Work of International Human Rights Organizations
Yury Drakakhrust, Radio “Liberty”
In 1961 member the London advocate Peter Benenson and his friends wrote a collective letter to a city newspaper in support of the Portuguese students, imprisoned for giving a toast to freedom of Portugal at a restaurant. The appeal in their support was entitled “Call for Amnesty”.
The campaign, initiated by Benenson and his colleagues, resulted in creation of the international human rights organization Amnesty International, that at present has more than a million of members all over the world and has branches in more than 100 countries of the world. Amnesty International struggles for release of political prisoners, cessation of tortures, political assassinations and abolishment of the death penalty in the world. For its efforts the organization was honored with the Nobel peace prize in 1997.
Human Rights Watch is the largest human rights organization of the US, established in 1978 in order to control how post-Soviet countries executed their undertakings on human rights after signing of Helsinki agreements.
Even at present Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are headache for all dictatorial and authoritarian regimes of the world. Being condemned by such governments, these organizations consider it as a sign of respect.
How do the organizations work? Ivan Fisher, Amnesty International representative in the Central Europe, explains:
(Fisher): “We take the cases that illustrate the most serious human rights violations in the considered country. We can prove that the situation is serious only with concrete cases. That’s why persons stand behind all our reports, even general ones. We use information about individual cases.”
For the years of its existence Amnesty International established the net of correspondents and researcher who check the received information. The principle of their work is: “Preciseness is more important than quickness”. Preference is given to the ultimate sources of information and victims.
(Fisher): “ We have to check all the information before giving publicity to it. We have to minimize our mistakes, as our reputation depends on preciseness and even a small mistake can be very harmful to our organization and, which is more important, to the victims of human rights violations, whom we defend.”
If it is impossible to confirm the information through our channels, Amnesty International applies to the authorities, and the answer, emphasizes Ivan Fisher, is often quite eloquent.
(Fisher): “The way the authorities answer to our requests bears implicit information about the quality of our information. If their answer is believable, we begin to doubt in our information, but, as it happens in the majority of cases, the answer is inadequate, it speaks for the information.”
Human Rights Watch has offices in Moscow, Tashkent and Tbilisi. Matilda Bogner has been at the head of Uzbekistan office for two years already and has only one assistant for the country with the population of 25 million people.
(Bogner): “Pitifully enough, our resources are limited and we have only to react, not take initiatives. People come to us, tell about their problems and we deal with their cases. It is a way to understanding what is going on in the country, to look at people’s complaints. We focus on certain issues. May be, people, who have other problems, don’t come to us, being unaware of our existence.”
The representation of Human Rights Watch doesn’t employ local citizens. Why? Matilda Bogner answers:
(Bogner): “Every local citizen who would like to defend human rights and actively work for it, would face with the threats of being arrested, imprisoned, his relatives could lose their jobs. He or she would also be pressurized to collaboration with secret services against our office.”
International human rights organizations widely spread the information they obtain and urge governments of some countries to stop human rights violations. Is this activity effective, what does it mean to the people, victimized by the State?
(Bogner): “It is difficult to say whether we significantly influence the situation. Pitifully enough, I can’t say that the situation here is getting better. However, if we weren’t there, it would be yet worse. We can make something in concrete cases. Sometimes people are grateful that they can come and tell us about their problems, for our concerns even if we can’t change the situation in Uzbekistan and even solve their cases. They feel support and solidarity, they know that we distribute information about them all over the world and the world asks questions, what is happening to them. Sometimes we can influence solution of concrete cases, though.”
It’s worth mentioning that international human rights activists sometimes really achieve concrete results. For instance, this year Ergash Babayanov, activist of the opposition party Birlik” who was imprisoned for criticizing Uzbekistan authorities in Kirghiz press was amnestied. Human Rights Watch carried out the campaign for his release. Anatozar Aripov, Head of Uzbekistan human rights organization “Mazlum”, gives the following evaluation to activity of his colleagues from Human Rights Watch:
It is very difficult to influence our authorities, they pay no attention to appeals, but we highly value Human Rights Watch and its information. Though they have no direct influence on the government, their information gets to other governments, for instance to the US and the UNO, and sometimes they manage to really help concrete people.
Belarus is geographically separated from Belarus by thousands of kilometers, but the political distance is less. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, often accuses international human rights organizations of espionage and subversive activity. However, to the mind of Aleh Hulak, representative of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the support of Human Rights Watch can hardly be overvalued:
(Hulak): “Such organizations are useful for us, human rights groups that work in their countries. We feel support of our work, that creates more guarantees of our safety and makes us more sure that we will have the possibility to continue our work. This peculiar system of collective defense works in some way.”
What concerns the effectiveness of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Belarusian human rights activist Aleh Hulak agrees with his Uzbekistan colleague Atonazar Aripov.
(Aripov): “If there weren’t such organization, it would be worse. It is difficult to say whether this work is effective and directly influential, but I can say for sure that it would be worse without them.”