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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Mikheil Saakashvili: Power Grab
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[1], 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.

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Georgia 2005: Rose Revolutionary Justice
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.

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Georgia 2005: Main Conclusion
HITS: 2081 | 21-12-2005, 00:17 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Analyzing, Global Events

During the 1990s, BHHRG regularly criticized the Shevardnadze regime for human rights abuses and electoral fraud. However, by 2001, this darling of the West was unexpectedly feeling the heat and the message was clear: regime change was in the air. Paradoxically, by this time, some things were improving in Georgia. All political prisoners (mainly supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) had been released, the media was free and television, in particular, regularly broadcast exposés of the regime’s perceived wrongdoings. Finally, in 2003, no doubt aware of the vultures circling above, the government conducted clean parliamentary elections for the first time since 1992. Those who repeatedly point to fraud in this poll overlook the fact that by ‘cheating’ the Citizen’s Union (the government party) only claimed 21% support of the electorate. There was no criticism from the West when Mikheil Saakashvili won a Stalin-style 96% of the vote in the presidential election held in January 2004 and, later in March, when the National Movement party won nearly all the seats in parliament.

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Georgia 2005: The Council of Europe
HITS: 2006 | 21-12-2005, 00:09 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Politics

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.[1] 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...

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Apathy NOT fraud undermines Azerbaijan�s Parliamentary Election
HITS: 2296 | 17-11-2005, 18:43 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Azerbaijan, Elections

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.)

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The Baltic States, Russia and the West
HITS: 2013 | 11-11-2005, 21:46 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Latvia , Analyzing, Global Events

There seems little doubt that Latvia is pursuing a nationalities policy which, if adopted anywhere else, would be the object of universal condemnation. There is effectively no criticism at all of this full-frontal assault on the established rights of a sizeable and historic population. Instead, Latvia continues to receive support for its policies. Estonia is in a similar position. There, a similar version of the same law is being introduced, albeit with a longer transitional period. BHHRG interviewed a former director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Tallinn, Arkady Prisjazny. Married to an Estonian, Prisjazny said that there was simply no dialogue between the Estonians and the Russians in Estonia. He quoted examples of aggressive anti-Russian sentiment being expressed by government officials, such as when on 29th January 2002 the new head of the secret police said that the country’s primary goal was to get rid of the “Russian spectre”.

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Latvian minorities: The educational reform
HITS: 2440 | 10-11-2005, 21:38 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Latvia , Political leaders

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.

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Latvia: Double standards in the Baltics
HITS: 3420 | 10-11-2005, 21:31 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Latvia , Analyzing

Although their rights are under attack, Latvia's Russian minority is ignored by the international community.
During the whole period of so-called democratic “transition” in Eastern Europe, minority rights have been a growth industry for international human rights activists. They have received special attention in the Balkans, where national minorities have been at the heart of international interference in the region since the treaty of Versailles. In Macedonia, in Romania and in Serbia the issue of minority rights - especially the right to education in the minority mother tongue - has frequently been at the forefront of political debate. So great is the importance attached to them, indeed, that in the case of Serbia, the changing of the school history curriculum in Kosovo in 1989 to include more Serbian history, and less of the history of neighbouring Albania, was seriously advanced as one of the casus belli for the Albanian uprising ten years later. In Macedonia, from 2000, the failure of the Macedonian state to recognise the freelance Albanian-language University of Tetovo was also used as an excuse to start an armed rebellion – a rebellion which was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by the international community.

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Who Supports and Who Opposes Karimov?
HITS: 2678 | 24-08-2005, 23:41 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Political leaders

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.”[1]

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Events in Andijan: Will international scrutiny get to the bottom of what happened?
HITS: 2222 | 24-08-2005, 23:28 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , PR and human rights, Global Events

Demands for an “independent international inquiry” into the events in Andijan came thick and fast after 13th May. Getting reliable information was clearly difficult and yet providing a clear account of what happened would certainly help any peaceful settlement of the dispute. Nonetheless, the loudest voices calling for such an “independent international inquiry” have form. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has hardly encouraged openness about his own country’s role in imprisoning suspected terrorists or their treatment in US custody. The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, was the Prosecutor at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, whose Canadian citizenship did not recuse her from charging Slobodan Milosevic with genocide when country Canada was participating in a war with his. The perception of Western hypocrisy is as important as the reality of any faults in the West’s treatment of suspects of terrorism or “rogue regimes”.

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