Amnesty Int’l: Europe and Central Asia Regional Overview

Amnesty International
May 26 2004


External Document

AI Index: POL 10/013/2004 (Public)
News Service No: 122
26 May 2004

Embargo Date: 26 May 2004 09:00 GMT

Europe and Central Asia Regional Overview
Covering events from January to December 2003

Governments across Europe and Central Asia continued to use the
so-called “war on terror” to undermine human rights in the name of
security. Among the steps taken by governments were regressive moves
on “anti-terrorist” legislation, attacks on refugee protection, and
restrictions on freedom of association and expression. Simplistic
rhetoric about security, immigration and asylum, together with an
upsurge in populism, bolstered racism and discriminatory practices
towards minorities across the region. The lack of political will
shown by the European Union (EU) to confront human rights violations
within its own borders was increasingly disturbing, particularly in
light of the planned accession of 10 new member states in 2004. Those
responsible for violations, including torture or ill-treatment,
continued to enjoy impunity.

‘War on terror’

Under the auspices of combating “terrorism” governments continued to
undermine human rights in law and practice. By the end of the year,
14 foreign nationals who could not be deported remained interned in
the United Kingdom (UK) under legislation that allowed for indefinite
detention without charge or trial, principally on the basis of secret
evidence. Those detained in the UK under “anti-terrorism” legislation
were held in high-security facilities under severely restricted

Spain continued to ignore long-standing recommendations by various
international bodies to introduce greater safeguards for suspects
held under “anti-terrorist” legislation, and indeed planned to more
than double the time which certain people could be held
incommunicado. The authorities also closed the only entirely
Basque-language newspaper and 10 people associated with it were held
under “anti-terrorist” legislation in moves that appeared to be
injurious to the right to freedom of expression.

The authorities in Uzbekistan used the “war on terror” to justify a
continuing clampdown on religious and political dissent. At least
6,000 political prisoners remained in jail there and members of
independent Islamic congregations were among those who faced
detention and intimidation. In Turkmenistan, a wave of repression
continued, following an alleged assassination attempt in November
2002 on the President, with scores of 198 people convicted after
blatantly unfair trials amid credible allegations of torture and

Government efforts to limit asylum provisions and immigration
benefited from the new language of “national security” and
“counter-terrorism”, with an emphasis on control rather than
protection. In Italy, for example, there were fears that some
asylumseekers were forced to return to countries where they risked
grave human rights violations and that some individuals, expelled on
grounds that they posed a danger to national security and public
order, had no opportunity to challenge the decision in fair
proceedings. The human rights perspective remained lacking from the
thinking of the EU on asylum, which continued to promote a further
sealing off of the EU at the expense of international protection


Racism, discrimination and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia, continued to be a major concern across the region.
Manifestations included institutional racism in the spheres of
economic, social and cultural rights.

Discrimination against Roma was widespread in many states in the
region, often affecting virtually all areas of life including access
to education, housing, employment and social services. Many people
seeking to return home after being displaced by war in the western
Balkans faced discrimination on ethnic grounds, particularly with
regard to accessing employment, education and health care. This acted
as a barrier against the return and reintegration of minorities.
Racist application of citizenship laws in the Russian Federation
meant that certain ethnic minority groups – including members of the
Meskhetian population inone region – remained effectively stateless,
and as such were denied access to pensions, child benefits and higher

Racism continued as a backdrop to human rights abuses by law
enforcement officials in the administration of justice. Reports of
race-related illtreatment by law enforcement officials came from a
distressingly wide range of states, including Belgium, Bulgaria,
France, Greece, Italy, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovakia,
Slovenia and Spain. There was also a lack of due diligence by some
states in investigating and prosecuting assaults by private actors on
minorities, ethnic as well as religious. In Georgia, for example,
religious minorities continued to face harassment, intimidation and
violent attacks, while the police failed to provide adequate
protection for those targeted or show vigour in prosecuting those
allegedly responsible.

Lack of human rights protection

Torture and ill-treatment were reported from across the region,
including in Albania, Moldova, Romania and Serbia and Montenegro,
where reports of such treatment were common and credible. In Turkey,
torture and ill-treatment in police detention remained a matter of
grave concern, despite some positive legislative reforms. In Germany,
an intense public debate on the permissible use of torture occurred
after it emerged that a senior police officer had ordered a
subordinate to use force against a criminal suspect. Some states,
such as Belgium, Italy and Switzerland, lacked fundamental safeguards
against ill-treatment in police custody.

