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The Role of the International Community

United Nations

Throughout the year, various U.N. actors voiced concern about violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Chechnya, but lacking political support from key member states' U.N. representatives failed to follow through in any meaningful way on these statements.

In early 2000, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson took the lead on Chechnya. The Russian government responded to her repeated condemnations by refusing her February request to visit Chechnya. When she was finally permitted to visit the region in late March, she acknowledged evidence of summary executions, torture, and rape committed by Russian forces, but she refused to heed calls for an international commission of inquiry, opting instead to leave the accountability effort to the Russian authorities.

The European Union-sponsored resolution adopted in April at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights followed Robinson's approach. The resolution, the first ever adopted by the commission concerning the conduct of a permanent member of the Security Council, called upon the Russian government to establish a national commission of inquiry to investigate alleged abuses in Chechnya and to permit visits to the region by a number of U.N. human rights monitoring bodies.

Other than periodic calls for implementation of this resolution, no U.N. member state or representative showed an active interest in ensuring Russian compliance with these demands, despite the high commissioner's efforts. As of this writing, the Russian government had taken no meaningful steps to investigate or prosecute cases relating to abuses in Chechnya, and it had utterly refused to establish a commission of inquiry or invite most U.N. human rights representatives who requested to visit the region. Although the conflict occasionally spilled over Russia's border with Georgia and resulted in substantial cross-border refugee flows, the Security Council failed even to discuss the issue.

The U.N. continued to struggle with its peace implementation mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), as international attention shifted to flashpoints in other parts of the world. UNMIK made some progress in convincing ethnic Albanian and Serb leaders to participate in transitional power-sharing structures, but peace efforts were marred by political and ethnic violence. Progress was also made in establishing a local police force, but international civilian police lacked personnel to police in the interim, despite repeated requests to U.N. member states. Efforts to build an independent judiciary were undermined by UNMIK's reluctance adequately to supervise the courts, although it belatedly began to appoint international judges and prosecutors to local courts to counter concerns about bias, intimidation, and bribery among local judges and court officials. UNMIK established a special U.N. police unit for the protection of Serbs and began appointing international judges and prosecutors to local judicial systems to counter evident bias and to promote the rule of law.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia continued its important contribution to peace in the Balkans by trying alleged war criminals, including the first-ever war crimes trial based solely on allegations of rape and sexual violence. Its efforts were undermined, however, by the continued failure of the international community to apprehend the indicted masterminds of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic. Moreover, the failure of the international community to insist that deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic stand trial before the tribunal reinforced the perception that the worst offenders enjoy the most lenient treatment.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (0SCE)

After the Istanbul summit of its fifty-four heads of state in November 1999, with grand pronouncements about the organization's role in upholding human rights, the OSCE's contribution to human rights protection in the region depended on its willingness to withstand pressure and interference from member states. The result, for the most part, was singularly disappointing. The dogged efforts of the high commissioner on national minorities, the representative on freedom of the media, and the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to condemn abuses, provide training, and convene seminars, were completely overshadowed by the failure of the OSCE to uphold its mandate to deploy a mission to Chechnya and by the organization's role in organizing and monitoring deeply flawed elections throughout the region.

The members of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya sat in a Moscow office, prevented by the Russian government from redeploying to Chechnya or neighboring provinces where their monitoring and reporting could have provided protection for thousands of civilian victims of the conflict. The OSCE and its member states were unable to convince the Russian government to allow the group to operate in and around Chechnya, even though its right to do so had been clearly stipulated in its 1995 mandate and reaffirmed at the Istanbul summit by all member states, including Russia, and again by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during April meetings with OSCE Chair-In-Office Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The OSCE's continued engagement in Central Asia, this year emphasizing economic and security cooperation, yielded no progress on human rights. For the third straight year, the government of Turkmenistan would not sign a Memorandum of Understanding with ODIHR regarding democratization activities in the country, which seriously called into question the utility of continued OSCE engagement there.

Perhaps because the OSCE did not have to contend with pressure from member states regarding its work on Kosovo, it engaged in active public human rights reporting there, which included thoughtful criticism of international institutions. This served as a positive model for what could be accomplished when political will is mustered.

In 2000, the OSCE monitored elections in Croatia, Tajikistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Albania, Macedonia, the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. Although OSCE election reports were generally accurate in identifying flaws, the decisions to send full assessment missions to Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, and even the limited assessment mission it sent to Belarus, risked according legitimacy to electoral processes that were deeply, structurally flawed. OSCE officials argued that their presence during these elections was necessary to document electoral abuses and develop recommendations for improved processes. Unfortunately, 2000 saw little progress made in implementing OSCE recommendations developed in the course of monitoring past flawed votes in, for example, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The OSCE also organized the October municipal elections in Kosovo, pushing ahead under international pressure to demonstrate progress in peace implementation, although political and ethnic violence and attacks on journalists indicated at the time of writing that the elections would not likely meet OSCE standards.

Having failed to use the opportunity of the 1999 Istanbul summit to obtain any lasting human rights improvements in Turkey, the OSCE and its "human dimension" mechanisms remained underutilized in that country, where, had there been the political will, they might have made a significant contribution to the Turkish government's efforts to comply with E.U. accession criteria relating to democratization, rule of law, and minority rights.

