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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David Cameron: Comet or Icarus?
HITS: 1991 | 17-06-2004, 22:06 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Great Britain , Political leaders
Is he the Tories’ Harry Potter or Wendell Willkie?
The Manufacturing of the Candidate
As Tony Blair’s power-base in Britain wobbles despite winning a third successive general election (but with only 36% of the popular vote) Britain’s media is hailing a bright new star in its political firmament. On 6th December, the world’s oldest political party, Britain’s Conservatives (also known as Tories) chose 39 year-old David Cameron as their leader. Until the last few weeks, “David who?” would have been the reaction of most of his fellow citizens. What a turnaround! Three months ago David Cameron was barely known to the British public. In September, 2005, only 4% of a BBC poll saw him as the best man to lead the Conservative Party. Even on the eve of the Tory Party Conference in October, only 13% of a nationwide poll backed Cameron. Yet after a single television focus group on BBC 2’s “Newsnight” programme, 39% of Tory activists polled suddenly put the 38-year-old Shadow Education Secretary ahead of all his rivals for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
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.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002, two months before the first demonstrations against Rauf Denktaş’s policies took place in TRNC. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, and his new foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, are perceived to be loyal friends of the international community. They supported (albeit discreetly) the US invasion of Iraq and approved the dispatch of Turkish troops to help the coalition there, something eventually thwarted by lack of support from parliament. A solid commitment to pursue EU membership has gone in tandem with their pro-US policies. For as long as anyone can remember, European institutions have been remorselessly critical of Turkey’s human rights record, in particular the country’s perceived over-militarization and persecution of its large Kurdish minority. The European Court of Human Rights has also penalized Turkey in numerous judgements condemning the depredations suffered by Greek Cypriots during the 1974 invasion, and awarding large sums in compensation for the loss of property.
HITS: 2320 | 1-06-2004, 17:51 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Cyprus , Political science, Political leaders
BHHRG sent observers to monitor the conduct of the election itself held on 14th December 2003. As TRNC is an unrecognised state, official monitoring organizations like the OSCE as well as EU bodies were unwilling to send representatives to observe the poll. However, a group from the University of Oslo had been in TRNC for several months monitoring the campaign and a small number of German SPD MPs (including a member of Turkish Cypriot origin) attended the election itself. There were also two British observers, acknowledged supporters of TRNC. 7 parties contested the 50 seats in TRNC’s parliament. Elections are conducted by a complicated system of proportional representation which allows not only a vote for the bloc but also a preferential vote which can be for candidates from other parties. There is a 5% threshold for entry into parliament. By polling day, 141,479 electors had been registered.
The international community’s central ambition was to have the Annan Plan accepted and Cyprus reunited before 1st May 2004. If this didn’t come about, only the internationally recognised southern part of the island would enter the EU on that date with 9 other accession countries. Since the plan was put forward, most efforts had been spent wooing the Turkish Cypriots – successfully as it turned out. Large demonstrations took place in January and February 2003, sending a signal to President Denktaş and his government that people wanted change. This came about on 14th December 2003, when the leading opposition party, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which supported the plan, narrowly won the parliamentary elections.
A visit to Roma communities in Eastern Slovakia following recent unrest brought about by sharp reductions in social security payments.
Eastern Slovakia Today
As the accession date for 10 new member states to join the EU drew closer in the early months of 2004, worries started to be raised in the British media about the likelihood of mass immigration to the UK from the 8 former Communist accession countries. The tabloid press, in particular, focused on the thousands of poverty-stricken Roma people living in economically disadvantaged areas like Eastern Slovakia predicting that many of them would come to the UK after 1st May thus overburdening the country’s generous but overstretched social security system. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group has reported regularly from Slovakia and, in 1998, was one of the first human rights group’s to visit the now notorious Lunik 1X housing complex on the outskirts of the eastern Slovakian city of Košice where Roma residents had been moved from their previous homes in the centre of town.
HITS: 1942 | 27-12-2003, 01:02 | Comments: (0) | Categories: EU , Political science, Global Events
If ex-Communists and their kids are the avant-garde of the New World Order in the east, what about Western Europe? Although Tony Blair was never a member of the British Communist Party (CPGB) or any of its Trotskyite rivals, it is striking how all of his most belligerent ministers were one-time Party-members (and that lack of enthusiasm for war is expressed - if only by silence - by non-ex-Communists). Blair’s appointee as chairman of the Labour Party, Dr. John Reid was a Communist and is now the public face of New Labour’s New European-style aggressiveness. (In the early 1990s, Dr. Reid was one of the most vocal advocates of the Bosnian Serb cause and a drinking partner of the indicted war criminal, Dr. Radovan Karadzic, before a volte-face - typical of his career - when he became one of the most vocal New Labour advocates of bombing Yugoslavia in 1999.)
BHHRG was able to observe several polling stations on the day of the poll in County Dublin. The principal point of interest was the introduction of a new electronic voting system. Voters present themselves at a desk, as would be customary for any normal vote, and are then issued with a ticket which they take and present to someone sitting next to the voting machine. This enables them to go behind it and cast their vote. At the beginning of the voting day, a print-out is taken showing that the chip in each voting machine registers zero. Equally, at the end of the day, a print-out is again taken, this time showing the number of votes cast at each voting station, but not the way they were cast.
The ground having been laid, the way was open for a campaign to take place in which the Yes campaign had massive predominance over the No. Literally the whole of establishment Ireland weighed in to support the Yes campaign against the No. The No camp, by contrast, was run essentially by citizens’ groups. The imbalance was clearest in the funding given to each side. The Yes probably spent 20 times more than the No: its total expenditure was reportedly at least €1.68 million. Against this, the No campaign spent approximately €170,500. The Yes figure included the following expenditure: Fianna Fáil, the governing party, spent €500,000; IBEC, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, €500,000; Fine Gael, the opposition party, spent €150,000, also for a Yes; the Progressive Democrats, a governing party, spent €125,000; The Irish Alliance for Europe, €100,000; the Irish Farmers’ Association, €150,000; the International Financial Services Centre, €25,000; the Labour Party €25,000; the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, €100,000. On top of this, the Government of Ireland spent €750,000 and Irish Euro MP, Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, spent c. €80,000 on a Yes campaign bus. By contrast, the “No to Nice” campaign spent no more than € 120,000.
HITS: 1996 | 1-05-2003, 16:59 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Estonia , Elections, Political science
BHHRG observed the voting in Paldiski, Keila, Rakvere, Vaike-Maarja and Tartu. On the whole, the voting was conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner, but BHHRG’s observers were struck by the absence of domestic observers in any of the polling stations - the only exception was at Paldiski No. 1, where one observer was present. This observer was actually a candidate from the Russian Party (which campaigned on a platform of overhauling the health system to allow inexpensive Russian medicines into the country). This should set alarm bells ringing for the forthcoming EU referendum is held with a similar dearth of domestic observers. In other polling stations, BHHRG encountered a few minor problems. In Keila No. 2, also in the 4th district, BHHRG found the polling station housed in a sports complex that did not qualify as a public building. The complex, which included an indoor swimming pool, was a business concern that belonged to a “sports union.” This was odd, considering Keila was clearly a large enough municipality to have schools and other public buildings to serve as polling stations. BHHRG was bothered by the large poster of Reform Party leader and Prime Minister Siim Kallas displayed just beyond the parking lot, a little too close to the polling station entrance for comfort.