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The Work of Human Rights Watch

Based on the model of the organization's work last year on Kosovo, Human Rights Watch launched an emergency response to the massive abuses in Chechnya, which together with Central Asia and postwar Kosovo, remained top priorities throughout the year.

When the war in Chechnya entered its deadly stage in late autumn 1999, Human Rights Watch deployed a rotating team of researchers to Ingushetia, where the majority of people displaced by the conflict had fled. We used this six-month research presence to document humanitarian law violations by both Russian and Chechen rebel forces, to press the international media to cover what had been an underreported conflict, and to use research results in timely advocacy with the Russian government and the international community.

Researchers interviewed more than 750 displaced people and immediately exposed abuses they experienced in a series of press releases. Three reports published in February, April, and June documented massacres of civilians by Russian forces in sweep operations: Civilian Killings in Staropromyslovski District of Grozny, "No Happiness Remains": Civilian Killings, Pillage, and Rape in Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya, and February 5: A Day of Slaughter in Novye Aldi. In October, a fourth report, "Welcome to Hell": Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Extortion in Chechnya, documented torture in Russian detention centers in the region. Researchers in the region worked with the international community and Russian agencies to ensure better protection to displaced persons as Russian forces attempted to pressure them to return prematurely to their homes.

Throughout the year we urged international institutions and governments to send representatives to the region to bear witness to the abuse, and to press the Russian government to stop abuses and to launch a credible accountability process. We engaged the World Bank, in letters and meetings, to withhold installments of structural adjustment loans and to link disbursements to the Russian government with compliance with its international humanitarian law obligations.

Since the Russian authorities did not conduct credible inquiries or institute criminal proceedings in response to abuses in Chechnya, we urged the international community to do so. To this end we formed a coalition of Russian and international human rights organizations to urge Council of Europe member states to file an interstate complaint against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. We conducted advocacy at three sessions of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to ensure that it would appropriately censure Russia, and urged the assembly to adopt resolutions calling for a rigorous domestic accountability process and calling on member states to file an interstate complaint. In a series of exchanges with the office of the secretary general and the departments for political affairs and human rights, we also cautioned the council about the potential pitfalls of sending its staff to work in the office of President Vladimir Putin's special representative on human rights in Chechnya.

Human Rights Watch also sought to have an international commission of inquiry established by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The organization urged the high commissioner for human rights to call for such a commission, and engaged member states to adopt a resolution to this effect at its fifty-sixth session. After the commission adopted a resolution calling for a national commission of inquiry and the deployment of thematic mechanisms, Human Rights Watch published a memorandum outlining Russia's failure to comply with the resolution and urged member states, particularly the U.S. and E.U., to call Russia to account. It was with this aim that we engaged U.S. president Bill Clinton in advance of his summit meeting with President Putin, and the E.U. in advance of its summit with the Russian government. In other advocacy,the organization testified twice before the U.S. Congress to emphasize that many of the abuses in Chechnya were effectively war crimes and twice before the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. The goals with respect to Chechnya at the OSCE focused on the redeployment of the Assistance Group to Chechnya. Recommendations on Chechnya were reinforced in opinion articles in the U.S. and European media.

Through field offices in Tashkent and Dushanbe, the organization continued to document the worsening human rights crisis in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan. Researchers undertook fact-finding missions in seven regions of the country to document and publicize the arbitrary arrests and torture of hundreds of people accused of "religious extremism" and to monitor dozens of trials. The Human Rights Watch Tashkent office regularly urged the international community to monitor trials, briefed the diplomatic community about human rights developments, and brought victims of abuse together with visiting high-level officials from the U.S. and E.U. A mission to three regions of the country documented how government agencies at all levels compounded the problem of domestic violence by pressuring women to remain in abusive marriages.

The organization's Dushanbe office gathered information on civil and political rights violations relevant to the November 1999 presidential elections and the February 2000 parliamentary vote. In November 1999, a report was presented, Freedom of Expression Still Threatened, which documented the dramatic increase in harassment of and restrictions on the media, to the Tajik government in a series of high-level meetings. The organization launched an advocacy initiative in advance of both elections, publishing backgrounders detailing flagrant violations and addressing letters to the government urging redress. The Dushanbe office also regularly briefed members of the international community on human rights developments in the country.

The Europe and Central Asia Division strove to make the human rights crisis in Central Asia a priority issue among international actors, particularly the United Nations and the OSCE. This was also raised with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson in February 2000 and in meetings with staff members for the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Arrests and Disappearances, and the Committee against Torture, urging them to request visits to Uzbekistan.

Human Rights Watch focused special attention on Central Asia at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in March 2000, urging the appointment of a special rapporteur on Uzbekistan. This forum was also used to release Leaving No Witnesses: Uzbekistan's Campaign Against Rights Defenders, in order to strengthen the call for a commission resolution on defenders. When Uzbek officials used U.N. Human Rights Committee complaint forms as evidence against a defendant in a religious extremism case, this was reported to relevant U.N. agencies in detailed letters.

