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Europe and Central Asia Overview
August 2001 marked ten years since the failed 1991 coup that presaged the end of the Soviet Union, and the anniversary provoked impatience at the uneven progress on human rights in the region. After the September 11 attacks one month later, impatience turned to regret at the lost opportunities for a more thoroughgoing transition during the interlude between the Cold War and the Anti-terror War.
Many countries in the region had made significant strides since 1991, but abusive authoritarian rule persisted in several, and others still struggled to overcome the ethnic conflict that had engulfed large parts of the disintegrating Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Looking westward toward eventual integration into the European Union, central and eastern European countries had undertaken important reform, while western Europe had turned inward and become increasingly intolerant of immigration and ethnic diversity. As the year drew to a close, it was not entirely clear what the new post-September 11 era would hold for human rights, but in much the same way the Cold War once distorted the human rights agenda, the prospects for tackling the region's persistent and newly emerging human rights problems seemed suddenly to dim in light of the competing and overriding anti-terrorism imperative.
After September 11, governments from Skopje to Moscow scrambled to cast their own often brutal internal conflicts as part of the new international antiterrorist cause. With too few exceptions, this opportunism went unchecked. At the same time, Western European leaders ramped up their anti-immigrant rhetoric and further restricted the rights of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, all in the name of fighting terrorism. And criticism of human rights abuse softened, particularly for those states that were strategically important to the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan. The United States and Uzbekistan announced a "qualitatively new relationship," notwithstanding the latter's brutal crackdown on independent Muslims. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged a reevaluation of Russia's abusive war in Chechnya. In November, U.S. President George Bush praised Russian President Vladimir Putin's talk of negotiating peace in Chechnya, with no public mention of continued atrocities perpetrated against Chechens since September 11.
The most alarming developments of the year came in Central Asia, where the transition from the Soviet Union had brought only grinding poverty and ever more repressive governance. After September 11, it was these very governments that became the essential allies of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Of particular concern was the close and apparently unconditional U.S. relationship with Uzbekistan, where Islam Karimov's dictatorship permitted no true opposition political activity, no civil society, and no independent media and locked up and tortured thousands who dared demonstrate independent thinking. U.S. officials argued that the new relationship with Uzbekistan put them in a better position to address their partner's gross violations, but as this report went to press there was no relief from the Uzbek government's assault on its own society. In the two months following September 11, yet another human rights defender was detained, dissidents and religious believers continued to be arrested and tortured--one died in custody--and convictions on trumped-up charges of anti-state activity continued.
Ethnic conflict had attended the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia for ten years, and in 2001 its aftermath continued to shape much of the human rights landscape. Russia's transitional record remained marred by the continued grave violations committed by its forces in Chechnya. As the Chechen conflict dragged into its third year, the government's halfhearted peace bid and promised troop reductions made no difference in the lives of Chechen civilians. Sweep operations purportedly aimed at apprehending rebel fighters resulted in widespread looting, arbitrary detention, torture, and an alarming number of "disappearances" of Chechens last seen in Russian custody, with the bodies of some later found dumped or hastily buried in unmarked graves. Chechen fighters were also believed to be behind an increasing number of abuses, including a wave of assassinations of Chechen civil servants and religious leaders seen as cooperating with the Russian government, and the fatal shooting of Viktor Popkov, a leading Russian human rights activist.
Ethnic tensions flared again in the Balkans, this time in southern Serbia and Macedonia. The response of both the implicated governments and the international community differed from past conflicts in the region, reflecting important transitional developments and lessons learned. When an ethnic Albanian rebel group emerged in southern Serbia, it was clear that Slobodan Milosevic was no longer in power in Belgrade. In contrast to Kosovo in 1998, the international community immediately and intensively engaged and worked with a relatively cooperative Serbian government to address the legitimate grievances of the ethnic Albanian community, including through the deployment of a multiethnic police force in the region. In May the rebels disarmed, and displaced ethnic Albanians began returning to the region. The lack of Albanian representation in local government, serious employment discrimination, and sporadic incidents of ethnic violence remained concerns, but the threat of armed conflict had receded for the time being.
Similar success came more slowly in Macedonia, where for months the government insisted upon a military response to its ethnic Albanian insurgency, led by the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA). The government's security operations were characterized by indiscriminate attacks, widespread arbitrary detentions and beatings of ethnic Albanians, some extrajudicial executions, and vigilante violence tolerated and in some instances abetted by the police. The Albanian rebels were also responsible for serious crimes, including the detention and torture of ethnic Macedonians and Serbs and the "disappearance" of at least ten people from NLA-controlled areas. Determined to avoid another drawn-out war and cognizant of Macedonia's strategic location, the international community mounted an intensive peacemaking effort. Guided by E.U. and U.S. special envoys and supported by OSCE and NATO deployments, on August 13 the Macedonian government concluded a framework peace agreement with the main ethnic Albanian political parties. Deep divisions emerged within the government over the peace deal and implementation lagged behind schedule, but in mid-November the Parliament adopted constitutional amendments to grant important new rights to the ethnic Albanian minority. The peace remained fragile, however, with extremists within the government and police working to derail the process and skirmishes continuing between a new Albanian National Army and Macedonian forces, even as Parliament approved the new constitutional provisions.