The year saw continued OSCE efforts to address women's human rights issues, with the adoption of a Gender Action Plan in June and a special "human dimension" seminar to identify measures to combat trafficking. The apparent downgrading of the position of the gender advisor in the Vienna secretariat did not, however, bode well for efforts to implement these plans.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe's profile expanded significantly in 2000, as the organization engaged in new and unprecedented field activities, technical assistance missions, and election monitoring activities with mixed results for human rights conditions.

Among international organizations, the Council of Europe enjoyed the most extensive dialogue with the Russian government regarding its conduct in Chechnya. The council's commissioner for human rights, the council-based European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and several delegations from the its Parliamentary Assembly visited Moscow and the North Caucasus, condemned violations committed by both sides to the conflict, and urged steps to curb abuses and bring about an end to the conflict. The secretary general invoked for the first time article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights to request information from the Russian government regarding implementation of the convention in Chechnya and in April the Parliamentary Assembly suspended the voting rights of the Russian parliamentary delegation.

In response, the Russian government accepted deployment in Chechnya of a three-person Council of Europe team of experts to assist the office of Russian President Putin's Special Representative for Human Rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov. This team, the only international personnel with a human rights mandate permitted to operate in Chechnya, surely made a positive contribution to the work of Kalamanov's office. At the same time, its deployment raised serious concerns that the Russian government was "forum shopping," essentially looking for the weakest institution that it could engage in order to avoid a stronger international reaction.

Indeed, the Council of Europe deployment was used by representatives of the U.S., the E.U., and other governments and institutions as an argument against creating an international commission of inquiry, even though Kalamanov and the Council of Europe staff working with him had no authority to investigate or prosecute alleged atrocities. Council member states also used the deployment as an excuse to forego more robust action, such as a lawsuit against the Russian Federation before the European Court of Human Rights, or a Committee of Ministers' action to monitor Russia's conduct in Chechnya or to expel Russia from the council. The deployment also weakened the case for an OSCE presence and gave the Russian authorities an argument against compliance with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolution. Council of Europe officials argued that it was better for them to be in Chechnya than not. This claim ignored the impact of their presence on the overall international response to the Chechnya crisis and the danger that the much-touted "complementarity" among international institutions in the field of human rights had, at least in Chechnya, become a race to the bottom.

Similar concerns arose over Council of Europe election assistance in Azerbaijan. Although the OSCE was already engaged in a dialogue with the Azerbaijani authorities regarding conditions for their November elections, the Council of Europe accepted an April request from the Azerbaijani government that it advise them too. Necessarily complicated by political considerations relating to Azerbaijan's pending Council membership application, the team's assessment of pre-election conditions sometimes conflicted with that of the OSCE.

A more productive division of labor occurred in Kosovo, where the OSCE had the task of organizing the October municipal elections and the Council of Europe ran the independent international monitoring mission.

Concerns persisted that the Council of Europe was admitting states before they were ready to live up to its human rights standards. In June, the Parliamentary Assembly voted to recommend admission for Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in a September report, the parliamentary rapporteur for Bosnia and Hercegovina's application seemed to set aside all but one of the eight conditions previously set for that country's admission. The prospect of premature admission of these countries heightened concern over the European Court of Human Rights' ever-expanding caseload. The court also faced an increased unwillingness among states to abide by its judgments; offending states included long-term members.

The year saw further progress in the emerging practice of member states electing to publish reports of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, although a number of states continued to publish the reports selectively. As of August 15, 2000, the following states continued to refuse to publish at least one committee report: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Macedonia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. In the case of Turkey, no fewer than seven reports were outstanding.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization continued its leadership role in the peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. In Kosovo, shortages of U.N. civilian police left the NATO-led KFOR with substantial policing responsibilities. KFOR troops conducted between 500 and 750 patrols every day, guarded more than 550 sites, and manned more than 200 vehicle checkpoints. KFOR's policing responsibilities challenged NATO troops trained for military operations, who despite some efforts to seize illegal weapons remained reluctant to detain or sanction members of the Kosovo Protection Corps or of the officially disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army implicated in political violence and attacks on Serbs, Roma, and other ethnic minorities. Although NATO claimed that half of all KFOR personnel were engaged in the protection of Serbs and other minorities, their response to violence against minorities, particularly Roma, remained inadequate. An October OSCE report on Kosovo's justice system also criticized KFOR and UNMIK for arbitrary and prolonged detentions of suspects without charge.

Most prominent among NATO arrests of indicted war criminals in Bosnia was the April detention of Momcilo Krajisnik, the wartime president of the Bosnian Serb Assembly and a postwar member of the Bosnian presidency. Krajisnik's arrest belied prior assertions by military and political leaders that arrests of high-ranking figures would result in protest and retaliatory attacks.

