BELARUS UPDATE October 2002 (INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS)
Edited by Victor Cole
Vol. 5, No. 43
This year has been one of enormous repression and suffering in Belarus for brave activists attempting to defend the sovereignty and freedom of their homeland and struggling to protect the rights of the victims of the Lukashenko regime. Journalists, lawyers, clergy, and NGO activists have variously been subjected to threats, detentions, beatings, and even sentencing to corrective labor--a stark indication of the new worsening of state persecution this year. At the same time, even as the internal situation has deteriorated, the external attention to Belarus has lessened considerably as the international community has focused on Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, and some main donors have been compelled to reduce assistance.
Each year at American Thanksgiving time in November, we make a special year-end appeal for contributions to the League to assist our work. At this time we would like to appeal to all our Belarus Update readers who are concerned about democracy and human rights in Belarus to make a special contribution to the League's Emergency Response Program and directly assist individuals in need in Belarus. This year, due to the great amount of harassment people face, we have many more cases than in the past. We often receive requests for help from Belarus which are hard for the major foundations to cover in their regular grants programs, i.e. individual humanitarian relief, coverage of legal fees or court-ordered fines, temporary income maintenance for persons dismissed from employment, replacement of police-confiscated equipment, etc. That's why we must turn to you as concerned individuals to help us meet this need. As always, any emergency-response contributions donated to the League for this purpose will be sent directly and as quickly as possible to activists in need in Belarus, without any diversion of your contribution for overhead or administration.
Readers in the U.S. may send checks made out to "International League for Human Rights" (a non-profit organization with charitable status under 501-c-3) and marked "Belarus" to: ILHR, 823 UN Plaza, Suite 717, New York, NY 10017. You will receive an acknowledgement letter noting your tax-exempt contribution for use in your IRS return. Readers outside the U.S. may also contribute by sending a bank transfer to the League. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the transfer information
We hope we can count on you to help us help others in Belarus.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
CIS Program Director
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Regime Is To Shut Down OSCE Mission
- U.S. Says Belarus Shows Lack Of Respect For OSCE
- EU Concerned About Human Rights Situation In Belarus
- Belarusian Authorities Detain, Deport Russian Politician
- Belarus Is Ranked 124th Out Of 139 For Press Freedom Violations
- RFE/RL's Belarusian Service Editor Released From German Jail
- Strike Leader Goes To Prison For Staging Unauthorized Rally
- Court Upholds Refusal To Register Hindu Communities
- Belarus, Ukraine Seek More Cooperation With Iraq
- HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS-
REGIME IS TO SHUT DOWN OSCE MISSION
The Belarusian authorities announced on October 21 they will close down the OSCE mission in Minsk, the security body which has repeatedly criticized the lack of political, media and civil freedoms in the country. "The OSCE mission in its current form will not work in Belarus," said Pavel Latushko, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign. Latushko explained that the Belarusian government was demanding "mutual trust and respect of the opinion of the host state on the basis of clear and understandable goals and tasks." Latushko said that the Belarusian authorities offered last year to begin consultations on reformulating the mission's mandate, but the OSCE refused.
A Belarusian representative at the OSCE's headquarters in Vienna has also "formally requested the closure of the OSCE mission" in Minsk, stating this was a requirement for any talks on a future presence in Belarus, said Alexander Nietzsche, OSCE spokesman.
After expelling two top OSCE officials in April 2002 and refusing to extend the visa of its acting head in September 2002, the Lukashenko regime is now set to withdraw the diplomatic credentials of the last remaining employee The sole current representative of the pan-European security body in Minsk, Alina Josan, is a citizen of the former Soviet republic of Moldova and therefore does not need a visa to work in Belarus. But, most likely, the regime will not renew her diplomatic accreditation when it expires on October 29, she said.
The OSCE mission refused to comment on Latushko's statement and a spokesman for the group's headquarters in Vienna said the office had not been informed of the decision yet. The 15 EU foreign ministers, meeting this week in Luxembourg, said they were "seriously concerned" by the situation in Belarus, which after the planned eastward expansion of the European bloc in 2004, will be on its borders. (Belapan, RFE/RL, Charter 97, October 21-23)
U.S. SAYS BELARUS SHOWS LACK OF RESPECT FOR OSCE
Belarus has demonstrated an "overriding lack of respect" for the OSCE by its deliberate
efforts to bring the OSCE AMG's activities to a halt "through the expulsion of international mission members," and its unwillingness to "substantively" negotiate about this issue, Douglas Davidson, deputy chief of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on October 17.