In other states, such as Greece, Macedonia, Portugal and Spain, there
were reports of reckless or excessive use of firearms, sometimes
resulting in deaths. In several countries, conditions in prisons as
well as in detention facilities holding asylum-seekers and
unauthorized immigrants, were cruel and degrading. In some states,
people with mental disabilities were treated inhumanely – in social
care homes in Bulgaria, and through the use of cage beds in the Czech
Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. Many states lacked independent
scrutiny mechanisms to address such violations, a problem compounded
by the continued failure to accept accountability at EU level for
human rights observance by member states.

In some states impunity for human rights violations continued. In
Turkey, the ratio of prosecutions of members of the security forces
to complaints of torture and ill-treatment filed by members of the
public continued to be pitifully low. Russian Federation security
forces continued to act with virtual impunity in the conflict in the
Chechen Republic, amid ongoing reports of their involvement in
torture and “disappearances”. Continued impunity for wartime
violations remained a concern in the western Balkans. Although some
people suspected of war crimes were transferred to the custody of the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, others
continued to evade arrest, some apparently protected by authorities
in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. Thousands
of “disappearances” that occurred during the 1992-1995 war remained
unresolved. Although there were some domestic prosecutions for war
crimes, lack of political will and deficiencies in the domestic
justice systems led to continued widespread impunity.

In Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, dissent from official
policies in civic, religious and political life was systematically
and often brutally repressed. Human rights defenders in a number of
countries faced threats and detention, including in Turkey where a
range of laws and regulations was used to frustrate their activity,
and in Azerbaijan where a campaign by the state-sponsored media
against several prominent human rights defenders culminated in
violent attacks on their offices and raised fears for their safety
and that of their families. In both these countries, as well as in
other states such as Italy, Greece and Switzerland, police were
reported to have used excessive force against demonstrators.

The lack of effective redress for human rights violations in
countries in Europe compounded concerns about proposals under
consideration which Amnesty International Report 2004 would have the
effect of curtailing redress available at the regional level in the
European Court of Human Rights. Member states of the Council of
Europe proposed adding new admissibility criteria to the only
international human rights court where individuals enjoy the right of
direct petition.

Violence against women

Human rights violations against women and girls continued across the
region. In the context of trafficking and forced prostitution, there
were concerns that victims were being failed by the judicial systems
in source, transit and destination countries. Domestic violence was
also an entrenched problem across Europe and Central Asia, from
Belgium to the Russian Federation. Contributory factors included
states regarding domestic violence as belonging to the “private
sphere”; a lack of legal provisions in some states specifically
prohibiting or criminalizing domestic violence; a lack of specialist
police units and training; insufficient provisions to provide
protection to victims; and court decisions which did not always
reflect the gravity of such offences.

Death penalty

There were some positive moves on the death penalty during the year.
Armenia abolished capital punishment in peacetime, Kazakstan
announced a moratorium on executions pending legislation on
abolition, and Kyrgyzstan maintained its moratorium on executions.
Tajikistan, while retaining the death penalty, reduced its scope.
However, in recent years Tajikistan and the two other retentionist
states in the region, Belarus and Uzbekistan, have continued to carry
out executions. The level of executions was believed to be
particularly high in Uzbekistan, where scores of people have been
executed in recent years after unfair trials, frequently amid
allegations of torture, and with corruption an integral part of the
investigation, trial and appeal in such cases. In Belarus, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan, the clemency process and executions themselves were
shrouded in secrecy, compounding the punishment inflicted not only on
the prisoners but also on their families. Executions took place in
secret, with family members and friends denied the chance to say
goodbye; in many cases families were not told for months whether
their relative was alive or had been executed. They were also not
told where their loved one was buried. None of these three countries
published comprehensive statistics on their use of the death penalty.

Action for human rights

Although human rights remained under attack across the region, action
to promote and protect fundamental rights continued. Many voices
highlighted that human rights and security are not incompatible, but
indivisible and interdependent. Human rights defenders continued
their work despite harassment, intimidation and detention. Social
movements responded to a range of human rights concerns in the
region, bringing together activists across borders, with forums such
as the Second European Social Forum in Paris, France, in November
providing opportunities for regional coordination of popular
activism. Strong regional intergovernmental bodies, including the
Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation
in Europe, continued to play key roles in promoting and protecting
human rights. 200 Amnesty International Report 2004.

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From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS