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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An account of the US midterm elections: The ghost of 2000
HITS: 1930 | 29-11-2002, 09:10 | Comments: (0) | Categories: United States , Politics, Elections
Haitians demonstrating outside Miami's Immigration & Naturalization Service building in Little Haiti on the night of 4th November 2002 Background During the 2000 US election, international news media – particularly US media outlets such as CNN, CBS, etc. – were unable to announce a winner on the night of polling day, reportedly because the result was “too close to call.” To some extent, the US media’s tradition of “calling” elections when only a fraction (sometimes as low as 3%) of votes has been counted did indeed contribute to the embarrassing spectacle in the world’s largest Western democracy, since the hullabaloo surrounding the close finish in Florida intensified an already chaotic situation. The practice of “exit polls” has been standard for television news networks for decades, and journalist Lynn Landes of www.Ecotalk.org has speculated on a link between vote-rigging in America and the computerization of election outcome predictions from 1964 onward (see “Election Night Projections – Cover for Vote-Rigging Since 1964?” Dissident Voice, Sept. 23, 2002). The acceptance by election officials of predicted outcomes also meant that the laborious task of counting postal ballots was dumped in some states up to and including 2000 because it was decided that they could not influence the predicted outcome where sufficiently wide anticipated margins based on exit polls and partial counts already existed. This meant that exact results including hand-filled early/postal ballots were often not provided.
Florida Revisited: An account of the US midterm elections
HITS: 1868 | 29-11-2002, 08:55 | Comments: (0) | Categories: United States , Politics, Elections
BHHRG visited Florida to see whether the conduct of the 2002 midterm elections would represent an improvement on the 2000 presidential poll. Executive Summary America held mid-term elections on 5th November, 2002. A third of the Senate and the whole House of Representatives were up for re-election as were 36 state governorships. At the same time, many states held referendums on a raft of local issues as well as elections for school boards. The elections attracted much attention – both in the US and worldwide. For example, it was the first US election to be observed by a team of monitors from the OSCE/ODIHR, presumably because it presented the first opportunity to scrutinize the US system since the much-derided presidential election of 2000. The elections were also widely viewed as a referendum on President Bush’s ‘war against terror’ as well as providing the administration in Washington with a possible mandate for a future war with Iraq.
The Legacy of the Gothenburg Summit Riots (June, 2001)
HITS: 1763 | 30-10-2002, 05:06 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Sweden , Politics, Global Events
Sweden’s image as a peaceful law-abiding society was shattered by the world-wide broadcast of riots at the combined EU and EU-US summit in Gothenburg in June, 2001. The scenes of vandalism and the resort to firearms by the Swedish police were sharp breaks with tradition. The Group’s observers heard claims that the police had doctored video tape evidence by overlaying the film track of defendants clashing with the police with another soundtrack which gave the impression that the crowds around him were chanting aggressive slogans. Several people made this point independently. A defense lawyer suggested that since the opening of the trial of one of his German clients had been prefaced by the playing of the videotape in which the defendant did not appear, that this unprecedented use of audio-visual material in a Swedish court had the effect of creating an emotive atmosphere prejudicial to all defendants, even those not featured on the film or soundtrack.
The question of future inflows of people from EU accession-states likely to join the EU in 2004/05 was avoided in the campaign. From this Group’s experience and recent opinion polls in candidate countries like Poland or Slovakia, Sweden may expect a marked increase in arrivals from its neighbors across the Baltic. Up to 7 million Poles are expected to seek work in the existing EU states after Poland’s accession (regardless of any rules limiting free movement of labour which might be conditions of entry). Migration on this scale cannot help but be a socio-economic issue in the politics of the existing member states like Sweden. Left-wing parties like the Marxist KPML (r), which has a strong municipal presence in Gothenburg also find themselves largely invisible in the established media even if they would share the established media’s revulsion at the Swedish Democrats’ views. On the question of immigration, the extra-Parliamentary left seems divided between those who see accepting an influx of foreigners and defending their right to maintain their own identity as an act of solidarity, and those who fear that wages and social conditions will be eroded by the import of a “reserve army of labour” as Marx himself might have characterized it.
Although the Swedish PR system appears to guarantee equal chances and reasonable local access to all potential points of view, there are features of the electoral system which, despite being in force for many years, are of dubious value. Like most people in Britain, most Swedes are understandably proud of their long history of parliamentary government. However, as in Britain complacency about election procedures can creep into the system and make people unaware of emerging flaws or even irregularities and cheating. Although initial counts in the individual polling stations around the country are open to observers from the different parties and members of the general public, participation of non-members of election commissions throughout the whole counting process is not universal. Where all members of the local commission are known to each other and may be friends/comrades, even if not drawn from the same party, there is always the risk of collusion in counting. This, admittedly small risk, is magnified by the very large number of ballot papers floating around the country. Given that voters, and even non-citizens, can pick up ballot papers at post offices around the country at least 18 days before the election day, the possibility of “valid” ballot papers being available to substitute for ballots actually cast exists.