Following are excerpts from his statement:
"At the Permanent Council meeting on October 3, Amb. Gaisenok made the point that delicate negotiations over an OSCE presence in Minsk would enjoy better prospects of success if conducted in private. We would agree with that sentiment, if Belarus were negotiating in earnest and good faith. However, from the disparate positions presented by Belarus over the last ten months and taking into account the fact that Belarus remains unprepared to negotiate with the Chair substantively, it is apparent that such an approach is impossible."
"Further, Belarus's deliberate efforts to bring the AMG's activities to a halt through the expulsion of international mission members contravenes the decision that this Permanent Council adopted in 1997. This fact makes this matter a concern to all of us within the Permanent Council today."
"We in the United States delegation share the view expressed by you and the European Union's representative here that the AMG's mandate, as laid out in the decision we adopted in 1997, remains in effect until this Permanent Council adopts a decision to change or amend it. Mr. Chairman, Belarus has made frequent calls for Permanent Council consideration of its complaints about the work of the AMG in the past. The Permanent Council has already heard those complaints many times, and it will no doubt hear them again today. More to the point, however, negotiations over the future of the AMG provide Belarus an avenue to address those concerns and move forward; yet, it has rejected every effort to do so."
"Mr. Chairman, there is not a host State within this Permanent Council that has not had, at one time or another, concerns about the work of the OSCE field presence on its territory…With regard to Belarus, we reject the notion that this matter is about respect for the views of a host State. Instead, it is about the overriding lack of respect of one participating State for the principles of this organization and the decisions of this Permanent Council."
"In closing, a decision by Belarus to expel the last member of the AMG and block negotiations will bring the AMG's activities to an effective halt. Such conduct in contravention of OSCE principles and decisions undermines the integrity of this organization. It is unacceptable. As such, this issue would need to be addressed by Ministers in Porto. Furthermore, in view of the extraordinary precedent this would set, we
believe that it will be necessary to consider appropriate concrete measures to adopt in response on both a bilateral and multilateral basis."
A week later, on October 24, Douglas Davidson once again expressed concern about the "accelerating deterioration of respect for human rights in Belarus" and the government's failure to meet its commitments to the OSCE. He told the Permanent Council in Vienna that Belarus "has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of honoring" its commitment to permit the OSCE AMG to function in that country, or to seriously negotiate about this issue.
Following is a transcript of his statement:
"We share the concern expressed by the EU about the recent beating of opposition figures in Belarus. Unfortunately, these beatings are only symptomatic of an accelerating deterioration of respect for human rights in Belarus."
"Since September 2001, alone, Belarus has been cited by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE's Representative for Freedom of the Media, the OSCE's Chairman-in-Office, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe, the European Union, a wide array of NGOs -- both domestic and international -- and many delegations to this Permanent Council for its failure to meet OSCE commitments on elections, freedom of _expression and media, freedom of association, freedom of religion, and respect for civil society. Meanwhile, as noted by the EU, the disappearances of political opponents of the current government remain unresolved."
"Mr. Chairman, the decision this Permanent Council adopted in 1997, creating the AMG [Advisory and Monitoring Group], produced an instrument to address these types of concerns. Belarus has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of honoring the commitment that decision represents, nor of negotiating a new decision that would bring it into compliance and produce a new instrument to address these concerns. Therefore, we see no utility in addressing this matter to Belarus today, but rather to the Chairman-in-Office of this organization and to this Permanent Council."
"Belarus has clearly exercised its ability to prevent the AMG from functioning properly in the field. However, Ambassador Gaisenok has also agreed, correctly, that the AMG, de jure, still exists. We ask, then, why not let it function?"
"Part of its mandate is to monitor developments. Since April, at least one, and in June, as many as three seconded AMG members have resided in Vienna, in addition to Ambassador Heyken, the Chair's Special Envoy on Belarus. Yet, since June, the AMG has not produced a single report, written or oral, for this Permanent Council. We request that the Chair task the AMG with reporting to the PC on a regular basis on developments in Belarus. In that connection, the Chair should exercise its prerogative to appoint a Special Representative who could make these regular reports to the Permanent Council."
"Mr. Chairman, our ability to confront and resolve this impasse is central to the integrity of this organization. As such, absent progress, it will need to be on the agenda in Porto [Portugal]. But we agree with the Russian Federation that it behooves all of us to resolve this matter beforehand. Since Belarus is not in a position to negotiate a resolution in Vienna, we again urge you to send a senior delegation to Minsk."
"We also call for all participating States to consider the OSCE procedures and mechanisms at our disposal to address this matter appropriately. Some of these have not been utilized since the early nineties in similarly dire circumstances, but they remain relevant."
