Amnesty International Report 2005
|During 2004, the human rights of ordinary men, women and children were disregarded or grossly abused in every corner of the globe. Economic interests, political hypocrisy and socially orchestrated discrimination continued to fan the flames of conflict around the world. The “war on terror” appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international “terrorism”. The millions of women who suffered gender-based violence in the home, in the community or in war zones were largely ignored. The economic, social and cultural rights of marginalized communities were almost entirely neglected. |
This Amnesty International Report, which covers 149 countries, highlights the failure of national governments and international organizations to deal with human rights violations, and calls for greater international accountability.
The report also acknowledges the opportunities for positive change that emerged in 2004, often spearheaded by human rights activists and civil society groups. Calls to reform the UN human rights machinery grew in strength, and there were vibrant campaigns to make corporations more accountable, strengthen international justice, control the arms trade and stop violence against women.
Whether in a high profile conflict or a forgotten crisis, Amnesty International campaigns for justice and freedom for all and seeks to galvanize public support to build a better world.
Europe and Central Asia
Europe and Central Asia
|‘War on terror’ |
Armed opposition groups brought death and destruction across the region – in suicide attacks in Uzbekistan, in bombings on rush hour trains in Spain, and in the school hostage-taking and siege in Beslan, Russia – claiming hundreds of lives.
Governments, in their turn, continued to roll back rights under the auspices of the “war on terror”. Although the highest court in the UK ruled in a landmark decision that indefinite detention without charge or trial of foreign “suspected international terrorists” was unlawful, 11 men still remained in detention – and one under effective house arrest – at the end of 2004. Earlier the Court of Appeal of England and Wales had ruled that “evidence” obtained by torture of a third party would be inadmissible in court proceedings only if UK agents had been directly involved in, or connived at, the torture. Throughout the year the UK also sought to circumvent its obligations under domestic and international human rights law by asserting that international human rights law did not bind its armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Russia, parliament extended to 30 days the period that someone suspected of “terrorism-related” offences could be held without charge. Uzbekistan conducted sweeping arbitrary detentions of hundreds of men and women said to be devout Muslims or their relatives, and sentenced scores of people accused of “terrorism-related” offences to long prison terms after unfair trials. Russian federal security forces continued to enjoy virtual impunity for violations in Chechnya.
|Racism and discrimination |
Manifestations of racism, discrimination and intolerance continued to plague the region.
Discrimination appeared in many forms, including in the barriers that prevented people from accessing their basic rights. In countries from Finland to Cyprus, Roma remained severely disadvantaged in key areas of life such as housing, employment, education and medical services. In countries of the former Yugoslavia, large numbers of people seeking to rebuild their lives after being displaced by war continued to face discrimination on ethnic grounds, particularly in obtaining employment, education and health care. The treatment of people with mental disabilities remained a disgrace in many areas. In Bulgaria and Romania, the living conditions and lack of care in some hospitals and social care homes were so deplorable they amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, cage beds continued to be used in some institutions as a method of restraint. Discrimination persisted elsewhere, as in Ireland, where disability legislation introduced in 2004 was not rights-based, despite previous government pledges.
Racism by law enforcement officials continued as a backdrop to human rights violations in the administration of justice. Members of the Roma community, immigrants and asylum-seekers were among targets of racist abuse and ill-treatment. The perpetrators were rarely brought to justice.
Intolerance of others and their identities was also evident in the behaviour of private individuals and organizations. In France, people perceived to be immigrants or Muslims were subjected to waves of racist violence in Corsica. Individuals of Jewish origin and the symbols of their identity were attacked in countries such as Belgium, France and Ukraine. “Skinhead” groups in Russia subjected foreign students to race-hate attacks. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Poland were assaulted at marches calling for greater respect for the rights of sexual minorities.
Many governments lacked the political will to prevent, investigate and prosecute such attacks actively and with due diligence. In Georgia, hundreds of people who attacked religious minorities went unpunished. In Kosovo, some local police were accused of official complicity in incidents during the widespread inter-ethnic attacks that erupted throughout the province in March. The authorities – including international security contingents – failed to provide adequate protection to minority communities in some areas during the clashes. At the EU level, there was a persistent failure to put the criminalization of racism and xenophobia back on the legislative agenda.
Abuses by officials and impunity
Torture and ill-treatment, often race-related, were reported across the region, including in Belgium, Greece, France and Spain. From east to west, states often failed to implement or respect rights that could provide a safeguard against abuses in police custody or pre-trial detention. Authorities in a number of states did not allow detainees access to a lawyer from the moment of arrest, or did not ensure an effective, properly resourced and independent system to investigate complaints. Failure to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations resulted in continued impunity for those responsible for torture and ill-treatment reported to be widespread in countries such as Albania, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. In Turkey, torture and ill-treatment remained a serious concern despite positive changes to detention regulations. Turkey and many other states lacked independent scrutiny mechanisms to investigate such patterns of abuse. Reports continued that police in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania used firearms in violation of international standards on excessive force, sometimes with fatal results. In many countries, conditions in prisons, as well as in detention centres for asylum-seekers and unauthorized migrants, were cruel
In the western Balkans, although there were some domestic prosecutions for war crimes, lack of political will and deficiencies in domestic justice systems led to continued and widespread impunity for wartime violations. Some war crimes suspects were transferred to the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, but others continued to evade arrest, some apparently protected by authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. Thousands of “disappearances” that occurred during the 1991-95 war, and others from the conflicts in Kosovo and Macedonia, remained unresolved – as did those of opposition figures and journalists in Belarus and Ukraine.
