Twenty five years on Soviet-type violations are reappearing
Moscow/Vienna, 27 March 2007; The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), a federation of 46 independent human rights organizations, today released its “Annual Report” on human rights developments in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the year 2006. The report is entitled Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2007 (Events of 2006).
The “Annual Report” focuses mainly on the state of civil and political rights in 39 of the 56 OSCE participating states, paying particular attention to developments in Central Asia, the Russian North Caucasus region, and Belarus, which are the IHF priority regions in 2006-7.
During the initiation meeting of the IHF in 1982, the KGB forced the Moscow Helsinki Group to disband, and Soviet authorities were engaged in massive and systematic human rights violations. While important progress has been made in many countries and fields of human rights since this time, similar violations have reappeared in the OSCE region - and are happening in 2007 when the IHF marks its 25th anniversary. For example, new restrictions have been placed on human rights activities (e.g. in Central Asia, Belarus and Russia), human rights defenders have been increasingly targeted and some have been forcefully confined in psychiatric hospitals (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).
While many human rights violations in East European and Central Asian countries reflected the legacy of their authoritarian past, western democracies circumvented fundamental human rights principles - such as the absolute prohibition of torture - in the name of fighting terrorism.
Serious violations of international human rights standards continued to take place in Central Asia in 2006. The authoritarian regimes of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan repressed virtually any expression of dissident and violated, on a systematic basis, civil and political as well as social, economic and cultural rights. Prospects for democratic change decreased further in Uzbekistan as the Karimov government continued its post-Andijan crackdown on opposition forces, and while the death of Turkmen President Niyazov in December gave rise to hopes for reform in that country, these hopes were largely subdued by the undemocratic process for electing his successor.
While the human rights situation in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan improved in some areas, other long-term problems persisted, such as violations of freedom of expression and association, due process and fair trial rights and the ban on torture.
The Russian government continued its efforts to limit the influence of opposition forces, and politically motivated persecution of opponents; misuse of anti-extremism legislation to put pressure on civil society; and restrictions of the rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association were of major concern in the country. Other pressing problems included lack of independence of the judiciary, weak implementation of the rule of law, arbitrary conduct and abuse by law enforcement, racism and xenophobia, and violations of the rights of migrants and refugees.
Gross human rights abuses continued to be committed in Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus region under the pretext of combating terrorism. Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (appointed president in early 2007) enjoyed unconditional backing by the Kremlin, while forces subordinate to him – the “Kadyrovtsi” – and other pro-Moscow forces continued to engage in abductions, detention in secret prisons, “disappearances,” torture and falsification of criminal cases with almost complete impunity.
Belarus poor human rights record deteriorated further in 2006, resulting in new violations of basic civil and political rights. The March 2006 presidential elections, which formally enabled President Lukashenka to stay in power, were flawed and the parliament merely played the role of rubberstamping the presidents policies. Over a thousand opposition politicians and public activists were arrested and detained on politically motivated grounds; opposition leader Aliaksandr Kazulin remained imprisoned at the end of the year.
Abuses perpetrated in the name of combating terrorism represented one of the most pressing human rights issues in the OSCE region in 2006. The absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment was openly challenged by both longtime democracies, which called for a “rethinking” of “old rules”, and more authoritarian regimes, which used the threat of terrorism as a pretext to reinforce their abusive policies. The policies of the United States (US) government with respect to torture were of particular concern because of the example they set for other countries. In the course of 2006, the US government engaged in “disappearances” and secret detention, attempted to redefine the principles of the Geneva Conventions and authorized abusive interrogation techniques.
The IHF report discusses efforts at the international and national level to investigate the complicity of other governments in US-led rendition activities, and examines developments related to the use of evidence extracted under torture and the return of terrorist suspects to countries where they face a real risk of torture (e.g. with respect to Bosnia, Germany, Sweden and Ukraine).
The United Kingdom expanded its panoply of anti-terrorist laws with the Terrorism Act 2006, which was criticized inter alia for providing inadequate defense to suspects, and extending police and investigatory powers, including the disproportionately long detention period of 28 days without charge.
In Turkey, the process of reforming and improving human rights protection slowed down in 2006. Longtime problems, such as the use of indiscriminate and excessive force by security forces, torture, and violations of freedom of expression, persisted and there was an increase in hate propaganda targeting minorities, liberal intellectuals and human rights activists.
The report is for the most part an outcome of monitoring and research activities carried out by the IHF member committees and cooperating organizations.
Please see www.ihf-hr.org for the full report (available in English and in Russian)