BHHRG

About BHHRG

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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Events in Andijan: Conclusions
HITS: 2056 | 24-08-2005, 12:01 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , PR and human rights, Politics

The violent events in Andijan and other parts of Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley on 13th May, 2005, attracted worldwide attention. Unfortunately the intensity of the media coverage was not matched by impartial reporting. As in a number of cases over the last 15 years since the Romanian Revolution in 1989, rumours were reported as fact and the more grisly the allegation the more widely it was disseminated. Pundits repeated allegations of dubious origin. Opposition supporters were presented as journalists or experts rather than partisans. Whatever the faults of the government of President Karimov and its forces’ responsibility for casualties on 13th May, the widespread failure of Western media to report a violent jailbreak, the murder of prisoners by insurgents and their use of prisoners as human shields and hostages left foreigners with a one-sided impression of what happened and why it happened.

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Uzbekistan tragedy: Intervention or Chaos? Or Intervention and Chaos
HITS: 2095 | 24-08-2005, 11:56 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , PR and human rights

“The worst is not; so long as we can say, ‘This is the worst’”
Shakespeare, King Lear (IV, I, 27)


The universal clamour for “something to be done” about Uzbekistan reaches from the serried ranks of proponents of the invasion of Iraq to find its elusive WMD and overthrow Saddam Hussein to that crusade’s fiercest critics. Ironically, those who doubted every jot of the Bush Administration’s claims about the nature and weaponry of Saddam’s regime are as gung-ho for intervention in Uzbekistan as Washington’s hawks. Unanimity like this among opinion-makers ought to make observers’ queasy. Even if they were right in their analysis of what happened in Andijan, are there solutions not naively optimistic in thinking that Western intervention will necessarily promote a solution which makes matters better for Uzbeks?
Remember Mobutu’s Zaire, for instance. Before his downfall in 1997, everyone agreed there too that nothing could be worse than that regime’s kleptocrat. Well, 3 million dead later, perhaps it is time for human rights activists to prepare for the worst case consequences of their own success. Yet Mobutu is still trotted out as simply an example of American hypocrisy during the Cold War when he was backed as an anti-Communist, rather than seeing the unanimous Western governmental and media campaign to remove him in 1997 as a classic example of short-sightedness on the part of the moral indignation brigade.[1]

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The Timisoara[1] Syndrome and the Modern Media
HITS: 5241 | 24-08-2005, 00:02 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Media World, PR and human rights

Much of the reportage about Uzbekistan recalls previous media “beat ups” when excitement and shock combined to make plausible what turned out afterwards to be wildly exaggerated accounts of violence and cruelty. The contemporary stereotype for this media syndrome originated in 1989 when reports emerged of demonstrations against the Ceausescu regime in Timisoara in south-western Romania. Considering what happened in Romania in December, 1989, helps to focus understanding of the problems of reporting protests from a safe distance with moralising blinkers. Timisoara was the birthplace of the media myth of genocide in the post-Communist period. Like many myths had some basis in fact but took on a life of its own.
As news filtered out that demonstrations were taking place in Timisoara after 16th December, 1989, reports of the savagery of the infamous Romanian secret police, the Securitate, soon filled Western media.

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Czech Media during elections in 2002
HITS: 2240 | 14-04-2005, 04:51 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Czech Republic , Foreign media, Elections

Much of the Czech media is now owned by foreign companies, mainly from Germany, Switzerland and France. In their editorial policies, most leading broadsheets (Mladá Fronta Dnes, Lidové Noviny, Hospodářské Noviny) support the US and the reform wing of the ČSSD. Only Právo on the left is (mildly) critical of the status quo. This means that the major opposition party, the ODS, has no support from any leading newspaper. The situation is similar for the Communist Party: the third largest party in the Czech Republic with the largest membership has the support of only one small, low-circulation newspaper – Hálo noviny. While this state of affairs would be unheard of in most other leading European democracies, Czech journalists see nothing peculiar about it. As for television, state TV supports the status quo whereas the Czech Republic’s most popular station, TV Nova, is seen as looking more favourably on the ODS.

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European Values versus Euro-Atlantic power structures
HITS: 2437 | 7-01-2005, 20:56 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , PR and human rights

The intervention of the Euro-Atlantic power structures on the side of the SDSM and DUI was hardly surprising since NATO and the EU had acted as godfathers to the political alliance between the two parties eighteen months earlier. However, critics of the re-districting plan could call European values in support of their stance. After all, had not the constitutional expert, Robert Badinter, who had endorsed Macedonia’s constitutional order as worthy of EU recognition thereby ratified the legitimacy of the referendum provisions contained in it. Why had the power-brokers in Brussels reneged on the constitutional order which had been worthy of independence from Yugoslavia then. Another problem was that as far back as 1985, the EU’s then member states had adopted a Charter on Local Government which explicitly endorsed referendums as one way in which ordinary people could express their views on proposed changes to administration in their regions. For instance, the Charter states,
“Local self-government… shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage, and which may possess executive organs responsible to them. This provision shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referendums or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute.” [emphasis added][1]

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Macedonia: Re-districting or partition?
HITS: 1992 | 7-01-2005, 20:48 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , PR and human rights

Macedonia’s current local government legislation dates back to 1996 when the current president Branko Crvenkovski was prime minister of an SDSM-led government. Then the current main opposition party, VMRO-DPME, opposed the changes. Each big Macedonian party has reversed its position on local government and this, no doubt, contributes to cynicism among ordinary Macedonian citizens of all ethnicities.
The Ohrid Agreement and Euro-Atlantic integration are invariably cited as the main reason for changing the 1996 arrangements with subsidiary emphasis on the changes alleged benefits to local people and local government finances and services.
Although re-districting had been an issue hovering in the background of post-Ohrid Macedonian politics it only really took off as an issue from early 2004. By mid-summer widespread protests and referendums in 41 localities (not all ethnically mixed) had expressed opposition to proposed changes.

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Elections in Lithuania 2004: Case for the Prosecution
HITS: 2102 | 8-09-2004, 12:42 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Foreign media, Political science

On 25th May, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a wide-ranging ruling banning any impeached person from holding public office for life. In other words, it went far beyond the retroactive law. Since the Constitutional Court’s lengthy ruling has yet to be translated into English, Mr. Šukys kindly explained his understanding of the Court’s decision and its reasoning to the BHHRGs observers a few days after it was announced.
On the day of its judgement the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Egidijus Kuris, and spokesperson, Ramune Sakalauskaite, were widely quoted in the international as well as the Lithuanian media saying that "The Constitutional Court found that the amendments to the law on presidential elections, under which people impeached from their posts cannot be elected for five years, does not run counter to the constitution," [1]

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Vandalism not religiously motivated
HITS: 2068 | 18-08-2004, 00:10 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , PR and human rights

J.A. Cuddon’s classic Companion Guide to Jugoslavia mentions the churches and monasteries of Prizren but insists, “The [sic]church to see in Prizren is Sv. Bogorodica Ljeviška (the Virgin of the Falling Asleep). It is an interesting mixture of Serbian, Greek and Romanesque styles built with five cupolas, an ex-narthex and a belfry” Begun in 1307, it had been converted into a mosque under the Turks who whitewashed over its medieval frescoes. After 1950 restoration began after the church had been returned to Orthodox control in 1913 after the Serbian army expelled the Turkish rulers. Turkish iconoclasm damaged the frescoes but the intention was only to cover them over. Cuddon noted, “Every few inches there is a white scar on the paintings giving the effect of a heavy snow storm. This was done to make it easier for the walls to take plaster. However, between and behind the flakes of this ‘blizzard’ one can still see the frescoes which are among the finest in the fourteenth century.” Whatever Cuddon saw is now locked away behind barbed wire. Fire damage is visible on the window frames and because KFOR prevents access to the interior the exact state of the wall paintings so admired by visitors before 1999 can only be guessed at.

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The Referendum in Cyprus: Before, During and After
HITS: 2436 | 1-06-2004, 18:11 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Cyprus , PR and human rights, Politics

The defeat of the anti-rejectionist parties in the December election led to the revival of the Annan Plan in January 2004. Although the CTP and its allies had demanded that Denktaş resign as TRNC’s main negotiator, he was kept on after consultations with Ankara. This in itself reflected divisions in society where the elder statesman still commanded popularity and respect. However, after leading the TRNC delegation in a preliminary visit to New York in February, Denktaş stepped down as final negotiations loomed, saying he could not advise acceptance of the plan as it stood.
As the parties had agreed to let the UN Secretary General ‘fill in the gaps’ in the parts of the plan where no agreement had been reached, arrangements were made for talks to be held, leaving time for a last-minute referendum to be called before the 1st May deadline on the final version of the document. At the same time, Erdogan was offered various sweeteners to reward TRNC (and Turkey) for their cooperation.

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Human Rights and the Roma
HITS: 1997 | 12-05-2004, 21:49 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , PR and human rights

Western human rights groups were complaining about the treatment of Czechoslovakia’s Roma minorities as far back as the mid 1980s. When the country split into the Czech and Slovak Republics monitoring of the situation increased under the auspices of the Council of Europe and other EU institutions. At the same time, various cross border Romany NGOs were formed, ostensibly to protect the rights of this large and controversial minority. Funding was made available for a variety of projects, including the EU’s own PHARE project which supported initiatives to improve both living and educational standards for the Roma. On top of this, the Slovak government appointed a minister for Roma Affairs at the time of writing the post is held by Klara Orgovanova, herself of Roma origin.
While many of the people involved in NGO work are well-meaning, many projects have been based on the (mis)understanding that the Roma inhabit a quaint, picturesque bohème world strumming the cembalon and speak their ancient Romany language. Mrs Orgovanova’s web page features what purports to be a Romany dance troop regaled in their finest, völkisch costumes as they perform some elaborate peasant dance.

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