Sweden is one of Europe's oldest democracies, but are its elections as correct and fair as the country's reputation would suggest... This Group’s election observers are often asked by ordinary voters in the post-Communist societies where much of the BHHRG’s activities take place whether there aren’t enough problems back home in the West to keep them occupied. Unlike some other human rights groups, the BHHRG’s observers have never operated on the presumption that they come from states of perfection to observe others. As readers will remember, this Group suggested that serious flaws are apparent in the existing British electoral system and that they are likely to be worsened by proposals to make voter turnout rather than ballot security the key criterion in future regulation of elections in the U.K. A Swedish correspondent, who shares an interest in much of the Group’s monitoring of human rights and democracy in the Balkans especially, suggested that the BHHRG should monitor aspects of the forthcoming Swedish general election. Along with several other academics, journalists, lawyers and political activists, he suggested that the run-up to the polls on 15th September, 2002, would be a suitable time to study what was happening in the Swedish general election campaign but also some of the controversial issues omitted by common consent of the parties already sitting in the Riksdag.
The Irish and European political classes clearly received a considerable shock when the Irish voted No to Nice in June 2001. Dublin decided almost immediately to prepare the ground for a new referendum. Indeed, the determination of the political class as a whole to force Nice through is evidenced by the fact that both of the main political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, campaigned for a yes vote. Like political classes across Europe, the desire for unaccountable power in Ireland is great enough to unite all sides in pressing for ever close European integration. The preparations for the second referendum were minutely laid. The first change was radically to overhaul the role of the Referendum Commission which is responsible for running referendums in Ireland. That Commission had been created in 1998, following an appeal to the country’s Supreme Court in 1995 by the Green Party Member of the European Parliament, Patricia McKenna.
A report on the second Irish Referendum on the Nice Treaty
HITS: 1882 | 5-06-2002, 06:40 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Ireland , PR and human rights, Politics
On 19th October, the Republic of Ireland held a second referendum on the Nice treaty. That treaty, signed at Nice in December 2000, restructures the European Union, ostensibly with the aim of permitting the accession of 10 new member states in 2004. The first Irish referendum on Nice, which had been held in June 2001, had produced a clear negative result, to which the Irish government reacted by telling the other EU member states to press ahead with their ratification processes. This they duly did, and so when the Irish government put the same treaty before the Irish electorate a second time, a fait accompli had been created, in which Ireland was the only country not to have ratified the text. All other EU states ratified the treaty through parliamentary means. It is a sad reflection on the state of democracy in Europe that the only country to have held a democratic vote on this latest stage in the EU integration process should have deliberately ignored the results of a perfectly legitimate vote in 2001, only to submit the text again a year later. It goes without saying that referendums which produce Yes results are never run a second time.
A new report by the International Federation of Journalists is highly critical of the media situation in Hungary. BHHRG considers the allegations behind the report and asks whether the Czech scenario could be repeated in Budapest. Introduction
Following the successful rebellion at the state television in the Czech Republic (see BHHRG report Turmoil at Czech Television) there have been numerous suggestions that similar disruptions will follow in Hungary. In particular, the International Federation of Journalists, which supported the rebels in Prague, has issued a report harshly criticising the state of the media there ("Television on the Brink: the political and professional crisis of public broadcasting in Hungary"). As the sudden flare-up in Prague shows, events can occur very quickly and their speed helps to obscure the real issues at stake. BHHRG representatives, therefore, travelled to Budapest to investigate the media situation in Hungary. In the Czech republic, the sudden way in which the rebellion against the appointment of George Hodac as the new director of Czech TV broke out managed to obscure the fact that the real issues at stake were different from that which was reported in the Western media. As the BHHRG report shows, it owed little to any urge to ensure free speech and instead a lot to the desire to prevent restructuring of Czech TV and a proper financial audit being conducted into its rambling financial affairs. In Prague, there was also the additional ingredient of President Havel, who supported the strikers and whose penchant for "non-political politics" helped to change the system by which the TV council is composed, removing representatives nominated by political parties. These two elements - unclear finances and the role of political parties in the TV and radio councils - are both present in Hungary. This is why the forces who supported the putsch against Hodac in Prague may also think that similar results can be obtained in Budapest.
Euthanasia in the Netherlands: The present legal position
HITS: 2116 | 20-02-2002, 03:20 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Netherlands , Politics, World health
The present legal position, like the present Dutch practices, is ambiguous. From the purely legal point of view, both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal. However, even the law recognizes euthanasia and assisted suicide as lesser crimes than murder, which is not the case in most other countries or in international human rights law. The sentences which apply to euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Netherlands are markedly lower than those which apply to murder, for the simple reason that Dutch law does not consider these acts to be murder. Adherents of the argument that even partially permitting euthanasia leads down a "slippery slope" to uncontrollable abuses might well locate here, in the Dutch criminal code itself, the beginning of that slippery slope.
Article 293 of the Dutch penal code states, "He who, on the explicit and serious desire of another person, deprives him of his life, will be punished with an imprisonment of up to 12 years or a fine in the 5th category (100,000 guilders)." Article 294 states, "He who deliberately incites another person to commit suicide, renders assistance in doing so or provides him with the means to do so, will, in case suicide follows, be punished with an imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine in the 4th category (10,000 guilders)."