The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
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Troubles in Transnistria: Why not a referendum to decide the issue?
HITS: 13276 | 19-02-2008, 15:39 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Moldova , PR and human rights, World health
The West and its surrogate agencies have shown themselves resolutely uninterested in the conduct of elections in Transnistria. After a month of impasse on the PMR-Ukrainian border, the OSCE in Vienna announced that it would not recognise the results of any referendum held in Transnistria to allow the local population to express its opinion on its fate. Igor Smirnov has been president of the breakaway region since 1990. During an interview with BHHRG he pointed out wearily how often the West – the “international community” as it calls itself - has ignored elections in Transnistria or prejudged them. Last December’s parliamentary elections had been won by the opposition but the West still denies legitimacy to such polls even though it accepts, for instance, that Montenegro’s Milo Djukanović has held power as premier or president or now again premier for almost 17 years. Despite the fact that the West has been happy to accept the disintegration of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it remains strangely fixated on preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the post-Soviet states whose claim to political legitimacy is often shaky to put it mildly.
HITS: 9715 | 13-03-2007, 08:19 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , Analyzing, War and peace
This report was first published in January, 2002. Nearly, four years later, the issue of CIA renditions to European countries where suspects are possibly tortured is being investigated. As Le Monde quoted BHHRG's 2002 report in an article published on 25th November, June: "<…> "prison secrète" américaine a existé dans un camp de l'OTAN au Kosovo...existence" we are reprinting the report. Also, published is BHHRG's Mark Almond's February, 2002 New Statesman article "Nightmare at Camp Bondsteel".
The international community, which governs the former Yugoslav province of Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina, bases its legitimacy on the concept of the rule of law. On 12th February 2002, indeed, the trial began in The Hague of the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. This trial is intended to embody the way in which the international community is working towards the realization of the rule of law in the Balkans in particular and in international affairs on a global scale.
The legal system in Georgia has been tinkered with on numerous occasions since independence. In 1999 a new system of exams was introduced which had to be taken by both new and serving judges. Judges told BHHRG at the time that this was a way of sacking people who offended the government. Perhaps, observers assumed that Mikheil Saakashvili’s legal training would impact positively on the rule of law, but, according to observers: “The level of justice has seriously deteriorated since the rose revolution”. Lawyers told BHHRG that Sakkashvili knew nothing about the nuts and bolts of Georgian law - his courses in the US were most likely the typical, content-less melange of ‘modules’ in subjects like human rights and international justice.
The new presidential palace in Tbilisi now under construction
“For the first time in our history, our police have discovered you don’t have to torture people to keep crime in check” [Mikheil Saakashvili, Knight Ridder Newspapers, 9th March, 2005].
Police reform: This is hailed as one of Saakashvili’s success stories. The president’s admirers point to the abolition of the traffic cops and their replacement by a new patrol police as one of his major achievements since coming to office. Since then, it is claimed, the practice of regularly stopping motorists for bribes has ceased and the force is able to do more useful work. The police are properly paid (400-500 lari per month), new Volkswagen Passats have been donated and officers wear smart, American-style uniforms. In the process “16,000 good for nothing, corrupt policemen were fired”, according to former Minister of the Interior, Irakli Okruashvili. Only 15% of former police officers remained in the force. This meant that if only some of these men had families, at least 34,000 people were deprived of a bread winner - something that obviously left Mr. Okruashvili and his associates untroubled.
HITS: 2412 | 21-12-2005, 23:09 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Political leaders, War and peace
“We call Saakashvili Stalin …he is good, fair and that is why” (a citizen, Imedi TV, 19th February, 2005)
“We had the first televised revolution in history. We were live on CNN for four and a half hours without a commercial” (Saakashvili – Knight Ridder Newspapers, 9th March, 2005)
To describe the November 2003 events in Georgia as a ‘revolution’ indicates a failure to understand the trajectory taken by revolutions in the past. Yet, most Georgians, including those disenchanted by the Saakashvili regime, continue to repeat this oxymoron. As BHHRG pointed out in its report on the November 2003 election, the main beneficiaries were all former ministers and leading cadres in the ex-president’s political party. Historically, a revolution has signalled a break: neither Louis XV1’s ministers nor relatives of the Tsar took power after the respective revolutions in France and Russia. People’s failure to notice any improvement in their lives in Georgia since November 2003 may be because the same people are running the country as they did during the 1990s.
