//IHF Annual Report 2006: Trampling on Fundamental Rights in the Name of

IHF Annual Report 2006: Trampling on Fundamental Rights in the Name of

Vienna, Almaty, 12 June 2006 — The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) today officially released the 520-page report Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2006 (Events of 2005). The report covers major human rights events in 39 countries in Europe, Central Asia and North America during 2005.

The IHF report addresses issues such as: What were the outcomes of the 2004-2005 “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan from a human rights perspective and how did they affect developments in the former USSR? How effective an incentive has possible future EU membership been in bringing about genuine improvements in the Balkans and Turkey? What effects have anti-terrorism measures had on fundamental human rights in established democracies? The report focuses primarily on civil and political rights but also touches upon issue related to social, economic and cultural rights.

In the course of 2005, the human rights situation deteriorated in numerous former Soviet republics, especially in Central Asia. The 13 May massacre of hundreds of civilian demonstrators by police and security forces in Andijan, Uzbekistan, can be described as the worst human right event in the OSCE region. Authorities both in Uzbekistan and the neighboring states stepped up their efforts to ensure national security, which resulted in new violations of civil liberties. Political opponents, independent Muslims and human rights defenders were subject to increasing pressure and attacks, legal restrictions were imposed on civil society activities and measures were taken to limit religious freedom.

Turkmenistan remained a repressive and closed society ruled by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov who controlled all branches of public life and allowed no open political opposition.

The “color revolutions” brought about positive changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, but progress was limited by deep-rooted problems inherent in the legacy of the authoritarian past and slowly changing attitudes. Media freedom improved notably in Ukraine, but other reforms proceeded at a very modest pace and the inadequate funding of courts caused a dramatic crisis in the administration of justice. In Georgia, the central government held vast powers, without a functioning system of checks and balances and virtually no parliamentary opposition. The government’s methods to fight corruption raised rule of law concerns. The new president and government, who took office following the ousting of President Akaev in Kyrgyzstan, pledged to promote human rights and democracy, yet little had been done by the year’s end. Also, after a short period of relaxation in the media field, political pressure on the media increased again.

Belarus' poor human rights record deteriorated further in the course of 2005: it fell short with respect to democracy, the rule of law, and most basic human rights and freedoms. Many NGOs were brought to the brink of closure and the political opposition was prevented from engaging in real campaigning prior to the March 2006 presidential elections.

In the Russian Federation, the powers of the federal executive were further consolidated, the erosion of democratic checks and balances continued and official information policies grew increasingly restrictive. The so-called anti-terrorism operation in Chechnya went into its seventh year and increasingly spilled over to the neighboring republics, which resulted in a deteriorating security situation in the entire North Caucasus.

In its “war on terror,” the government of the United States continued to violate due process rights of terrorist suspects, authorized interrogation techniques widely considered to amount to torture, and held an unknown number of people at secret places of detention to which even the International Committee of the Red Cross was denied access. Prison conditions remained well below international standards and the death penalty continued to be practiced. Racial disparities were again brought to public consciousness, especially by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Also in West European countries, the fight against terrorism remained a priority. A number of countries (e.g. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden) continued practices, or adopted new anti-terrorism measures, that had negative implications for the enjoyment of fundamental rights. Such measures included, among others, increasingly restrictive asylum and immigration policies, increased police and intelligence powers that gave rise to concerns about undue intrusion into private life, measures undermining the absolute ban on torture (e.g. returning individuals to or interrogating suspects in countries where torture was practiced), and arbitrary and discriminatory stop-and-searches. The wide attention given to the perceived threat of religious extremism in public debate, and the tendency to portray Islam as being incompatible with democracy and human rights, helped fuel intolerant attitudes toward Muslims.

In Turkey, national human rights NGOs reported that the situation worsened  despite some positive development e.g. in the field of freedom of expression. A main concern was impunity for human rights violations, including torture. For example, after years of proceedings, four police officers who tortured two young women in 1999 were acquitted due to lack of evidence acquitted because the women had objected to “virginity test” to obtain evidence on their rape claims. Yet, the women were convicted on the basis of confessions reportedly extracted under torture.

Moreover, the IHF report documents, among dozens of other issues, the following:

•    Croatia’s human rights situation deteriorated seriously in the course of 2005: the overall security situation was fragile, and harassment and violence against members of minorities (especially Serbs and Roma) increased, making 2005 the worst year since 1996 in this respect.

•    In Italy, Poland and many other countries, judicial proceedings were excessively long. In Italy, the average length of first instance criminal proceedings was almost three years, civil proceedings in labor disputes almost two years, while bankruptcy cases lasted the average of over nine years.

•    The status of civil rights and liberties in Romania improved somewhat after the December 2004 parliamentary elections, especially in the fields of freedom of expression and association. Of serious concern were extensive wiretapping and other intelligence activities by secret services outside adequate control.

•    In Serbia and Montenegro, the failure to apprehend indicted war criminals remained a main concern. The uncertainty surrounding the future status of Montenegro deteriorated the functioning of institutions at the state union level and slowed down reforms. The failure to apprehend indicted war criminals remained a main concern.

•    Authorities in Armenia violated the right to housing and property rights in the implementation of a new city plan for the center of Yerevan. Residents were forced to sell their apartments at a fraction of market prices, or were evicted to give way to luxurious building projects in which many high public officials were questionably involved.

•    In some rural areas of Kyrgyzstan, as few as 10% of children attended school, while others were needed as work force at home. The infant death rate was on a dramatic increase, reaching 25% in some regions.  

•    In Slovakia, government officials grossly misinterpreted a decision by UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) not to conduct an inquiry into forced or coercive s
terilizations of Romani women in Slovakia. Among others, authorities wrongly claimed that the CEDAW had confirmed that coercive sterilizations never occurred in Slovakia.

•    While officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that 50% of refugees and displaced persons had returned to their homes since the signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, the local Helsinki Committee and other monitors indicated that only one third had returned to take up residence in their pre-war homes.

•    In Macedonia, the March and April local elections were characterized by irregularities and, for the first time in several years, the international community strongly criticized their conduct.

•    In Latvia  for the first time since its independence  serious charges of election fraud were made after the March municipal elections.

•    Classified information on failed Congolese asylum seekers that leaked from the Netherlands immigration service IND to Congolese authorities put at serious risk persons who were deported to Congo: official Congolese sources confirmed that returned asylum seekers risked assault, detention and fines.

•    In many countries in the region, overcrowding of prison and detention facilities was a serious problem. In Poland, the prison population has grown by 50% in the past five years, while the number of prison staff has increased by only 3%.

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An electronic version of the full report is available at the IHF website,
http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4255

For more information, please contact:
Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director, 43-1-408 88 22 or +43-676-635 66 12
Henriette Schroeder, Press Officer, +43-1-408 88 22 41 or +43-676- 725 48 29