Human Rights Developments
The face of Europe has changed radically in recent years, blurring what was once a clear distinction between East and West. Although the legacy of communism will remain for many years_not so much in the way countries are governed as in the mentality of the people and in their understanding of human rights and the rule of law_the countries of the former Soviet bloc have taken on distinctive personalities no longer defined by geographical spheres of influence. Western Europe has also been profoundly affected by the political and economic aftermath of communism's demise.
In a region once divided between countries with democratic systems and those ruled by communist dictatorships, just about every known form of human rights abuse was found in 1994 in a depressing patchwork with few bright colors. Yet, as difficult as the post-communist transition may be, enough time has passed not only to assess the human rights situation in Europe but to hold all European governments, including the governments of the new states, responsible for their behavior.
The breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, swelled the ranks of the Helsinki signatory countries from thirty-five to fifty-three; the range of abuses in these countries was very wide in the year just past. Among abuses in 1994 were bestial crimes of war; unchecked violence against ethnic minorities, foreigners, refugees, and displaced persons; a growing roster of political prisoners; the beating, harassment, and short-term detention of political oppositionists; restrictions of free speech and assembly; torture in pre-trial detention; political trials; and discriminatory citizenship and residency laws.
"Ethnic cleansing," a new term coined in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, is a euphemism for savage acts including murder, rape, torture, and looting, aimed at forcing terrified, unwanted minorities to flee their homes. It continued unabated in Bosnia-Hercegovina in l994, where a war in which civilians were both hostages and targets raged throughout the year. Although abuses were committed by all sides, the vast majority were by Bosnian Serbs. The international community failed to protect even the "safe areas" the United Nations had created, and "ethnic cleansing," which initially was used by the Bosnian Serbs in the fight to attain territory, became even more menacing as it continued in northern Bosnia in areas, now under the firm control of Bosnian Serbs, where no fighting was taking place. The so-called demilitarized zone around Sarajevo did not prevent the continued deaths of innocent civilians as a result of snipers and shelling.
War crimes against civilians also continued, far from the public eye, in Nagorno-Karabakh, where one of the longest conflicts in the region entered its seventh year. Despite a May 1994 cease-fire, there seemed no end in sight for the civilian victims on both sides of the Karabakh war, in which ethnic Armenians, covertly aided from outside by the Armenian government, were fighting the government of Azerbaijan for their independence.
Another conflict in the region, also largely neglected by the outside world, was taking place in eastern Turkey where the Turkish government has long been battling a violent guerrilla group known as the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan). The struggle continued to escalate in 1994 in the face of government vows to bring it to an end militarily before the close of the year. Ethnic Kurds were the main victims of the war in southeast Turkey. On the one hand, they were forced by the Turkish military to become "village guards" against the PKK, thereby becoming subject to PKK retribution. On the other hand, they were violently punished by the PKK for any cooperation with the state. The residents of villages who refused to become part of the village guard system became targets of the military, their residents driven from their homes in brutal sweeps. More than 1,000 villages and hamlets in eastern Turkey were reportedly depopulated by the Turkish armed forces; their inhabitants have become internal refugees within Turkey, deprived of homes and means of support. Turkey has imposed a cloud of secrecy over the situation in the east, restricting access by journalists and human rights investigators and suppressing free expression and association in the region. There were numerous reports of torture, deaths in detention, disappearances, and death squad-style assassinations as Turkey pursued its "anti-terrorism" campaign.
Armed conflict also continued in areas of Tajikistan, despite a cease-fire and sporadic peace talks between the government and a cluster of opposition movements. The government held elections in November despite the fact that most opposition leaders remained in exile. Other armed conflicts in the region_in Georgia and Russia's southern regions of North Ossetia and Ingushetia_subsided, albeit uneasily, in 1994.
Suppression of political dissent and free expression was severe in a number of countries, including parts of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia maintained its repressive control of the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, where unwarranted arrests, police beatings, political trials and abuse in detention continued. Repression of civil and political rights, although to a lesser extent than in Kosovo, also continued in other parts of Serbia and Montenegro and in Croatia.
