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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The referendum in Cyprus: parliamentary elections in TRNC
HITS: 2174 | 1-06-2004, 17:44 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Cyprus , Elections, Political science

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.

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Human Rights and the Roma
HITS: 1997 | 12-05-2004, 21:49 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , PR and human rights

Western human rights groups were complaining about the treatment of Czechoslovakia’s Roma minorities as far back as the mid 1980s. When the country split into the Czech and Slovak Republics monitoring of the situation increased under the auspices of the Council of Europe and other EU institutions. At the same time, various cross border Romany NGOs were formed, ostensibly to protect the rights of this large and controversial minority. Funding was made available for a variety of projects, including the EU’s own PHARE project which supported initiatives to improve both living and educational standards for the Roma. On top of this, the Slovak government appointed a minister for Roma Affairs at the time of writing the post is held by Klara Orgovanova, herself of Roma origin.
While many of the people involved in NGO work are well-meaning, many projects have been based on the (mis)understanding that the Roma inhabit a quaint, picturesque bohème world strumming the cembalon and speak their ancient Romany language. Mrs Orgovanova’s web page features what purports to be a Romany dance troop regaled in their finest, völkisch costumes as they perform some elaborate peasant dance.

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Roma Life in Eastern Slovakia
HITS: 1971 | 12-05-2004, 18:45 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , World health

It is difficult to say how many Roma live in Slovakia – the number has been put at c.400,000.[1] Slovak government representatives claim that only 30% live in miserable conditions while the remaining 70% - the majority - is fully integrated into normal Slovak life. However, in conversations with BHHRG, some Roma estimated that barely 10% of their population was, in fact, living what might be called a ‘normal’ life. Many Roma families have upward of four children and BHHRG met people with as many as eight young mouths to feed. Nowadays, all these children are likely to live into adulthood – unlike in the past - as the Slovak authorities operate a full vaccination programme within the Roma communities.[2] However, BHHRG noted several examples of children and young people with severe birth defects while the toil associated with endless childbirth and rampant poverty means that Roma women do not live to a great age. BHHRG saw no elderly women – though many who were prematurely aged - during their visits to the Roma settlements in Eastern Slovakia.

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Slovakia's Roma Shame: Welcome to the New Europe
HITS: 1815 | 12-05-2004, 18:36 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , Political science

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.[1]
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.[2]

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East is East, and West is East
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.)

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Ireland votes: Observation of the poll
HITS: 1938 | 5-06-2003, 07:59 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Ireland , Elections

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.

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Ireland Votes Again
HITS: 2036 | 5-06-2003, 07:37 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Ireland , Elections, Analyzing

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.[1] Against this, the No campaign spent approximately €170,500. The Yes figure included the following expenditure: Fianna Fáil, the governing party, spent €500,000[2]; 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.

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The Election in Estonia: Polling day and results
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.

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Estonia, NATO and the War on Iraq
HITS: 1992 | 1-05-2003, 16:42 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Estonia , PR and human rights, Analyzing

Estonia’s entry into NATO and the EU should have been significant issues, but BHHRG’s impression was that NATO entry was not at the forefront of average voters’ minds – perhaps people fail to appreciate the costs of NATO entry which demands that 2% of a country’s GDP be spent annually on defence. All six parties that were predicted to make it into parliament favoured membership in both organizations, although, official opinion polls showed popular support for EU below that for NATO. In fact, Estonia has gained something of a reputation among Eurosceptics as the least enthusiastic of the candidate members. A group of British Eurosceptics recently set up a fund to help the Estonian ‘No’ campaign with its public relations, needless to say, all state funding, as well as assistance from Brussels goes to those in favour of accession to the union. Estonia’s referendum is planned for September, months after most of the other 10 countries have voted a sign, perhaps, that any lingering doubts will be put to rest when it is seen that everyone else has voted ‘Yes’.

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Estonia 2003 electoral issues: official and real
HITS: 2073 | 3-04-2003, 16:33 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Estonia , Elections, Political science

Background to the election
Estonia gained independence from the USSR on 6th Sept., 1991, a couple of weeks after the abortive coup attempt in Moscow against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. From this point onward, the Estonian Popular Front, founded in 1988, took the lead in political life. Led by Edgar Savisaar (now Mayor of Tallinn and leader of the Centre Party) and Marju Lauristin (now a leader of the Moderate Party), the Popular Front expanded to include various nationalist parties such as the staunchly anti-Communist “Pro Patria Union” led by one-time prime minister Mart Laar. Eventually the Popular Front disintegrated into the plethora of parties visible in Estonia today, and the republic began its post-independence political life of endlessly shifting coalitions.
There was not much to distinguish the leading parties competing in the 2nd March election from each other. The Moderates, Centre Party, Reform Party, Res Publica and Pro Patria all agreed on issues such as NATO and EU entry, privatization and continuation of the present discriminatory policies towards the Russian minority. The People’s Union finessed their position on the EU question somewhat by stating that it would not support entry into a ‘federal Europe’. A smaller entity, the Independence Party had a different profile being opposed to EU membership, but as it is regularly attacked for neo-fascism, it never surmounts the 5% threshold necessary to gain a seat in parliament.

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