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The Work of Human Rights Watch

During 1998, the war in Kosovo was an urgent focus of our work. With the eruption of violence in February, we began an intensive program of documenting and exposing human rights and humanitarian law violations in the province through press releases, reports, and the internet. In May, Human Rights Watch conducted a four-week fact finding mission in Kosovo and northern Albania to investigate the mounting evidence of abuses by the Yugoslav Army and special security police, as well as to look at the conduct of the Kosovo Liberation Army. In September, Human Rights Watch researchers exposed the massacre of an extended family by Yugoslav forces in the town of Donje Obrinje and the summary execution of thirteen men in the village of Golubovac. A Human Rights Watch intervention was essential in securing the evacuation of a sole survivor. In an effort to generate pressure on the international community to insist on an end to the atrocities, we presented our findings and recommendations to key policy makers in Washington, New York, Brussels, and the ICTY in the Hague immediately following each mission.

When the Yugoslav government agreed to allow OSCE “verifiers” to be based in Kosovo, Human Rights Watch called on the OSCE to ensure that the mission’s mandate would have a strong human rights component. Drawing on our experiences in Bosnia and Croatia, we emphasized the need for public reporting and transparency of the monitoring process, proper human rights training for monitors, and the political support necessary to resolve human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch wrote a lengthy protest letter criticizing the new Serbian university law. A number of press releases also criticized the government’s continued attacks on the independent media, such as the denial of broadcast licenses for independent radio and television stations and the passage of a highly restrictive Law on Information.

Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch monitored the treatment of Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers and displaced persons. During our mission to the region in May and June, we interviewed a number of Kosovo Albanians who had been recently deported to Kosovo as rejected asylum seekers by the governments of Germany and Switzerland. In several cases, they testified to detention, interrogation, and beatings upon return. In September meetings with German and Swiss immigration authorities, we discussed our findings and their policies toward Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers. In September, we also met with officials of the Montenegrin government regarding their handling of the influx of refugees from Kosovo, and we condemned their subsequent decision to close the border with Kosovo and expel 3,500 Kosovo Albanians to Albania. When several thousand Iraqi and Turkish Kurds arrived on the shores of Italy in December 1997 and January 1998, we issued a briefing paper describing relevant conditions in the Kurds’ home region and urging receiving states to accord them full access to asylum procedures.

Human Rights Watch engaged in advocacy efforts in the U.S. and western Europe on the points raised in its April report on police violence in Macedonia, especially the unwillingness of the international community to criticize the Macedonian government. Human Rights Watch undertook efforts in Washington to raise awareness about the Leahy Amendment to the 1998 Appropriations Act, which forbids U.S. aid to abusive police units. We also spoke with the office of Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, about the rights of Macedonia’s ethnic minorities.

Human Rights Watch was among the first to call on the ICTY to assert jurisdiction in Kosovo and maintained an ongoing dialogue with Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour and her Kosovo team throughout the year. We not only urged the ICTY to pursue investigations in Kosovo, but underscored the need to indict Milosevic for crimes committed throughout the former Yugoslavia. The “Arrest Now” campaign continued to press for accountability for past abuses. In November 1997, we designed a map, which was distributed to E.U. foreign ministers, missions to NATO and the OSCE, and senior U.S. government officials, showing the location of indicted persons and SFOR bases in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The map was reprinted in numerous media outlets in Europe and North America. In cooperation with the Women’s Rights division and the National Organization for Women, we launched a “month of action” on rape as a war crime centered around International Women’s Day in March 1998. The more than 1,000 signatures collected on an open letter to President Clinton were presented to senior U.S. officials by advocates from Human Rights Watch and NOW in meetings at the Department of State in May 1998.

In Bosnia, our primary goal continued to be accountability for government officials, police, and others who obstruct implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement and commit serious human rights abuses, as well as the arrest of persons indicted by the tribunal. Countering the argument that pursuing accountability for wartime atrocities might jeopardize the peace process, we documented the role played by war criminals in several Bosnian towns. In December 1997 and February 1998, our staff conducted extensive field research on war-time and ongoing human rights violations in the town of Foca in Republika Srpska. Complemented by several months of background research outside the country, we highlighted the continuing influence of those responsible for war crimes and its undeniably corrosive effect on the peace and reconstruction processes.