U.N.-targeted advocacy on Tajikistan aimed to ensure a strong human rights component to the U.N.'s presence following the May 15 withdrawal of the U.N. Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT). A memorandum, based on ongoing research, was issued on April 21, concerning the government's poor human rights practices in the post-civil war period, and the implications that UNMOT's limited human rights mandate had for a long-term peace in Tajikistan. The organization formulated recommendations for the follow-on mission, urging a strong human rights component to its work. Letters outlining concerns were sent to members of the Security Council, and we conducted meetings with senior U.N. representatives from the Department of Political Affairs, the Office of the Secretary- General, and with representatives from the missions of major member states.

Human Rights Watch sought to keep human rights at the top of the agenda of U.S.-Uzbekistan relations, and urged the U.S. government to use explicit conditionality under the International Religious Freedom Act and the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. This was done in meetings with the secretary of state and other top officials and in many letters and memoranda. In congressional testimony we rebutted the Clinton Administration's argument that the crackdown in Uzbekistan qualified as political, not religious persecution.

With respect to Turkmenistan, Human Rights Watch strove to have international lending related to that countries linked strictly to human rights improvements. It urged the Department of State to declare Turkmenistan ineligible on human rights grounds for Export-Import Bank credits and urged the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to end all lending to the country. In January, Human Rights Watch also published a press release condemning the arrest of Nurberdi Nurmamedov, perhaps the last remaining dissident in the country who publicly criticized the decision to extend indefinitely President Saparmurad Niazov's term in office.

Torture and due process violations remained a chief concern in the former Soviet Union. In November 1999, Human Right released Confessions at Any Cost: Police Torture in Russia, the result of a two-year, multiregion research project on torture, at a press conference in Moscow. The organization held high-level advocacy meetings with Russian government officials and urged the international community to support the creation of a torture rehabilitation center.

These same issues were of top concern in the Caucasus. Through the Human Rights Watch field office in Tbilisi, Georgia, research was conducted on torture and on the setback in legal reforms that could have helped prevent torture and other due process violations. In September, the organization released Backtracking on Reform: Amendments Undermine Access to Justice, at a press conference in Tbilisi. The report documented the repeal of reforms in Georgia's criminal procedure code that would have granted criminal suspects and defendants the right to complain about due process violations directly to a court, prior to trial. Since the repeal of these reforms ran counter to Georgia's commitments upon admission to the Council of Europe, this featured prominently in our meetings with the Council of Europe's Monitoring Committee during its May visit to Tbilisi, and in advocacy with the Parliamentary Assembly.

Human Rights Watch advocated for the expansion of the World Bank's work in the area of legal and judicial reforms specifically to address reform of certain aspects of criminal law and procedure. In meetings in November 1999 and in February and July 2000 we argued that Georgia's setback in legal reform served to undermine public trust in the judiciary and hence bank programs that promote it. The organization urged the bank to adopt criminal procedure reform throughout the region as a policy trigger for future structural adjustment lending in its country assistance strategy; to expand its capacity to conduct analysis of judicial systems and criminal procedure, to enable it to identify provisions in legislation that are not in compliance with international human rights law and standards; and to assist in the formulation of lending targets in these areas.

In the run-up to Azerbaijan's November 5 parliamentary elections, Human Rights Watch launched a month-long fact-finding mission to research civil and political rights abuses affecting the election. Researchers interviewed journalists for media outlets that were closed or fined arbitrarily, parliamentary candidates whose registration was arbitrarily denied, and opposition activists harassed by local governments.

Human Rights Watch priorities in the wake of the war in Kosovo were twofold. The organization responded to the compelling need for an independent record of the humanitarian law violations during the war. It also examined postwar human rights issues especially minority rights, due process, and freedom of movement that would have a lasting impact on efforts to build a sustainable peace in the province.

Throughout the year we assembled information on humanitarian law violations in the 1999 conflict with NATO. In March, the organization published a report documenting rape as a weapon of "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. The report included ninety-six cases of rape of Albanian women by Serbian and Yugoslav forces immediately before and during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. An April Human Rights Watch report found that NATO forces had violated international humanitarian law in its bombing campaign, which resulted in the deaths of more than 500 civilians.

The organization's strategy on post-war Kosovo was to remind the international community of the lesson learned from Bosnia: that rushed elections in postwar situations, especially in the wake of massive violence and inter-ethnic hatred, undermined longer-term prospects for the rule of law. This message was presented in a March meeting with the OSCE chair-in-office, in follow-up correspondence, and in a June memorandum to diplomats and international organizations, and in an October backgrounder for the media and other observers of the elections. In June, we investigated access to protection and justice for minorities in Kosovo, focusing on the work of UNMIK police and KFOR. December 1999 and January 2000 meetings with the E.U. and the U.S. government raised fair-trial concerns regarding war crimes trials of Serbs before Albanian-dominated local courts in Kosovo.

Before the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic, Human Rights Watch aimed to call international attention to victims of his government's intensified harassment and to ensure maximum international assistance to civil society. The significance of elections mandated for 2000 was anticipated, and throughout the year the organization detailed the repression of the government's critics. A May report focused on measures the government took against civil society institutions which it perceived as a threat, including opposition parties, the independent media, student organizations, independent trade unions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civic activists in Serbia. Just prior to the elections, the organization published a backgrounder detailing how the authorities set about rigging the elections.

