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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Macedonia: Re-districting or partition?
HITS: 1992 | 7-01-2005, 20:48 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , PR and human rights

Macedonia’s current local government legislation dates back to 1996 when the current president Branko Crvenkovski was prime minister of an SDSM-led government. Then the current main opposition party, VMRO-DPME, opposed the changes. Each big Macedonian party has reversed its position on local government and this, no doubt, contributes to cynicism among ordinary Macedonian citizens of all ethnicities.
The Ohrid Agreement and Euro-Atlantic integration are invariably cited as the main reason for changing the 1996 arrangements with subsidiary emphasis on the changes alleged benefits to local people and local government finances and services.
Although re-districting had been an issue hovering in the background of post-Ohrid Macedonian politics it only really took off as an issue from early 2004. By mid-summer widespread protests and referendums in 41 localities (not all ethnically mixed) had expressed opposition to proposed changes.

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Macedonia Referendum: Block the Vote
HITS: 3240 | 7-01-2005, 03:14 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Macedonia , Politics

Referendum on the proposed re-districting of local government units 7th November 2004

Macedonia, the missing jigsaw piece of the European superstate. A poster on display in the weeks leading up to the referendum

On 7th November 2004, fewer than 30% of eligible voters turned out in Macedonia’s referendum on local government re-organisation which required a minimum 50% participation. Hardly a subject to disturb the headline-writers, one might have thought. Yet Washington and Brussels worked overtime to achieve that level of apathy. The low turnout was hailed as a triumph for Euro-Atlantic values. Perhaps an invalid Balkan referendum on an obscure local issue tells us more about the New World Order than anyone might have expected.

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European Elections in Lithuania, 2004
HITS: 2064 | 8-09-2004, 13:32 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Elections, Political science, Analyzing

Enter the Labour Party: On 13th June, Lithuania also held its first elections to select 13 MPs to the European parliament. From the established parties the Social Democrats won 2 seats, the Liberal-Centrist Union, 2, Homeland Union 2, Liberal Democrats, 1, Farmers and New Democracy, 1. Although Paksas’s Liberal Democrats might have expected to gain support after the acknowledged unpopularity of the impeachment process, the main winner was the upstart Labour Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a former Social Liberal MP, which won 5 seats.
Lithuania’s Labour Party is a classic jack-in-the-box creation which suddenly appeared in October 2003 and immediately took a lead in the opinion polls. It mirrors similar parties that have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, in several former Communist countries. For instance, the Smer (Direction) party in Slovakia and Bulgaria’s National Movement for Simeon 11 were created to drain support away from genuine opposition parties – in the case of Slovakia, from Vladmir Mečiar’s HZDS and in Bulgaria, from the Socialist Party (BSP). As Paksas continued to attract large numbers to his meet-the-people sessions the possibility presented itself that large numbers would vote Liberal Democrat in parliamentary elections scheduled for October, 2004.

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Presidential and European Elections in June, 2004
HITS: 1918 | 8-09-2004, 13:22 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Politics, Elections

BHHRG’s representative was present in Lithuania for the presidential election held on 13th June, 2004. Elections to the European parliament were held simultaneously. 5 candidates stood in the presidential poll while 12 parties contested the European election. By holding the polls on the same day Lithuania avoided the embarrassment of a spectacularly low voter turnout such as that registered in other ‘New European’ countries that day – for example, in Estonia, Poland and Slovakia. The reason for the different levels of participation was the greater interest engendered in Lithuania by the presidential election, although politicians themselves were keen to participate in the Euro poll, registering to stand as candidates in unprecedented numbers. No doubt, they were encouraged by the agreeable set of perks offered to Euro MPs by Brussels.
Presidential election: The 2004 presidential campaign proper only properly took off after the Constitutional Court banned Rolandas Paksas from standing as a candidate on 25th May. Whatever the legal niceties put forward for removing him from the race, if he had he been allowed to run he would have probably won convincingly, maybe even in the first round of voting. Had the authorities resorted to manipulating either the conduct of the poll or the counting of the votes (or both) the government in Vilnius was all too aware that Mr. Paksas had become something of a lightening rod for the thousands of Lithuanians who felt abandoned by the cosy power structures that run the country.

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Elections in Lithuania 2004: What Next?
HITS: 2087 | 8-09-2004, 13:01 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Elections, Analyzing

Whereas in South Korea, the Supreme Court (silently) acknowledged the will of the people as clearly expressed in the general election and reversed the parliamentary impeachment vote, in Lithuania it is precisely the Constitutional Court which has pre-empted the judgement of the people. The Lithuanian Court chose to go beyond even what Paksas’s parliamentary enemies sought. Like it or not, the Court made itself a central player in a political crisis by taking the initiative to enact a far-reaching constitutional law not expressed in any part of the written text. Leaving aside a likely appeal to the ECHR in Strasbourg as the Court’s ruling cannot now be directly challenged in Lithuania, it may not be the final word on the matter.
Various possibilities remain open to the Paksas camp for challenging the lifetime ban. First of all, a constitutional change might be pushed through by referendum. Or, the composition of the Court might alter as new judges replace the existing ones when their terms expire. Parliamentary elections due in the autumn might produce a majority which would not accept judges known to agree with the current Court’s anti-Paksas stance. As in America, nominations to the Constitutional Court could become bitterly contested.