As an integral part of our advocacy on Bosnia, we worked to link all non-humanitarian aid to compliance with the human rights provisions of the Dayton agreement. In numerous meetings with representatives of the World Bank, the U.S. government, and the E.U. during the year, our staff pressed for the creation of a vetting process that would ensure that reconstruction assistance not serveto enrich indicted war crimes suspects and Dayton obstructionists.

In a joint mission with Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights division, our researchers spent January and February 1998 examining women’s access to international criminal justice and the possible discriminatory allocation of reconstruction monies from international financial institutions in post-conflict Bosnia.

We also continued to monitor the role played by international institutions based in Bosnia. In late 1997, our Sarajevo-based staff were joined by U.N. analysts from Human Rights Watch on a mission to assess the progress of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) and its role in enhancing respect for human rights by local police. The mission included high-level meetings with international officials in Bosnia, and visits to IPTF stations in Mostar, Bugojno, Jajce, Banja Luka, Travnik, Kiseljak, Brcko, Tuzla, Doboj, and Zenica. Following the release of our findings in July, Human Rights Watch engaged in an ongoing dialogue with U.N. representatives regarding our concerns and recommendations.

Ongoing obstacles to return and human rights abuses against returnees were a major focus of our work in Croatia, with special attention paid to the regions of Eastern Slavonia and the Krajina. A four-week mission to the region in July and August documented the legal and administrative obstacles, discrimination, and some violence that hinder displaced persons and refugees from returning to their pre-war homes. Staff raised these concerns during meetings in September with rapporteurs of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and Croatia’s representatives at the council, and in October with E.U. representatives prior to their review of the E.U.’s Regional Approach for the Former Yugoslavia.

Our Moscow office engaged in a new initiative to expose Russia-wide human rights concerns—the persecution of human rights activists, violations of press freedom, attacks on journalists, electoral violations, and the harassment of NGOs—and develop a broader network of contacts in Russia’s increasingly independent regions. In 1998, we documented the widespread use of torture in police detention and abuses in the criminal justice system in Irkutsk, Novgorod, St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk. Human Rights Watch continued to monitor implementation of the highly discriminatory religion law and the dramatic increase in racially motivated violence by skinheads in Moscow. In May, Human Rights Watch, together with the Glasnost Foundation, organized a seminar on efforts to establish an International Criminal Court and the role of NGOs.

Human Rights Watch sought to intensify its work in Central Asia during 1998 to counter growing international support for Central Asian governments despite the deteriorating human rights situation in the region. In the wake of several killings of police officers in the Fergana Valley in December 1997, the government of Uzbekistan stepped up its campaign against independent Muslims. In response, Human Rights Watch immediately sent three researchers to document the arbitrary arrest of hundreds of men, police abuse, and widespread religious discrimination against practicing Muslims. To drive home our intense concern over Uzbekistan’s retrograde human rights record, senior staff and board members visited Uzbekistan in May to present our research findings to Uzbekistan government officials, western diplomats, and local and international organizations. In June and July, a Human Rights Watch representative continued to document the government’s harsh policies against practicing Muslims and monitored several of the trials of those caught in the sweeps. We alerted the government of Uzbekistan and the international community to the violations of due process and torture of defendants, revealed in the trials.

Human Rights Watch worked to place human rights at the forefront of international attention during the visit of President Saparmurad Niyazov to the U.S. in April. Our documentation of severe human rights violations in Turkmenistan—circulated to President Clinton and to senior State Department, congressional, and business officials involved in the meetings— helped to create international pressure on Niyazov, who freed ten political prisoners. Human Rights Watch continued throughout the year to advocate strenuously for the release of Gulgeldy Ananniazov, another political prisoner. Human Rights Watch senior staff and board members had planned to raise this case, among others, with Niyazov and other senior Turkmen officials during a May visit to the region; however, the Turkmen government refused to meet with and denied visas to our delegation. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch entered Turkmenistan on transit visas and met with various representatives of Turkmenistan’s beleaguered political opposition, as well as with international organizations and members of the diplomatic community.