HITS: 2140 | 21-12-2005, 22:50 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Politics, War and peace
Mafia shootouts, harassment of the opposition and media, political prisoners … it’s business as usual in Georgia. It is nearly two years since the republic of Georgia experienced what became known as a ‘Rose Revolution’. News media around the world heralded this development as the dawn of a new era in which the impoverished former Soviet republic sloughed off a corrupt and moribund regime to embrace young, market-orientated reformers under the leadership of Western-educated Mikhael Saakashvili who was elected the country’s president in January 2004. A year later, in November 2004, another ‘colour-coded’ revolution took place, this time in Ukraine. Again, the media pointed to Saakashvili and Georgia as the successful model for the latest spontaneous outburst of ‘people power’. The Georgian president was a regular commentator on the stand-off in Kiev offering comradeship and support to his fellow revolutionary, Viktor Yushchenko.
During the 1990s, BHHRG regularly criticized the Shevardnadze regime for human rights abuses and electoral fraud. However, by 2001, this darling of the West was unexpectedly feeling the heat and the message was clear: regime change was in the air. Paradoxically, by this time, some things were improving in Georgia. All political prisoners (mainly supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) had been released, the media was free and television, in particular, regularly broadcast exposés of the regime’s perceived wrongdoings. Finally, in 2003, no doubt aware of the vultures circling above, the government conducted clean parliamentary elections for the first time since 1992. Those who repeatedly point to fraud in this poll overlook the fact that by ‘cheating’ the Citizen’s Union (the government party) only claimed 21% support of the electorate. There was no criticism from the West when Mikheil Saakashvili won a Stalin-style 96% of the vote in the presidential election held in January 2004 and, later in March, when the National Movement party won nearly all the seats in parliament.
There seems little doubt that Latvia is pursuing a nationalities policy which, if adopted anywhere else, would be the object of universal condemnation. There is effectively no criticism at all of this full-frontal assault on the established rights of a sizeable and historic population. Instead, Latvia continues to receive support for its policies. Estonia is in a similar position. There, a similar version of the same law is being introduced, albeit with a longer transitional period. BHHRG interviewed a former director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Tallinn, Arkady Prisjazny. Married to an Estonian, Prisjazny said that there was simply no dialogue between the Estonians and the Russians in Estonia. He quoted examples of aggressive anti-Russian sentiment being expressed by government officials, such as when on 29th January 2002 the new head of the secret police said that the country’s primary goal was to get rid of the “Russian spectre”.
Events in Andijan: Will international scrutiny get to the bottom of what happened?
HITS: 2222 | 24-08-2005, 23:28 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , PR and human rights, Global Events
Demands for an “independent international inquiry” into the events in Andijan came thick and fast after 13th May. Getting reliable information was clearly difficult and yet providing a clear account of what happened would certainly help any peaceful settlement of the dispute. Nonetheless, the loudest voices calling for such an “independent international inquiry” have form. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has hardly encouraged openness about his own country’s role in imprisoning suspected terrorists or their treatment in US custody. The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, was the Prosecutor at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, whose Canadian citizenship did not recuse her from charging Slobodan Milosevic with genocide when country Canada was participating in a war with his. The perception of Western hypocrisy is as important as the reality of any faults in the West’s treatment of suspects of terrorism or “rogue regimes”.
HITS: 3421 | 24-08-2005, 20:01 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Analyzing, War and peace
“The trial opened in February, and by last week, a sentence was due. The trial had already brought thousands into the streets of Andijan for peaceful protests, and the protest leaders promised massive resistance if the men were convicted. But the sentence never came.” Although regional specialists and locally-based journalists and NGO activists had followed the trial of Twenty-three businessmen in Andijan on charges of Islamic fundamentalist subversion before 12th May, 2005, the impending crisis had passed the outside world by. Yet it is important to note that before the trouble broke out, contrary to the image of a relentlessly intolerant police state, one of Uzbekistan’s main critics, Daniel Kimmage of RFE, reported, “The brother of one defendant told uznews.net, “We are ready to do anything in order to free our innocent brothers.” Police have not interfered in the demonstrations, which are unusual in their size and degree of organization, according to observers...” The glib descriptions in Western media after 13th May of Uzbekistan as a state where protests were never tolerated were not matched by evidence from reporters there before the violence broke out.