"Clearly, States reserve the right to address concerns bilaterally or in fora outside Vienna. However, invoking OSCE procedures and mechanisms has the added advantage of demonstrating to the international community that this organization has the wherewithal to address its own problems. These procedures and mechanisms need to be exhaustively considered as we move toward the Porto Ministerial." (USIA, October 18 - 24)
EU CONCERNED ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BELARUS
The European Union expressed on October 21 deep concern "at the lack of progress in democratic reform and the growing deterioration of individual freedoms and rights of _expression in Belarus," and issued a declaration on Belarus' relationship with the OSCE. The declaration says the OSCE AMG in Minsk plays a vital role "in assisting the Government of Belarus and civil society in promoting democratic institutions and in complying with other OSCE commitments."
Following is the declaration:
1. At its meeting on 21 October 2002, the Council of the EU expressed serious concern about the situation of democracy and human rights in Belarus and adopted the following declaration:
2. Recalling the conclusions of the Council of 15 September 1997, the EU reiterates once again the hope that Belarus would take place among European democratic countries, not least since Belarus will become a direct neighbor after EU enlargement.
3. The EU emphasizes the importance for all European States of respect for human rights and freedoms, as guaranteed in the UN Charter and embodied in the Helsinki Final Act. In Belarus, the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Minsk has a vital role to play in assisting the Government of Belarus and civil society in promoting democratic institutions and in complying with other OSCE commitments as well as monitor and report on this process.
4. The EU has consistently supported the Portuguese Chair of OSCE in its efforts to solve the impasse regarding the AMG in Minsk. It believes that the Chair has already shown great flexibility in trying to find a solution to the problems that have arisen as a result of Belarus' treatment of the AMG. The EU cannot accept the Belarusian position that the AMG should be formally closed before negotiations on a new OSCE presence can begin. It supports the Chair's view that the AMG's 1997-mandate remains in force, in full, until there is consensus in the OSCE Permanent Council to amend or replace it
5. The EU has noted the commitment made in September by FM Khvostov to enter into negotiations with a view to the continued operation of the AMG. The EU urges the Belarusian authorities to enter into immediate, meaningful and result-oriented negotiations. In addition, the EU requests the Government of Belarus immediately to extend the accreditation of the remaining member of the diplomatic staff of the
Mission beyond 29 October 2002, or alternatively to extend accreditation to a replacement, with a view to avoiding disruption to the activities of the Mission.
6. If the Government of Belarus fails to indicate its agreement to this request by 29 October, this will seriously affect not only relations with the OSCE, but also the development of relations between Belarus and the EU. The EU remains deeply concerned at the lack of progress in democratic reform and the growing deterioration of individual freedoms and rights of _expression in Belarus; should, in addition, the AMG be unable to continue its work, the EU will be obliged to review its relations with Belarus and envisage further specific measures. If, on the other hand, an adequate solution allowing for the effective and lasting operation of the AMG was found, the EU could take this as a new starting point for discussions on the improvement of its relations with Belarus.
7. The EU expresses readiness to continue to work closely with the Chair to ensure that the OSCE can contribute to the development of genuine democracy and full respect for human rights in Belarus, including through an active OSCE presence.
8. The Council of the EU will consider the evolution of the situation in Belarus at its meeting on 18/19 November 2002. http://usinfo.state.gov/products/washfile/rights.shtml
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES DETAIN, DEPORT RUSSIAN POLITICIAN
Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces, was detained by two officers of the Belarusian security services when he stepped off a plane in Minsk on October 23 to attend a conference on the Russia-Belarus Union and ordered to immediately depart back for Moscow, party spokeswoman Elena Dikun told journalists. Dikun said that as Nemtsov was being taken away, he told her that the officers had planted a folder with phony party documents and U.S. dollars on them. "This is a pure setup," Dikun said.
Nemtsov was accompanied by Irina Khakamada, another leader of the party. Although Khakamada was not detained, she chose to stay with Nemtsov and leave the country with him, according to media reports. The politicians were escorted from the airport building to a plane for BelAvia's regular Minsk-Moscow flight. Journalists gathered there shouted to Nemtsov and Khakamada to speak to the press. The two tried to walk to the reporters but their escorts did not allow them to speak to the journalists. The plane took off minutes later.