Accountability for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity remained a high priority in efforts to resolve the ethnic conflicts that have plagued the region. The April 1 detention of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and his June 28 transfer to the custody of the Hague tribunal were the high points. While Milosevic stubbornly defied the tribunal and obstructed its proceedings, the prosecutor brought additional charges against him, expanding the Kosovo indictment to include important new charges of sexual violence and adding indictments for war crimes dating from 1991 in Croatia and for genocide and crimes against humanity in the 1992-1995 Bosnia conflict. The discovery in Serbia of new mass graves believed to be filled with the bodies of ethnic Albanians slaughtered during the Kosovo conflict brought unprecedented discussion and reflection in Serbia about its role in the serial wars in Yugoslavia. Cooperation with the tribunal remained a contentious issue, however, pitting Serbian nationalist Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica against the more pragmatic Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia Zoran Djindjic, who saw cooperation as key to obtaining further Western integration and much-needed debt forgiveness. Pragmatism seemed to win the day, with six indictees, in addition to Milosevic, having gone from Yugoslavia to The Hague by the end of November--three by surrender and three by Serb government arrest. In contrast, there was no public progress on accountability for war-time crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbs and others in Kosovo. The ICTY was reportedly investigating crimes there but issued no indictments. In Kosovo, even speaking publicly about such crimes brought warnings of retribution from former KLA members.
With the dramatic developments in Serbia, the most conspicuous haven for war criminals indicted by the tribunal remained the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, where Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and other indictees remained at large. NATO troops deployed in Republika Srpska deserved some of the blame for the indicted war criminals' continued impunity, which undermined the tribunal and the six-year-old Dayton/Paris peace process.
Russian officials repeatedly assured their international critics that those responsible for any abuses in Chechnya would be held accountable. On the eve of the March meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Russian authorities commenced the high-profile trial of Colonel Yuri Budanov for the killing of Elza Kungaeva in 2000, and in April the Russian Duma presented the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly with a list of 358 investigations under way. Unfortunately, careful scrutiny of the Russian government's accountability effort revealed little more than an international public relations campaign. Few of the cases on the list provided to the Council of Europe dealt with the worst abuses in Chechnya. Even fewer had proceeded beyond the initial investigation phase. As of September, only five cases had resulted in active prison sentences for the perpetrators. Budanov never faced rape charges, though forensic evidence showed that Kungaeva had been sexually assaulted prior to her murder. Morever, Budanov appeared likely to be amnestied altogether after a psychiatric institute found that he had been "emotionally distressed" at the time of Kungaeva's murder.
The decade of ethnic conflict in the region was evidenced in the millions who remained displaced in 2001, in some cases years after they originally left home. In Ingushetia, over 140,000 Chechens remained too fearful to return. More than 750,000 remained registered as displaced from Bosnia and Herzegovina, two-thirds of them within the country, and, because many people no longer registered, actual numbers were likely much higher. Though return increased, it remained at a rate that would take years to reverse the "ethnic cleansing" of the territory. Over 200,000 Serbs were too afraid to return to post-war Kosovo, and another 200,000-plus Serbs declined to return to their homes in Croatia. In Turkey, although armed clashes in the southeast essentially ceased in 1999 and the government announced an ambitious return program, few of the 250,000 internally displaced Kurds from that region ventured home. More than 800,000 Azeris remained displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts of Azerbaijan, seven years after a 1994 cease-fire. About 280,000 Georgians who fled their homes in Abkhazia when the Georgian army surrendered Sukhumi to Abkhazian separatist forces in 1993 continued to endure displacement in Georgia. Sixty thousand Ossetians and 12,000 Georgians remained displaced from their homes in Georgia and its autonomous territory of South Ossetia after the 1991-1992 fighting between Georgians and Ossetians over South Ossetia.
Neither the affected countries nor the international community demonstrated much determination to tackle this persistent problem, which left millions living in substandard conditions and unable to return to their homes and property. In some cases initial post-war efforts had not been sustained as attention and resources shifted to new crises. In others no attempt at promoting return or restitution was ever made. The prospects for any concerted efforts to enable return became ever more remote once the aftermath of September 11 drew humanitarian attention to a new crisis spot, Afghanistan. The long-term impact of displacement was difficult to assess and varied among countries, yet in many places its effect on postwar reconciliation and the prospects for lasting peace remained a serious cause for concern.