Political dissent was also suppressed, to varying degrees, in many parts of the former Soviet Union. In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, former communist leaders maintained authoritarian control in a fashion similar to that which prevailed under the communists. Both governments exercised control by enforcing complete censorship of the press, prohibiting free expression and association and keeping dissenters under constant surveillance, which sometimes amounted to virtual house arrest. In Uzbekistan, where there were a number of political trials, the list of political prisoners continued to grow. Georgia, although it tried to show a liberal face to the West, continued to be harsh with political dissenters, who were beaten, harassed or arrested. Torture and forced confessions in pre-trial detention, appalling conditions in places of detention and failure to provide timely access to legal counsel raised deep concerns about the criminal justice system throughout Georgia. In Tajikistan, whose government still holds many political prisoners, there was mistreatment in detention, illegal searches of homes, and violations of due process. In Azerbaijan, state of emergency decrees were aimed at suppressing opposition parties, whose members were beaten and harassed and their demonstrations broken up.
In Russia, there was grave concern about free expression at the beginning of the year because of a crackdown on political dissent and against non-Muscovites in October 1993, following the violent October events at the Russian parliament. Yet considerable freedom of expression was exercised throughout the year. In August 1994, the presidential Human Rights Committee issued a "white paper" dealing with human rights abuses within Russia in 1993, a hard-hitting document that did not spare important political figures such as the powerful mayor of Moscow. Nevertheless, there remained many causes for concern over human rights. President Boris Yeltsin introduced a law allowing arbitrary house searches and detention for thirty days without trial, and other forms of "anti-crime" legislation were used in a discriminatory fashion, especially in Moscow where local authorities continued to pick on dark-skinned people from the Caucasus or Central Asia, beating, fining, and harassing them if they did not have proper residency papers. At the same time, the Russian government continued to express concern about discrimination against the many Russians living elsewhere within the Confederation of Independent States (C.I.S.).
Reports of abysmal prison conditions in Russia and throughout the C.I.S. and of abuses within the army also continued to surface. Security forces from other C.I.S. states_Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, in particular_persecuted with impunity their dissident nationals who had fled to Russian soil. The fact that little public attempt was made by Russian authorities to curb such operations gave rise to suspicions of widespread collusion among security agencies throughout the C.I.S.
Persecution of foreigners and ethnic minorities was by no means limited to Russia. Xenophobic sentiments gave rise to distressing developments in Europe as a whole. A wave of violence and resentment toward foreigners was in evidence throughout the former communist countries and in Germany and other parts of Western Europe as well. Ethnic minorities, foreigners and asylum-seekers were subject to discrimination and acts of violence often tolerated and sometimes abetted by law enforcement authorities. Roma (Gypsies) were among the most persecuted, especially in Romania and Bulgaria, where entire Roma villages were attacked and burned by non-Roma villagers, while the police did little or nothing to prevent such abuse. Discrimination against Roma and/or foreigners was also reported in Germany, England, and France, as well as in countries of the former communist bloc. In the Czech Republic, Roma were also victimized, and provisions of a new citizenship law seemed aimed at preventing Roma from becoming Czech citizens.
There were efforts to restrict freedom of the press in several of the countries of eastern Europe and the C.I.S. For example, journalists in Albania, Romania, and Slovakia were prosecuted for articles considered insulting to the "state" or to specific government officials. In both Slovakia and Hungary, the governing parties made efforts to manipulate state-controlled media especially during national electoral campaigns. The governments of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan continued routinely to censor the media using old, Soviet-era tactics.
There were a few bright spots in the region at the close of 1994: the establishment of a war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and, with the appointment of a chief prosecutor, the start of serious investigations; a cease-fire and peace talks in Northern Ireland; a cease-fire in the fighting between Muslims and Croats in Bosnia and the establishment of a fragile Muslim-Croat Federation there; the work of the presidential Human Rights Committee in Russia in documenting and publicizing human rights abuses; and the passage of an amended naturalization law in Latvia that omitted quotas. But these isolated occurrences were small solace in a region beset with the ethnic and political antagonisms that characterize the post-communist fallout in Europe.
The Right To Monitor
The freedom that governments provided to indigenous human rights monitoring groups and to visiting human rights groups from abroad was not necessarily a measure of the human rights situation in a country, as it had been in the communist days. Some countries with unsatisfactory human rights practices nevertheless allowed human rights groups to function on their territories. In a sense, this was a tribute to the growing strength of the human rights movement and the moral imperative it brings to human rights monitoring. Repressive governments concerned with their international image sometimes allowed human rights work to be conducted in their countries in order to show the world that they respected human rights. In this way they tried to exploit the efforts of local or foreign monitors.