In remarks by telephone to ORT, Russia's state-controlled television station, Nemtsov said that he believes his deportation was ordered by Lukashenko. "Lukashenko is against the union and is showing this with his behavior. I hope our head of state will take note of this," Nemtsov told ORT. "Doing business with this person is very dangerous." [Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested to Lukashenko that Belarus simply be incorporated into its much larger neighbor - a proposal that infuriated the Belarusian authoritarian leader. Many analysts saw Putin's statement as a ploy to get Lukashenko, previously the main proponent of the union, to drop the idea altogether.-Ed.]
Fyodor Kotov, Belarusian KGB spokesman, was present at the airport at the time Nemtsov was being deported but refused to comment. Pavel Latushko, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Nemtsov was deported "because of numerous facts of interference into the internal affairs of Belarus." He refused to comment on the documents and money mentioned by Dikun. However, the Interfax news agency reported that an unidentified KGB official bragged that Nemtsov was caught with $50,000 and "literature aimed at destabilizing the situation in Belarus."
Boris Malakhov, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement that reports of Nemtsov's deportation were met "with bewilderment and deep concern" in Moscow. "We are counting on getting an answer from the Belarusian leadership."
Nemtsov, a former Russian first deputy prime minister, maintains contacts with the Belarusian opposition. Last month, Moscow prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the publication of a bugged telephone conversation between Nemtsov and a Belarusian opposition leader. According to the transcript published by an ultranationalist newspaper, Nemtsov said the Kremlin had grown increasingly frustrated with Lukashenko and that he had urged the Moscow to establish contacts with the opposition.
Ivan Pashkevich, head of the Belarusian National Assembly's Commission for Human Rights and Mass Media, slammed the Nemtsov's expulsion as "a deliberate provocation sanctioned from the top." Valery Zakharchenko, another deputy and a leader of the pro -Lukashenko Communist Party, believes that Nemtsov and Khakamada were "got what they deserve for their most recent public statements about the existence of a so-called dictatorial regime in Belarus and the need to support opposition forces in order to replace this regime." (Interfax, Belapan, Itar-Tass, October 23-24)
BELARUS IS RANKED 124TH OUT OF 139 FOR PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS
The first worldwide index of press freedom published on October 17 by the Reporters Without Borders has some surprises for Western democracies. The United States was ranked below Costa Rica and Italy scored lower than Benin. The poor ranking of the United States (17th) is mainly because of the number of journalists arrested or imprisoned there. Prison sentences are often prompted by the journalists' refusal to reveal their sources in court. Also, since the 11 September attacks, several journalists have been arrested for crossing security lines at some official buildings. The five countries with least press freedom are North Korea, China, Burma, Turkmenistan, and Bhutan.
In the worst-ranked countries, press freedom is a dead letter and independent newspapers do not exist. The only voice heard is of media tightly controlled or monitored by the government. The very few independent journalists are constantly harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile by the authorities. The foreign media is banned or allowed in very small doses, always closely monitored. Belarus, the last dictatorship in Europe, came 124th and is the country where journalists go to prison for "insulting" public officials.
The index was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries. The others were not included for the absence of reliable information. The full text of the report is located at http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=4116
RFE/RL's BELARUSIAN SERVICE EDITOR RELEASED FROM GERMAN JAIL
Natalya Sudliankova, an editor for RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, was detained on October 7 at the Czech-German border on an international criminal warrant filed by the Belarusian government. A citizen of Belarus and a longtime political activist opposed to the Lukashenko regime, Sudliankova fled her country with her family in 1999 and was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. A Czech court in January, 2002 rejected an extradition request by the Minsk government, finding the charges made against Sudliankova to be without merit. Those charges were not withdrawn, however, and her name remained on an Interpol list of wanted criminals. Sudliankova was arrested during her first attempt to travel outside of the Czech Republic since being granted political asylum. On October 18, Natalya was set free form a prison in Bamberg, Germany.
