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
Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in 2005 have brought a group of unpredictable nationalists to power On 23rd October, 2005, Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski was elected President of Poland, becoming Poland’s third president since 1990. Earlier, on 25th September, Kaczynski’s party, Law and Justice (PiS) gained the largest number of votes in elections for the Parliament (Sejm) and Senate, just ahead of the free market, Citizens Platform (PO). As his campaign posters proclaimed, Mr. Kaczynski’s central pledge was the creation of a Fourth Polish republic which would be founded on the country’s moral revival. The results of both elections also marked the third time that the country’s voters had veered from left to right: the outgoing Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD) minority government had been shaken for some time by corruption allegations and popular discontent with its policies which were a continuation of the broad trends set by its predecessors since the first post-Communist government in 1989.
BHHRG interviewed Sulkhan Molashvili in the Deputy-Governor’s office in the hospital wing of Prison No. 5 (formerly No1) c. 5.00 - 6.45 pm, 29th July, 2005.
The facts surrounding the trial of Sulkhan Molashvili are a perfect illustration of the ‘black hole’ that is Georgia’s legal and penitentiary system today. Only the tenacity and perseverance of Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers and the work of one local NGO, “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights”, have brought the abuses into the open. When BHHRG’s representatives asked to see Mr. Molashvili while visiting Prison No. 1. in April 2005 they were told that “he didn’t want to see them”. The following chronology contains facts generally agreed by all parties, Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers’ account of events leading up to his trial and Mr. Molashvili’s own version of events described to BHHRG during an interview conducted on 29th July, 2005 in the prison hospital. The Group wishes to thank the trial judge who granted permission for the interview and the prison authorities who vacated their offices and who did not impose restraints or a time limit on the meeting.
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.
In 1999 BHHRG urged caution when it became clear that Georgia was on course to join the Council of Europe as there were no signs that the shortcomings in Georgia’s human rights record had been addressed. Apologists claimed that membership of the organization would provide much-needed oversight of institutions, like the prison service. In 2002/3 the CoE did conduct an investigation into Georgia’s prisons although its report was ‘sat on’ by the Georgian authorities and only appeared in July, 2005. Although its criticisms of the system are harsh, the medicine prescribed is always tame, namely, more ‘human rights education’ and ‘training’. Nevertheless, many ‘political’ prisoners now in custody in Georgia are pinning their hopes on the outcome of their appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As well as Molashvili, former Minister of Energy, David Mirtskhulava who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in March 2005 for abuse of power, has launched an appeal to Strasbourg, as has Zurab Chankotadze. The CoE’s legal arm, the Venice Commission, has also criticized Georgia over the government’s unilateral reduction of Adjara’s autonomous status as well as the decision not to allow direct election of local mayors, including the powerful post of mayor of Tbilisi. It has also raised the issue of the high (7%) threshold for parties to enter parliament. But, Saakashvili has always treated the CoE with contempt, ever since its previous director-general, Walter Schwimmer, tried to diffuse the row over Adjara’s status and the best way to handle Aslan Abashidze in 2004. BHHRG reported at the time...
Apathy NOT fraud undermines Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Election
Controversy surrounds Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, the international media’s focus on the main opposition’s claims of “massive fraud” distract attention from the deeper crisis of legitimacy affecting all Azeri political parties. Barely 40% of registered voters took part in Sunday’s polls. Ordinary Azeris seem cynical about all politicians and their mass abstention sent the message “a plague on all your houses.”
Past performance by a governing elite universally accused of corruption in this potentially oil-rich society and by an opposition riven by personal rivalries barely disguised by the formation of several “united” fronts has led many Azeris to regard politics and politicians with open disdain.
This is a pity because it suggests an unhealthy outlook for Azerbaijan’s chances of establishing democracy, but also because the actual conduct of the elections and the counts in polling stations visited by this Group’s observers was of a high standard. Maybe if Azris had had more confidence in the candidates, many more of them would have voted, At the local level in their neighbourhood polling stations, the standard of conduct of the voting and counting should have given them reason to trust the ballot if they had really wanted to elect a candidate. (Final results are not yet available and so caution about the collation of results is naturally still in order.)
The determination to cling to the fiction of “occupation” has led to permanent friction with the Russian minority ever since 1991. This friction has got worse over time, even though Latvia has been incorporated into the main Western institutions. This is in spite of the size of the non-Latvian population in Latvia, a fact with which any wise government would surely try to find a civilised accommodation. According to the census carried out in 2000, there were 2,375,339 people in Latvia: 57.6% of them are ethnic Latvians; 29.6% ethnic Russians; 4.1% Belarussians; 2.7% Ukrainians; 2.5% Poles; 1.4% Lithuanians; 0.4% Jews. This means that at least 36.4% of the population is Russophone: someone who is, to all intents and purposes, Russian can be categorised as “Ukrainian” if his family came from there, or as a “Jew”, rather as a purely Anglophone Briton can be “Welsh”, “Scottish” or “Irish” The true percentage of Russophones may well be higher than this census: because hundreds of thousands of Russians in Latvia are stateless (see below) they cannot emigrate as easily as Latvians.
No-one inside Uzbekistan and few outside is the answer to the first part of this question if you believe the Western media, and almost everyone in Uzbekistan opposes the regime according to the same interpretation. The idea that “Everyone”, or at least everyone in Uzbekistan apart from his henchmen opposes the President is simplistic propaganda. Things are much more complicated than anti-Karimov propaganda suggests. There is a lot of evidence that Uzbek society is not as unanimous as glib media reports of The People versus The Tyrant suggest. The Russian Central Asian analyst, Andrei Grozin, argued that the Karimov regime had structural supports as well as opponents: “The system that has developed since Uzbekistan gained independence is not a superstructure, which is not inherent to Uzbek society. The regime would not have maintained itself on guns alone and on the will of Islam Karimov, if it did not have the wide support of considerable groups of society. I am very skeptical about democratizing Uzbekistan and the Fergana Valley in particular. Mass consciousness there is for the large part is not disposed towards modernization. Values accepted worldwide are often not applicable here.”
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.
The Roma were overwhelmingly scathing about the government in Bratislava, claiming that none of its members ever came to visit them. The minister responsible for ethnic minorities, Pal Csaky, is an ethnic Hungarian and the Roma were quick to point out that is the only minority he cares about. They claimed that the government had ‘stolen’ money given to Slovakia by foreign donors explicitly for Roma projects and, it is hard not to believe that such allegations are mere idle gossip – EU funds have disappeared into the void in both Slovakia and Romania. For example, in 2001 “Roland Toth in charge of development project funding from the EU has been accused of misusing €330 m. in EU taxpayers’ money”. The minister responsible, Pavel Hamzik, was also dismissed. Part of the problem lies in the centralised way the country is governed. Slovakia’s election law treats Slovakia as one constituency meaning that party lists contain few names that mean anything to local voters even with the addition of a handful of preferential votes. By 2004, like many citizens in the former Communist bloc, Slovak voters had tried out most parties from left to right of the spectrum, most of which had failed to improve their lives in any way.