An example of such manipulation occurred in Georgia, where the government harassed local human rights activists but cooperated with a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki mission. In Turkey, a country that cares greatly about its international image, two effective human rights organizations operated legally, but not without great difficulty. The Human Rights Association, which had numerous branches in the troubled southeast of Turkey, was subjected to official repression and threats from right-wing groups suspected of ties to the government. (Ten members of southeastern branches of the Turkish Human Rights Association have been assassinated in recent years.) A publication of the Human Rights Foundation was seized by the government in November 1994 and charges were brought against two foundation members, including its chairman. On separate occasions, the Turkish government prevented a member of the Amnesty International staff from entering Turkey and, in August, the Turkish military command in the southeast gave no cooperation to a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki mission that was expressly interested in documenting PKK abuses against civilians.
Although the government of Tajikistan grudgingly tolerated outside monitors, no indigenous human rights groups functioned there. The situation was even worse in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where almost all local activists were followed and hounded and in almost all cases prevented from meeting with visiting dignitaries.
Serbia denied access to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' special rapporteur for the former Yugoslavia and expelled a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) mission from Serbia and Montenegro. A representative of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was detained in Kosovo and was also detained and expelled from Serbian-controlled Bosnia while attempting to do human rights research in both areas.
Elsewhere in the region_in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom_human rights monitoring was generally unobstructed.
With a few exceptions, the Clinton administration's human rights policies with regard to the Helsinki countries were either non-existent, reliant on quiet diplomacy, or, as in the case of Bosnia and the rump Yugoslavia, hopelessly weak and inconsistent.
The administration's main focus in Eastern Europe and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union was, as before, on furthering the development of market economies. The administration seemed to believe that free enterprise would lead to a pluralistic, democratic society and that respect for human rights would come naturally in a democracy. Neither of these assumptions, however, is necessarily true. The administration's commitment to developing market economies actually served at times to undermine human rights by becoming a justification for avoiding forthright criticism of human rights abuses. In Uzbekistan, where Most Favored Nation status was granted unconditionally, the administration missed an opportunity to speak up for human rights compliance; it did so vociferously, however, when activists were detained for trying to meet with a visiting U.S. Senator. Presumably in response to the Armenian lobby in the United States, the U.S. government did not speak out publicly about Armenia's involvement in the Karabakh war, although sanctions remained in place with regard to Azerbaijan, the other party to the war. The U.S. remained mainly silent throughout the year about human rights conditions in places as varied as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland, Romania, and Turkmenistan, limiting itself largely to assurances that human rights matters were raised privately in the high-level meetings that were held with the leaders of many of these countries.
U.S. policy in both Russia and Georgia continued to be tailored to support the policies of President Yeltsin and Head of State Eduard Shevardnadze. Russian support of so-called stable governments in the "near abroad," including severe human rights offenders such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, may have been a factor in the U.S. government's quiet approach to diplomacy in those places. In bilateral meetings on human rights, John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor, and other U.S. officials raised privately some important concerns, such as emigration, abuse of the residence permit system, and anti-Semitism, but continued to avoid other issues such as Russian policies affecting human rights in the "near abroad." Because Kazakhstan signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it received high praise from the U.S., praise which appeared to encompass everything the Kazakh government did while ignoring the human rights problems that were evident in Kazakhstan in the course of the year.
The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, issued in February 1994, continued to offer an informed and realistic view of the human rights situation in most of the countries in the region. Moreover, U.S. embassy personnel in most, if not all, of the countries in the region monitored the human rights situation and worked to improve it. But the information offered in the country reports, largely based on evaluations by the various embassies, seldom seemed to be translated into a meaningful day-to-day policy.
The worst failings of the Clinton administration were revealed in its policies toward Serbia and Bosnia, countries in which the human rights situation demanded attention that could not be deferred. Despite statements early in the year that the U.S. government would not support the lifting of sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia until Serbia agreed to cooperate with the U.N.'s international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. later went along with the lifting of some sanctions when Serbia agreed to cut off aid to the Bosnian Serbs and to allow observers on the border to verify its actions. Moreover, by November the U.S. was considering the further lifting of sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia if Serbia agreed to give diplomatic recognition to Bosnia and Croatia. The contradiction between the statements and the actions of the U.S. government continued to undermine its credibility. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urged that the lifting of sanctions against Serbia be conditioned on an improvement of the internal human rights situation in Serbia and on Serbia's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal, including allowing prosecutors to conduct investigations on its territory and facilitating the extradition of those indicted by the tribunal. It is our belief that the Serbian government should be held accountable for past crimes and not rewarded merely for undoing some of the damage it created.