When Milosevic left office, Human Rights Watch deployed a researcher to Belgrade to identify a new human rights agenda for Yugoslavia: release of Kosovo Albanian political prisoners, cooperation with the ICTY as part of the general restoration of the rule of law, restoring the independence of the judiciary, and justice for past abuses by security forces. In a series of letters and press releases, Human Rights Watch called for the international community to adopt a policy on cooperation vis a vis Serbia consistent with that practiced throughout the Balkans.

In Croatia, the organization focused on minority rights and other basic civic freedoms in the transition from Tudjman period. A report published in December 1999, in anticipation of elections in early 2000, outlined violations of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. After the election of President Stjepan Mesi and formation of a new government under Prime Minister Ivica Racan, Human Rights Watch wrote to both leaders, recommending legislative and administrative measures to ensure equal treatment for all Croatian citizens, including minorities, to promote the return of Serb refugees and the reform the country's state broadcaster. In Croatia, we focused on minority rights and other basic civic freedoms in the transition from Tudjman period. A report published in December 1999, in anticipation of elections in early 2000, outlined violations of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Research and advocacy on Bosnia focused on two aspects of refugee return: keeping the donor community engaged, identifying minority returns as an essential element for a lasting peace and the rule of law, and ensuring that progress on returns remained a condition for Council of Europe accession. In May Human Rights Watch published Unfinished Business: Return of Displaced Persons and Other Human Rights Issues in Bijeljina, which documented how authorities in that city obstructed the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement by providing neither protection nor equal rights to the Bosniak community there, and by actively deterring the return of Bosniaks who were driven from the city during the war. We continued with research in 2000 to investigate impediments to minority returns, including decrease in donor assistance, persistent failure by local authorities to enforce housing regulations, security concerns, and lack of long-term prospects for employment and education.

In Turkey research and advocacy focused on the opportunity for reform that emerged when Turkey became a candidate for membership in the European Union in December 1999. A September 2000 report outlined specific short-term steps the Turkish government should take to begin to demonstrate its willingness to meet the E.U.'s membership criteria. Recommended steps addressed torture, restrictions on freedom of expression and religious freedom, violations of minority rights, continued instability in the southeastern part of the country, and the death penalty. Human Rights Watch pressed this agenda throughout the year with governmental interlocutors in both Brussels and Ankara.

In May, Human Rights Watch staff traveled to Ankara to meet with Ministry of Justice officials and released a report outlining our concern that their proposed prison reform measures would subject detainees to an impermissible isolation regime. A November Human Rights Watch memorandum welcomed some improvements in the planned reforms and urged additional steps be taken to ensure that it would comport with international prison standards. Research also continued on the headscarf ban and followed closely developments relating to the pending sale of U.S. $4 billion worth of U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters to Turkey.

In 2000 the organization took on migrant worker' rights as its strategic focus in Western Europe.The multicountry project would document and expose the serious abuses committed against migrant workers in Western Europe, who were among the most vulnerable groups in that region, and the failure of states to protect their basic rights. Of particular concern were those migrant workers who worked in forced labor conditions, either in conditions of near-captivity for little or no wages or in debt bondage, where wages were immediately absorbed into repaying a "debt" owed to the employer. A fact-finding mission in October investigated these issues with respect to Greece.

Migrants and refugees were primary targets of the upsurge in xenophobia and racist violence in Western Europe in 2000. Focusing specifically on the relationship between xenophobia and many European governments' increasingly restrictive immigration policies and practices, we promoted migrants' rights and refugee protection in fora related to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism. Together with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the organization released a memorandum at the Strasbourg regional preparatory conference critiquing the Draft General Conclusions of the European Conference Against Racism. The memorandum highlighted measures taken by Western European governments that undermined protections for asylum seekers and migrants, giving the media, public, and state agencies an apparent rational for discriminating against them. We recommended full compliance with the 1951 refugee convention and the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights. and labor rights for all migrants as a way to stem the growing tide of anti-foreigner sentiment and violence in Europe.

Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch highlighted the need for greater coordination on human rights protection among international institutions active in the region. The organization emphasized the need for institutional and policy linkages between political institutions engaged in monitoring and promoting human rights and an international donor community that was increasingly cognizant of the role of governance and rule of law in fostering effective development. A welcome development in this regard was the emerging E.U. practice of citingCouncil of Europe and OSCE recommendations and commitments in statements regarding its Cooperation Council meetings with countries in the region.

In September, the organization's Europe and Central Asia Division participated in NGO meetings with World Bank and IMF officials organized in conjunction with those institutions' annual meetings in Prague. Human Rights Watch joined other nongovernmental organizations in pressing the World Bank in particular to operationalize its stated commitment to human rights. In a joint statement with the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, the organization recommended that the bank incorporate reference to human rights law in its policies, consider appropriate human rights-related conditionality on its lending, expand the bank's internal staff capacity to assess human rights conditions relevant to development, and coordinate closely with and support the work of international human rights bodies.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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