Poverty, conflict, and human rights abuse in the region and beyond drove hundreds of thousands to travel to Western Europe to seek a better life. The inhumane and often deadly conditions they endured to reach their destination spoke volumes of their desperation. Trafficking of women for forced prostitution remained an urgent concern throughout the region. In many countries the victims of trafficking faced prosecution and expulsion while their traffickers, sometimes in cahoots with local police, carried on with their lucrative criminal business. Recent years had seen heightened attention to the problem of trafficking, with high-level meetings convened on the subject at the European Union, OSCE, and Council of Europe. Whether these initiatives would be pursued remained an open question as international attention shifted to the all-consuming antiterrorism effort after September 11.
Western European countries' attempts to address the demands of increased migration often led to more restrictive immigration and asylum laws, with little concern for the rights of vulnerable migrants and refugees. Detention conditions for migrants were grossly substandard in a number of countries, and many detainees were denied basic procedural guarantees in the detention and deportation process. Proposals to hinder migrants' access to basic healthcare and to deny migrant children access to education were hotly debated in several countries.
In the aftermath of September 11, many European countries adopted antiterrorism measures inimical to migrants and refugees. In Hungary, all Afghan refugees were transported to special detention facilities. In Greece, some migrants arriving on ships were denied access to asylum procedures and given fifteen-day expulsion orders. The United Kingdom proposed emergency anti-terrorism legislation that would deny some asylum seekers an individual determination procedure, classify as "terrorist" any foreigners with ill-defined "links" to terrorist organizations, and allow authorities to indefinitely detain them. National governments were spurred on by developments at the E.U. level, where proposals to combat terrorism included a broad definition of terrorism that threatened to undermine freedom of assembly and association and a European arrest warrant that lacked adequate fair trial safeguards.
Racist violence targeting migrants and refugees mounted in Western Europe, particularly in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Politicians failed to curb this abuse, too often encouraging it with inflammatory rhetoric equating the fight against terror with the fight against illegal immigration.
European efforts to come to terms with diversity became ever more critical with the European Union's rapidly approaching eastward expansion, set in motion in the heady, early post-Cold War years. With as many as ten countries to be admitted by 2004, much remained to be done to restructure E.U. institutions, as well as to adjust applicant states' laws to E.U. norms. In the field of human rights, poor treatment of Roma remained a challenge for nearly all applicant states. Turkey's persistent problems relating to torture, free expression, and minority rights kept it as a case apart among applicant states. Its National Program for Accession to the E.U. announced in March and the constitutional amendments adopted in October were both disappointing. The national program was too vague to raise any hope of meaningful change. Not surprisingly then, incommunicado detention, the death penalty, and emergency rule remained in place, and important free expression guarantees were neglected. Having missed these important opportunities for meaningful reform, Turkey continued to face a long road to E.U. membership.
Conditions for human rights defenders varied widely in the region, with activists in some countries free to develop innovative new projects while others struggled just to survive in extremely hostile environments. In Turkmenistan, no independent activist dared undertake any human rights activity. In Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, defenders worked under siege, facing a constant threat of harassment, police raids, violent attacks by unknown assailants, arrest, torture, and conviction on trumped-up charges. Under pressure from the U.S. government, Uzbekistan released human rights defenders Mahbuba Kasymova in December 2000 and Ismail Adylov in July 2001. In the course of the year, however, the Uzbek government detained two others, one of whom--Shovruk Ruzimuradov--died in custody.
Defenders also put their lives on the line in Chechnya, where Chechen fighters were believed responsible for the shooting death of Russian human rights activist Viktor Popkov and the January kidnapping of humanitarian aid worker Kenneth Gluck, who was subsequently released unharmed. Russian forces maintained strict control on access to Chechnya for human rights monitors, with most groups, including Human Rights Watch, refused entry to the territory.
Accountability for the murders of defenders remained a low priority for many governments in the region. The United Kingdom again failed to set a positive example in this respect, persistently refusing to establish independent inquiries into the murders in Northern Ireland of human rights lawyers Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, despite calls to do so from the United Nations, the U.S. government, bar councils across the globe, and many nongovernmental organizations.
Notwithstanding the challenges they faced, rights workers in many countries undertook creative new projects to strengthen protection and build a larger grassroots constituency for human rights. In Turkey, Sanar Yurdatapan's Freedom of Expression Initiative challenged the authorities on their arbitrary restrictions on free speech by enlisting internationally acclaimed authors to republish statements for which the original authors had been prosecuted. Throughout the region the Central and Eastern Europe Bankwatch Network trained and empowered consumer, human rights, and environmental groups to challenge international financial institutions to take into consideration the impact of their operations on local communities. Rights groups, refugee, and migrants organizations joined forces in many European countries to advocate for the fundamental human rights of migrants and refugees, and to highlight anti-immigration policies and inflammatory government rhetoric that often contributed to a hostile climate for these vulnerable groups. An effective coalition of nongovernmental organizations undertook a multiyear effort to promote implementation and enforcement of a new E.U. directive aimed at combating race discrimination. Another alliance of groups came together to battle for victim and witness protection measures in the E.U. Council Framework Decision on Trafficking of Human Beings. These and many other initiatives reflected the creativity and resolve of a resilient civil society that, particularly after September 11, was the region's best hope for positive change.
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