With regard to Bosnia, the U.S. policy was, on the whole, weak and indecisive. The U.S. failed to protect sufficiently the "safe areas" established by the United Nations; NATO retaliation was minimal and did little to prevent continuing Bosnian Serb abuses. When the "safe area" of Gorazde was under attack, the U.S. vacillated on approving NATO air attacks. It wavered on the question of lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia. It went along with the European peace plan to partition Bosnia after stating firmly that it would protect the territorial integrity of Bosnia. Efforts to address continuing violations by Bosnian Serb forces were virtually non-existent.
To its credit, the U.S. successfully brokered a cease-fire between Muslims and Croats in Bosnia and helped establish a Muslim-Croat federation.
The most positive developments in U.S. human rights policies toward the Helsinki countries occurred with respect to its NATO allies, Turkey and Germany. U.S. officials made several high-level visits to Turkey in 1994, including two by Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, whose second visit was to eastern Turkey. Assistant Secretary Shattuck and others visiting Turkey made unprecedentedly forthright public statements about the need to improve the human rights situation in Turkey and the possibility of Turkey losing U.S. aid on human rights grounds. The U.S. Congress also approved a bill making 10 percent of U.S. aid to Turkey conditional on the administration's providing a report on human rights improvements there.
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin was unusually outspoken in publicly criticizing the German government's response to right-wing extremism, although the State Department moved quickly to distance itself from the embasssy's comments. The U.S. engaged in discussions with the German government on ways in which it could cooperate in combatting "hate crimes."
The Role of the United Nations and European Institutions
The U.N. played an ineffective and uncertain role in the former Yugoslavia in 1994, failing to protect "safe areas" under attack and hastening to lift some sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia despite Serbia's uncertain enforcement of the border blockade with Bosnia. U.N. and NATO officials disagreed on their approach to Bosnian Serb violations of U.N. resolutions protecting human rights: NATO's attempts to penalize such violations were frequently thwarted by U.N. officials who sought accommodation with the Bosnian Serbs. Although the U.N. Security Council mandated the use of force to protect peacekeeping operations, U.N. officials were reluctant to use such force. Instead, the need to protect U.N. peacekeeping forces on Bosnian territory became a reason in itself for not punishing violations of human rights. U.N. peacekeepers did not have the manpower or the official encouragement to prevent the crimes associated with "ethnic cleansing" and often stood by while such abuses took place. In the fall of l994, attacks against civilian areas in Bosnia were launched from Serbian-controlled parts of Croatia, which were under U.N. supervision and which should have been demilitarized by the U.N. in 1992.
After long delays, the international war crimes tribunal, established by the U.N. to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, finally got underway in l994 with the appointment of a chief prosecutor, the start of intensive investigations, and the issuing of indictments.
The Council of Europe played a positive role with regard to Russia's application for membership by spotlighting human rights concerns. In the fall of l994, experts from the council concluded that Russia did not meet the council's human rights standards. Nonetheless, political pressure for Russia's admission to the council continued.