European Union

The European Union introduced the resolution on Chechnya at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Once the resolution went to a vote and passed, the E.U. was conspicuously absent from efforts to implement it. To the contrary, the late spring and summer saw European heads of government and state highly eager to meet with the new Russian President Vladimir Putin; criticism over Chechnya barely figured in these dialogues.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the E.U. broke ranks with the U.S. to offer economic assistance to Serbia's opposition-controlled towns, and when the opposition took power in early October, the E.U. quickly lifted most country-wide sanctions. While the E.U. kept in place certain restrictions imposed on those indicted for war crimes and their allies, it failed to make a clear link between enhanced relations with the new authorities and their commitment to the international rule of law, including cooperation with the ICTY.

The year saw continued E.U. dialogue on human rights with the newly independent states in the context of Cooperation Council meetings held pursuant to the E.U.'s Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs). In a welcome development, official statements emerging from these meetings made explicit reference to the need for implementation of OSCE and Council of Europe human rights standards and recommendations.

Turkey's first year as an official candidate for membership in the E.U. produced little progress on its compliance with the human rights criteria for membership. Indeed the first few months of the year saw backtracking on positive steps taken in the run-up to the E.U.'s December decision to accord Turkey candidate status. As this report went to press, observers were awaiting publication of the E.U.'s Accession Partnership document, outlining the steps Turkey had to take to prepare itself for E.U. membership. Rights groups feared that the Accession Partnership would lack depth and specificity regarding needed reforms particularly in such areas as minority rights, which were controversial in Turkey, or the restrictions on the headscarf, which were controversial in Europe. They urged strict application of the Copenhagen criteria for Turkey's E.U. admission, in a manner consistent with the approach for other applicant states.

In October 1999, the European Commission proposed that updated agreements for candidate countries seeking to join the European Union, including Hungary and the Czech Republic, make the improvement of the situation of Roma a short and medium term priority.

United States

U.S. officials repeatedly expressed concern over alleged atrocities in Chechnya and claimed that other aspects of U.S.-Russian relations would not compromise their response to these abuses. The U.S. government's lack of action on Chechnya belied this assertion.

At the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, when negotiations over a consensus chairman's statement acceptable to the Russian government broke down, the U.S. became a late cosponsor of the resolution on Chechnya.

President Clinton's June, July, and September meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin yielded no progress on accountability for abuses in Chechnya nor on compliance with the demands of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the OSCE Assistance Group.

A travel ban imposed by the U.S. embassy in Moscow kept U.S. government officials from traveling to the North Caucasus to monitor and document the atrocities first-hand. This represented a stark contrast to U.S. and E.U. practice in Kosovo, where beginning in mid-1998, military attaches in Belgrade conducted regular, coordinated missions to Kosovo to monitor the conduct of Serb security forces. U.S. government personnel apparently made no concerted effort to monitor the status of Russian investigations of the abuses, although regular communication with responsible prosecutors would certainly have sent an important signal regarding U.S. expectations for the accountability process.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the U.S., like the E.U., welcomed the opposition's rise to power by lifting most sanctions. U.S. officials continued to promise that former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic would eventually be tried by the ICTY, but they refused to make any clear link between the extent of their support for new Yugoslav leader Vojislav Kostunica and his cooperation with the tribunal.

Close political and military ties between the U.S. and Turkey continued to dominate human rights concerns in that country. When the Turkish military announced in mid-year that it had chosen a U.S. manufacturer to supply U.S. $4 billion in attack helicopters, the U.S. government appeared to waver in its promise to condition the sale on human rights improvements to which President Clinton and then-President Mesut Yilmaz agreed in late 1997. A decision on the export license for the helicopters was not expected before early 2001.

Russian Federation

While the conduct of Russian government forces in Chechnya was among top human rights concerns in the region, the Russian government also stood to have a significant impact on human rights elsewhere. In September Russia became the 112th state to sign the Statute of the International Criminal Court, further isolating the U.S. and China as the sole remaining opponents to the court among Security Council permanent members. The extent of Russian commitment to the principles of international humanitarian law were, however, seriously called into question by its continued failure to rein in its troops in Chechnya and to prosecute soldiers responsible for abuses. The Russian government's disregard for international rule of law was also illustrated in May when it played host in Moscow to Yugoslav Minister of Defense Dragolub Ojdanic, an indicted war criminal, in what it later claimed was the result of an administrative error (the government had an obligation under Security Council resolutions to arrest Ojdanic).

International Financial Institutions

International financial institutions made some progress toward addressing human rights issues related to prospects for economic development in the region. A welcome development came in the form of decisions by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to suspend financing in Turkmenistan due to the autocratic regime's corruption and utter resistance to reform. Unfortunately, these decisions did not dissuade the Asian Development bank from allowing Turkmenistan to become a member in August.

The World Bank's continued disbursement of structural adjustment loan payments to the Russian government without reference to abuses committed in Chechnya was a disappointment, standing in stark contrast to the bank's approach on abuses in West Timor. While refusing to make the link to Chechnya, both the World Bank and the EBRD demonstrated a growing appreciation of the need for institutional reform and improved governance in Russia.

Representatives of the international financial institutions repeatedly acknowledged the impact of corrupt and abusive law enforcement agencies on efforts to combat corruption and ensure the rule of law in the region, but they remained largely resistant to the idea of addressing needed criminal law reform through their own conditionality and technical assistance.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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