the Uzbekistan government with severely limiting the right to worship freely, and it raised discrimination and harassment against Christian groups with government officials. But while Muslims bore the lions share of harassment and discrimination, U.S. attention focused disproportionately on Christian groups. To its credit, the U.S. embassy in Tashkent actively monitored trials of individuals arrested during the crackdown on independent Muslims in the Fergana Valley.
The indefinite closure of the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe in September, reportedly the result of inadequate security guarantees, raised concerns that Tajikistan would be pushed further into obscurity and isolation, and reinforced an already alarming scarcity of human rights monitoring, reporting, and general scrutiny of developments in the country.
Republic of Belarus
Bosnia and Hercegovina
The Russian Federation
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Asylum Policy in Western Europe
BACK TO TOP
Copyright © 1999
Human RIghts Watch