The CSCE played an active role in Latvia dealing with the issue of citizenship. The United Nations Development Progam and the Council of Europe also weighed in on citizenship issues in Latvia, and each body was to be credited for the eventual passage of a citizenship law that omitted strict naturalization quotas.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued its efforts to improve the human rights situation in many of the countries it monitored by bringing pressure upon the offending governments directly whenever possible and also through other governments and international bodies that had influence on the countries in question. Our main efforts in this respect involved the U.S. government, the Russian and other national governments, the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the CSCE. Our country specialists went to Brussels to meet with staff members at the European Union, to the Hague to meet with the prosecutorial staff of the international war crimes tribunal, and to Budapest to discuss a range of human rights concerns with delegates to the CSCE Review Conference. In Budapest we spoke at a public forum about problems in Turkey and in Yugoslavia and violence against Roma in Romania and Bulgaria. Throughout the year, we conducted missions to various countries in the region, prepared reports and publicized these reports by holding press conferences, issuing press releases, and trying in every way possible to pressure and/or embarrass the government in question into improving its human rights practices.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki prepared a detailed critique of the human rights situation in Russia for the Council of Europe, whose parliamentary committee subsequently concluded that Russia's human rights record did not yet conform with council standards. We also called attention to human rights problems in Russia in meetings with the staff of the European Union and with delegates to the CSCE Review Conference in Budapest. Similar points of pressure were used with regard to other C.I.S. countries such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. During the visit to the United States by the president of Armenia, we urged President Clinton to pressure the Armenian government about its role in human rights abuses in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. We publicized human rights abuses in Tajikistan and Georgia before the leaders of those countries were to visit New York at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. We also publicly urged the CSCE and participants at its September seminar in the Uzbekistan capital to pressure the government of Uzbekistan to speak out about abuses, particularly the detention of political prisoners, and thereby earn the international legitimacy implied in hosting the seminar, and we were gratified when five political prisoners were subsequently released. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also kept up its work of documenting abuse of and discrimination against foreigners in Moscow. We followed the citizenship issue in Latvia and achieved some success from our efforts in Latvia with the firing of the head of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and the passage of a naturalization law in Latvia that eliminated quotas.
Halfway through the year we stationed a representative in Tajikistan which enabled us to monitor human rights developments there firsthand, to publish information about political prisoners and to monitor pre-election conditions in the country.
We used a two-pronged approach with regard to Bosnia. The first was to continue our detailed monitoring of human rights abuses in Bosnia, where our staff engaged in lengthy missions, interviewing the victims of war crimes in Bosnia. In 1994 we published eight reports detailing war crimes and other abuses in various parts of the former Yugoslavia. Our other major focus in Bosnia included both public and behind-the-scenes efforts to get an appropriate chief prosecutor appointed to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia so that work could get underway. Our staff made its detailed files on war crimes available to the prosecutorial staff of the tribunal. It was our belief that the war crimes tribunal, by prosecuting criminals at the highest level, could help dispel the notion of collective ethnic guilt and perhaps avoid future conflicts by placing blame on the individuals responsible for the crimes. With this in mind, we continued to urge that amnesties not be granted to war criminals, especially those at the highest levels, and that witnesses and victims be granted adequate protection by the tribunal.
In addition to our work on war crimes in Bosnia we reported on civil and political rights in Croatia and on repression by the Serbian government in Kosovo.
In 1994 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki focused most of its work in Turkey on the under-reported abuses in the Turkish southeast. We verified reports of depopulated villages by interviewing refugees who had been driven from their homes and publicized our findings in Turkey and elsewhere. We also reported on abuses by the PKK and continued our efforts to gain access to southeastern Turkey in order to investigate such abuses at first hand.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki kept up its work of documenting violence against Roma. In 1994 we published new reports on attacks on Roma in Bulgaria and Romania and released those reports in Budapest during the CSCE Review Conference there.
In 1994 we conducted thirteen missions and issued twenty-one reports based on research and missions in the field. We also sent seventy-four lengthy letters of protest or inquiry to government officials in fifteen countries; many of the letters ultimately found their way into the pages of the press. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued its association with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in 1994 and planned to continue to be represented on its executive committee in 1995.
Human Rights Developments
Albania has undergone radical change since democratic reforms began in 1990. Still, 1994 was marred by serious human rights abuses directed in particular at the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, and the rights of minorities. Police abuse and harassment of the political opposition also remained serious problems.
Throughout the year, there were many examples of political tampering with the courts, as well as trials and investigations that contained violations of both Albanian and international law. Several judges were transferred to lesser posts or fired after passing verdicts in politically sensitive cases. About 200 people received law degrees and were then appointed as judges, prosecutors and investigators in 1994 after attending a six-month legal training course. Most of the students were selected by local chapters of the ruling Democratic Party.
One of the most prominent trials during 1994 was that of Fatos Nano, a member of parliament and leader of the opposition Socialist Party. Mr. Nano was arrested in 1993 on charges of corruption when he served as prime minister of a 1991 transition government. After eight months in detention, Nano was tried and sentenced to twelve years in prison. The proceedings before and during the trial contained many irregularities, suggesting political motives for his conviction and harsh sentence.