Human Rights Watch prepared briefing materials on human rights issues in Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and urged her to raise human rights concerns during her November 1997 visit to those countries. In a letter to President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch raised the issue of the politically-motivated arrests of three human rights activists in Jalal-Abad in late September 1998. In Kazakstan, we protested the December 1, 1997, politically-motivated beating of Petr Svoik, co-chairman of the Kazak opposition movement Azamat, in a letter to President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

During 1998, Human Rights Watch, in coalition with other organizations, sought to make Tajikistan a priority for the international community. Through our Dushanbe office, we raised human rights concerns during frequent and regular meetings with the OSCE, UNMOT, and local embassies. Our research focused on the crackdown on political activists in the north of the country and the continued humanitarian law violations that took place in several rounds of government-United Tajik Opposition (UTO) fighting. Our research on the crackdown in the northern Tajik province of Leninabad produced a major and unique report; we alsoactively protested against due process violations in the case of a well-known northerner. Research on fighting in Kofarnikhon and in the Karategin Valley culminated in detailed protest letters. Our Dushanbe-based researcher actively supported local human rights and nongovernmental organizations and researched restrictions on the media during the year.

In the Caucasus, Human Rights Watch focused its efforts on the ill-treatment and torture of detainees by police and other security forces, conducting fact-finding missions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia during the year. In an effort to promote long-term reforms of such systemic abuse, we presented our documentation and analysis of human rights practices in the region to prominent international bodies, most significantly, the Council of Europe, which has been reviewing applications for full membership from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; and the World Bank. We made clear to international financial institutions, whose assistance to countries in the region is needed to underwrite oil extraction and transportation projects, that respect for human rights is a key component of good governance and the long-term viability of their investments. On several occasions, we also raised these concerns with representatives of multinational corporations investing in the region.

Human Rights Watch research and advocacy in Turkey emphasized on-going restrictions on freedom of expression and association. In a January press release, Human Rights Watch protested the closure of the Islamist-based Welfare Party. In advance of his visit to Turkey in February, we sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck a letter briefing him on our concerns with respect to restrictions on freedom of expression. A member of our board traveled to Turkey in July to visit jailed journalist Ragip Duran and the head of the Human Rights Association, Akin Birdal, who was recovering from a brutal attack on his life. Throughout the year, we also monitored U.S. arms transfers to Turkey and raised concerns related to these transfers in three meetings with State Department officials.

In Northern Ireland, Human Rights Watch joined a coalition of groups pushing for meaningful human rights provisions in the historic April 1998 Multi-Party Agreement. A report analyzing the human rights provisions of the agreement was published in April, prior to the public referendum on the agreement. We also continued to monitor the implementation of the agreement, making a lengthy submission in September to the new Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, a body established by the agreement to make recommendations for police reform in the post-conflict period.

In 1998, Human Rights Watch attempted to engage the Belarusian government in a dialogue on human rights abuses, writing six letters of protest, issuing three press releases, publishing a fifty-one-page report, and conducting five research missions. Two Human Rights Watch researchers observed the trial of teenagers Vadim Labkovich and Aleksei Shidlovsky in February. At our suggestion, the embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom, which held the rotating presidency of the European Union, sent observers to the hearing and subsequently issued appeals to the Belarusian government calling for the teenagers’ release and for clemency. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in February condemning arbitrary arrests in Belarus and raising concern about the Labkovich/Shidlovsky case, using information from our letters of protest.

During 1998, Human Rights Watch collaborated with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Bucharest-based ACCEPT in an intense effort to encourage the Romanian government to repeal anti-homosexual legislation and respect the rights of gays and lesbians in Romania. During a meeting with Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC in January, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu promised that he would pardon persons who had been jailed for non-violent violations of the Romanian penal code provisions outlawing homosexual activity. One such prisoner, Mariana Cetiner, was pardoned and released, but Human Rights Watch is not aware of any other persons having been pardoned during the year.

Human Rights Watch pressed for the integration of women’s rights in the work of the OSCE. We carried out advocacy initiatives with the diplomatic missions in Vienna, in Washington, and in other capitals, and one of our staff was the keynote speaker at a special session on women’s rights of the OSCE Permanent Council in April.





Republic of Belarus

Bosnia and Hercegovina



Czech Republic








The Russian Federation





United Kingdom


Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Asylum Policy in Western Europe



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