"We are glad that Natalya has finally been released and can now be reunited with her family in Prague," RFE/RL President Thomas Dine said in a statement, adding that "Clearly, the German authorities have recognized the baseless nature of the charges made against Natalya, and are no longer willing to play a role in the settling of political scores by the undemocratic regime of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko." (RFE/RL, October 21)
STRIKE LEADER GOES TO PRISON FOR STAGING UNAUTHORIZED RALLY
Valery Levonevsky, head of the Belarusian Trade Union of Small-Business Owners, was charged with violation of Art 167, par. 1 ("participation in mass actions violating public order") of the Belarusian Administrative Offenses Code and sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment. He was arrested in Grodno on October 11 for holding an authorized rally in protest against recent tax increases and insurance fees for small business owners. (Belapan, October 24)
-RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS-
COURT UPHOLDS REFUSAL TO REGISTER HINDU COMMUNITIES
Judge Vera Daneyko-Grabovskaya of the Centralny District Court of Minsk dismissed on October 18 an appeal launched by the unregistered Association of Belarusian Communities for Krishna Consciousness against the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs. The Krishna followers were trying to reverse the Committee's decision not to register the Association. On July 4, the same court ruled that the Committee has one month to make a decision regarding the Association's registration. The Committee decided to deny the registration on the grounds that it does not have a legal address. Following the refusal, the association filed another law suit providing the proof of the legal address and other documents required for the state registration, but was denied it. (Belapan, October 18)
BELARUS, UKRAINE SEEK MORE COOPERATION WITH IRAQ
Alexander Lukashenko reiterated on October 22 his intention to boost cooperation with Iraq. During a meeting with Nikolai Ivanchenko, deputy head of the presidential administration and co-chairman of the Belarusian-Iraqi Commission For Trade And Economic Cooperation, the Belarusian leader said he would welcome better ties with Iraq and gave a number of instructions aimed at improving ties with Iraq within the framework of the UN oil-for-food program.
Although the Belarusian leader claims to respect UN embargoes, he does not feel bound by unilateral export bans imposed by the US on Iran, North Korea and Libya. On his part, in the past three years Baghdad has increasingly looked to Belarus and Ukraine for weapons, the Financial Times reported on October 21. The evidence against Belarus and Ukraine is mounting: alleged secret recordings made in the office of Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainian president; intercepted shipments; arrest of suspected arms traders; and western intelligence reports, the newspaper continued. "If anywhere in the former Soviet Union were supplying weapons to dubious countries, Belarus would be my candidate," says Julian Cooper, deputy director of the Russian and East European studies center at Birmingham university.
There is clear evidence of Baghdad's interest in securing equipment from Ukraine and Belarus, the Financial Times wrote:
"The alleged sale of the Kolchuga radar system in 2000 is mentioned in recordings made secretly in Kuchma's office and smuggled to the west by Mikola Melnichenko, his former bodyguard. The US says it has authenticated the recording."
"In a separate recording, Kuchma can apparently be heard talking to Yuri Alexeev, director of Yuzhmash, Ukraine's largest rocket-maker, which was for a time run by Kuchma before he entered politics. In a barely audible exchange, the two men are heard referring to Iraq, Iran and rockets. Mr Kuchma and Mr Alexeev deny having the conversation."
"In August police arrested a Russian-Canadian man in Germany and two other people in the Czech Republic suspected of organizing illegal arms exports from Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria to the Middle East. According to Czech prosecutors, shipments to Iraq included Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 combat helicopters, Kalashnikov rifles, anti-tank grenades and mobile anti-aircraft missile systems."
"In February, Steven Pifer, a senior US State Department official on a visit to Minsk, accused Belarus of involvement in arms transfers and military training for so-called rogue states, including the reported training of Iraqis in operating S-300 missile defense systems. Mr Pifer repeated the general claims on a second visit in August."
"Tony Blair accused Belarus of supplying arms to Iraq in his recent report on Iraqi military capabilities. His evidence included a 1998 report from United Nations inspectors in Iraq who found Belarus-made equipment in an artillery factory."
"In addition to these alleged clandestine activities, Iraq has been strengthening its public links with both Ukraine and Belarus. Baghdad this summer posted as ambassador in Kiev Mozhar al-Duri, a former diplomat in Moscow said by Russian officials to be close to Saddam Hussein. There have been frequent visits by Iraqi officials to Minsk, including two trips since July by Tawwab Huwaysh, the deputy prime minister and military industry minister. These initiatives are reciprocated. Ukraine has announced plans for a trade mission in Baghdad. Belarus has signed economic co-operation agreements."
"On October 24, Lukashenko congratulated Saddam Hussein on the strong support he received at the national referendum which, according to the Belarusian leader, "vividly demonstrated the Iraqi people's striving for independence in making decision on their own fate," reported Belapan. Lukashenko reiterated his interest in further cooperation between the two countries." (The Financial Times, Belapan, October 21- 25)
The Belarus Update is a weekly news bulletin of the Belarus Human Rights Support Project of the International League for Human Rights (www.ilhr.org) The League, now in its 61st year, is New York-based human rights NGO in consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC. Visit our website for back issues, analysis, and links to news sites and NGOs in Belarus: www.belarusupdate.org For queries on how to subscribe or unsubscribe or other information, contact email@example.com
The Belarus project was established to support Belarusian citizens in making their case for the protection of civil society before the international community regarding Alexander Lukashenko's wholesale assault on human rights and the rule of law in Belarus.