Albania is currently run under a series of transitional constitutional laws that establishes the country as a parliamentary democracy with a commitment to international human rights documents. The Chapter on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms protects basic civil and political rights, as well as the rights of minorities. On November 6, a popular referendum rejected a complete constitution that would have affirmed these rights, but was criticized for the power it gave the president.
In late 1993, several communist-era articles of the penal code were repealed. However, new amendments were passed that made it a crime to insult or defame publicly the president, parliament or other state organs, putting a chill on peaceful political criticism.
Albanian television and radio were the principal means of communication with the mostly rural population and remained strictly controlled by the Democratic Party. No legislation allowed for private electronic media. There were many independent newspapers and magazines in the country, but they continued to face frequent threats, including high taxes, criminal prosecution and, on occasion, attacks on journalists by unknown assailants.
In October 1993, a new press law was enacted, despite protests from many Albanian journalists and numerous international human rights and journalists' organizations. Although the law recognized the freedom of the press, it also allowed for prior restraint and government confiscation of publications under vague conditions. In addition, violators of the press law were subject to disproportionately high fines. Six journalists were brought to court under the new press law or the penal code for slander or revealing state secrets. All of them were convicted, although four were subsequently pardoned by presidential decree on May 3, 1994, in honor of World Press Freedom Day.
Greek-Albanian relations took a marked turn for the worse during 1994 following a series of violent border incidents. The debate centered on the trial of five Albanian citizens from the Greek minority who were convicted in August to between six and eight years of imprisonment for espionage and the illegal possession of arms. Investigations by a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representative and reports from international observers confirmed that the defendants were denied basic procedural protections before and during the trial. On the first day of the trial, a crowd of people outside the courtroom was beaten and dispersed by Albanian police, and at least twenty-two people were detained. Albanian and Greek journalists covering the trial complained of continual harassment by the Albanian police.
Greece responded to the trial by expelling about 70,000 Albanian emigrants who had been working in Greece; many complained of brutal treatment by the Greek police. The Greek minority in the south of Albania complained of a strong presence by the Albanian secret police, which contributed to an atmosphere of fear.
Other human rights issues of continuing concern included a high level of police abuse. During the year, a number of people died as a result of police violence, while many others complained of abuse during detention. Disciplinary actions against abusive police were rarely taken.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also observed the continual harassment of the political opposition. The government sometimes denied opposition parties permission to hold public meetings. On January 26, in Shkoder, a party activist for the opposition Democratic Alliance, Gjovalin Cekini, was shot to death after a struggle incited by individuals who had disrupted a party meeting. As of early November, police had still failed to identify the murderer. Similarly, although the files of the former secret police (Sigurimi) were supposedly closed and under state control, opponents of the government occasionally found that portions of their files were selectively used against them and published in the pro-governmental newspapers.
Local elections held on May 29 in four districts were marked by procedural irregularities and a high incidence of threat and intimidation primarily directed against opposition candidates. Among other incidents, a large number of unregistered soldiers voted in the village of Zallherr. In other districts, unknown assailants reportedly harassed and, in some cases, assaulted candidates and voters.
The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki received no reports during 1994 of human rights groups who were hindered in their monitoring efforts. However, the Society for Democratic Culture, a local political initiative supported by the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, reported anonymous threats made against its members who were monitoring the local elections in May.
The United States has maintained very close relations with the Albanian government since 1991, including high levels of foreign aid and the granting of MFN status in August 1992. Various senior U.S. officials from the State Department, military, and Congress visited Albania during 1994. Military cooperation between the two countries also continued, as U.S. military advisors stationed in the country worked closely with the Albanian Ministry of Defense. On February 23, Albania became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace.
The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 praised Albania for the progress it had made toward "establishing a multiparty democracy with legal guarantees for human rights." However, the report appropriately criticized "significant human rights problems," such as police abuse and restrictions on the freedom of press and assembly.
In July, the State Department issued a statement calling on the Albanian government to provide a fair and objective trial for the ethnic Greeks accused of espionage and arms possession (one of the accused also held an American passport).
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concentrated its effort during 1994 on the most egregious human rights abuses, particularly the government's attempts to silence or intimidate its critics. On March 2, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a letter to President Berisha protesting government restrictions on freedom of the press. On September 8, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki criticized the trial of the five ethnic Greeks, and urged President Berisha, among other things, to investigate reports of mistreatment and denial of basic rights.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki plans to release a short report documenting the condition of the Greek minority in Albania and a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in Albania in the coming months.