Repression of dissent
Civil, political and religious dissent was systematically and often brutally repressed in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Demonstrations were banned, and peaceful protesters detained and often ill-treated in a range of countries including Turkey and Ukraine. Human rights defenders continued to face obstruction, intimidation and threats in Belarus, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In Russia, human rights activists and others seeking justice through the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the Chechen conflict experienced harassment and torture. Some paid with their lives. In Turkmenistan, some critics were forced into exile and their relatives targeted in efforts to silence dissent.
As in previous years, some states showed scant tolerance for the conscience of those who objected to compulsory military service. In violation of international obligations, Armenia, Finland and Turkmenistan imprisoned those whose conscience would not allow them to serve. Other states such as Cyprus, Greece and Lithuania retained legislation that made alternative service a punitive option.
Violence against women
The human rights of women and girls remained under attack across the region. Violence in the family was still regarded by many governments as residing in the “private sphere” – a convenient excuse in many instances for failures to define domestic violence as a human rights issue and resource it as such. From west to east, there were documented failures to provide support to women who had survived violence in the home, or to ensure their effective access to justice, redress and reparation. Some states did not introduce or implement adequately such basic provisions as comprehensive protection and restraining orders against abusers, or appropriate shelters for survivors
Trafficking of human beings, including women and girls for enforced prostitution, continued to afflict most countries throughout the region. In UN-administered Kosovo, the clients reportedly included international police and troops, and the women and girls – beaten, raped and effectively imprisoned by their owners – were often too afraid to escape. Survivors of this form of slavery were ill-served by many states with the power, and obligation, to do better. While many voices continued to press for state action against trafficking to be grounded in human rights protection, rather than through an agenda driven by organized crime and illegal migration, trafficked women were still failed by the authorities and judicial systems in countries of origin, transit and destination. Moldova, for example, remained a source country for women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution – the most vulnerable reportedly being women escaping domestic violence and children leaving institutional care. However, women were only exempted from prosecution in Moldova for crimes arising from being trafficked if they agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. In Belgium, a destination country where trafficking for enforced prostitution reportedly continued to rise, the granting of residence permits was contingent on such cooperation – in accordance with EU legislation.
One potentially positive step to enhancing respect for the human rights of trafficked persons was the Council of Europe’s draft Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings, which was discussed during 2004. Non-governmental organizations continued campaigning to strengthen its provisions.
There were some positive moves on the death penalty, reinforcing the regional trend towards abolition. The Greek parliament approved the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes. Tajikistan declared a moratorium on death sentences and executions. In Belarus, the Constitutional Court ruled that a number of provisions in the Criminal Code relating to the death penalty were inconsistent with the Constitution and international law, paving the way – should the political will exist – for abolition or at least a moratorium.
However, Belarus – together with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan before its moratorium – remained the region’s last executioners. In addition, both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan flouted their international commitments during the year by ignoring requests from the UN Human Rights Committee to stay executions. In Tajikistan, four men were executed in secret just days before the moratorium. In two of these cases the Committee had urged a stay while it considered allegations of unfair trials and torture. Uzbekistan executed at least four men whose cases were under consideration for similar reasons. The total number of those executed annually in Uzbekistan – within a criminal justice system seriously flawed by widespread corruption and the failure of the courts to investigate allegations of torture – remained secret but was believed to be scores. As in previous years, the post-Soviet shroud of secrecy in executing states covered not just statistics, but blanketed the lives of those on death row and their relatives: neither were informed in advance of the date of executions. Families were denied the bodies of their executed relatives and even the knowledge of where they were buried.
Action for human rights
While many governments continued to ignore the concerns and recommendations of regional and other international organizations charged with a role in human rights protection, such bodies continued to strengthen human rights safeguards. As part of their contribution to combating racism, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe carried on highlighting the issue through a series of specific meetings, and the European Committee against Racism and Intolerance issued general policy recommendations on the struggle against anti-Semitism and on combating racism while fighting “terrorism”. Regional bodies and mechanisms, including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, also took action against states’ failure to improve or respect human rights. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rejected a request by Belarus for reinstatement of special guest status on these grounds, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development decided to cut aid and investment in Uzbekistan because it had not met the bank’s human rights benchmarks.
The EU incorporated its Charter of Fundamental Rights into the new constitutional treaty and decided to set up an EU human rights agency. These developments should be an incentive to change the EU’s complacent attitude to observing human rights within its own borders. A European Commission proposal for legislation on procedural rights in criminal proceedings was also a positive note, although it was feared that the content of the proposal might be watered down in negotiations between EU member states.
A powerful political will to drive reform in a positive direction was seen during the year in Turkey. Although implementation was uneven and at times resisted, the government pushed through many significant constitutional and legal changes to secure agreement to start negotiations on accession to the EU. The power of civil society to mobilize for change was also evident, from the platform for activism offered by the European Social Forum in London in November, to the streets of Ukraine during the presidential elections the following month. Human rights defenders, in the face of threats, intimidation and detention, remained resolute in continuing their work, inspiring others and achieving results.
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