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Elections in Lithuania 2004: Case for the Prosecution
HITS: 2102 | 8-09-2004, 12:42 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Foreign media, Political science

On 25th May, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a wide-ranging ruling banning any impeached person from holding public office for life. In other words, it went far beyond the retroactive law. Since the Constitutional Court’s lengthy ruling has yet to be translated into English, Mr. Šukys kindly explained his understanding of the Court’s decision and its reasoning to the BHHRGs observers a few days after it was announced.
On the day of its judgement the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Egidijus Kuris, and spokesperson, Ramune Sakalauskaite, were widely quoted in the international as well as the Lithuanian media saying that "The Constitutional Court found that the amendments to the law on presidential elections, under which people impeached from their posts cannot be elected for five years, does not run counter to the constitution," [1]

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Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Lithuania 2004
HITS: 1903 | 8-09-2004, 12:31 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Lithuania , Politics, Elections

“If our citizens allow Paksas’s political corpse to be raised again, Lithuania will face the gloomy prospect of becoming a black hole on the outskirts of Europe.”
Lietuvos Rytas  (7th April 2004)

BHHRG has followed the progress of Lithuania’s political travails closely since the surprise election of Rolandas Paksas as the country’s president in January, 2003. The Group visited Lithuania in February 2004 as Paksas fought off allegations of corruption and compromising the country’s security  by going over the heads of his parliamentary opponents to appeal directly to the people in a series of nationwide town hall meetings. BHHRG concluded that much of the information disseminated in the West about Mr. Paksas was biased and uninformed. The roots of the crisis fundamental to any democracy were never fully explored, namely, who gives a politician legitimacy ? Is it the voters or non-elected bodies like the constitutional court?

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Events in Kosovo: Prizren
HITS: 2802 | 18-08-2004, 22:34 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , Analyzing, War and peace

Prizren is about as far from Kosovska Mitrovica as it is possible to get in Kosovo. This south-western city of medieval Orthodox churches and Ottoman mosques was one of the worst affected parts of the province by the anti-Serb pogrom. Although Western media reports routinely attributed the March 2004 Albanian on Serb violence to a reawakening of the desire for revenge as a result of Albanian sufferings at the hands of Serb forces in 1999, the mass attack on Serbs in Prizren casts doubt on the idea of revenge as the psychological root of the violence.
Contrary to common assumptions, Prizren did not suffer from brutal ethnic cleansing in the spring of 1999. Local Albanians there could not have harboured barely repressed anger against any erstwhile Serb persecutors in 1999 because the city was not the victim of ethnic cleansing. As television footage of the arrival of German troops on 12th June, 1999 revealed, large numbers of Albanians of all age groups and both sexes were in the city to welcome their liberators.
Prizren survived the 78-day NATO war against Yugoslavia almost undamaged. At the outbreak of the NATO bombing campaign radical Serb nationalists blew up the League of Prizren monument in the city.

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Cultural Genocide in Kosovo
HITS: 2850 | 18-08-2004, 22:20 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , Global Events, War and peace

Arson and vandalism after 17th March, 2004

On 17th March, 2004, rioting spread across the UN-administered province of Kosovo. At least nineteen people, mainly Serbs trapped in village ghettoes since June, 1999, were murdered. Many Serb houses were damaged or destroyed by fire. A number of important historical monuments also came under attack. BHHRG has sent observers to Kosovo on numerous occasions since the end of the NATO air war in June, 1999. In March 2003, the Group had warned that the steady withdrawal of KFOR troops from Serb enclaves left both the ghettoised population and their cultural monuments at risk if the Albanian majority turned on them. At that time, a Swedish KFOR contingent had pulled its tanks away from the world famous orthodox monastery at Gračanica outside Priština.[1]
Ostensibly, the violence broke out when local Albanians were enraged by reports that three teenage boys had been chased to their deaths in the River Ibar by a gang of Serbs accompanied by savage dogs. According to the initial reports, these events took place near the ethnically-divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica in the north of the province which had been a flashpoint for violence in the past.

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Kosovo: Independence as (the Final) Solution
HITS: 2209 | 18-08-2004, 00:25 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Serbia , Analyzing, Global Events

On 25th May, the UN’s special representative Harri Halkeri announced his resignation. It would be unfair to pin all the blame for Kosovo’s recent problems on him. He was simply the latest in a line of international officials who have presided over the consequences of the war in 1999. The NATO states fought that war on a false premise. Their propaganda blaming the Serbs for all the region’s ills and boasting about the Alliance’s ability to restore order and prosperity to a “multi-cultural” Kosovo/a has proven entirely false. Only the fact that the Western media was so implicated in spouting the NATO line and therefore has been unwilling to revisit and question much of what it had reported has prevented Western audiences discovering how disastrous the post-1999 situation in Kosovo has been.
Whereas the violent resistance in Iraq has shaken complacent support for the Bush-Blair line there, the fact that violence in Kosovo has been largely directed by the Albanian majority at the Serb and other minorities with very few KFOR casualties[1] (and most of those caused by mutual fights or suicides) means that the Western media have not given the negative realities of Kosovo remotely the same level of coverage as Iraq has received. If Serbs, for instance, had waged guerrilla warfare against NATO forces as Iraqis have against US and others in Iraq, or as Albanians have in southern Serbia and Macedonia repeatedly since 1999, then their plight might well have been noticed and even steps taken to improve conditions for them in Kosovo.

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