Group Alerts OSCE Government of Continuing Violations Ahead of Rights Meeting
Monday, October 4, 2004 2:50 PM

PRESS RELEASE: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Group Alerts OSCE Governments of Continuing Violations Ahead of Rights Meeting

Vienna, 4 October 2004 - The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) today published a set of interventions on human rights violations in the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which are submitted to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held on 4 to 15 October 2004 in Warsaw. 

The IHF is concerned, for example, about:

Democratic elections:

  • Many recent elections in the OSCE region have been riddled with irregularities. In addition, there are serious concerns about the upcoming elections in Ukraine, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: it appears that in all these countries the elections will fall short of international standards for democratic, free and fair elections.
  • The presidential election campaign in Ukraine has been biased due to government support to one candidate and the use of public funds to promote him. Supporters of opposition candidates have been intimidated and threatened. 

Minority rights:

  • In Turkmenistan, the official policy appears to gradually but forcefully assimilate the minorities. Only ethnic Turkmens are hired in the public sector.  
  • In Russia, those perceived Caucasian or "Gypsy" background, face daily threats as potential terrorists.[1]
  • Turkey has been slow to implement the newly adopted improvement in minority policies and continues to fall seriously short of international standards.
  • In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Roma women have reportedly been sterilized without full and informed consent. The governments have failed to deal adequately with the problem.

Freedom of expression and media freedoms:

  • In many countries, journalists can still be imprisoned under libel charges for legitimate criticism of the government or public officials, also when their information is proven correct. These countries include Belarus, Hungary, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Serbia-Montenegro, and Spain.
  • In Russia, Central Asian OSCE states and Croatia, among other countries, outspoken journalists are attacked and even killed. At least 15 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in connection with their work.
  • In Russia, scientists and journalists reporting on sensitive issues face "spy charges" and long prison terms. During the Beslan tragedy, Russian authorities attempted to curtail all independent reporting about it.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, it appears that opposition leader Felix Kulov will remain in prison beyond next year's presidential elections because documents that would have proven the length of his pre-trial detention have "disappeared" from his file. This development again confirms the political motivation of his imprisonment.

Human rights defenders:

  • Human rights defenders are being harassed, ill-treated and arrested in many countries. In Chechnya, 13 activists have been killed in the past four years and 141 ill-treated.[2]

Freedom of religion:

  • In the aftermath of the March/April bomb blasts in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, numerous devout Muslims were arbitrary arrested, tortured and charged with terrorist acts without sufficient evidence.
  • In Bulgaria and Macedonia, authorities have sided unacceptably with specific religious communities in inter-religious disputes.
  • In France and some other countries, regulations have been adopted to prohibit the wearing conspicuous religious symbols, a measure that mainly affects Muslim women.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses face harassment almost throughout the region: they are not allowed to register as a religious community and are subjected to physical assaults and discrimination. In Armenia, despite a new law on alternative civilian service, more than 20 Jehovah Witnesses remained imprisoned as of August for conscientious objection. In Moscow, Russia, a court in June banned their activities outright.

Discrimination against Muslims in the EU:

  • Muslim minorities have come under growing pressure in the OSCE region particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States. The problems include negative stereotyping and media reporting, inflammatory statements by politicians, discrimination in many sectors of life, hostility against veiled Muslim women, physical attacks, stop-and-search by the police and increasing arrests and house searches.

Independence of the judiciary and fair trial:

  • The first trials against suspected perpetrators of the March and April blasts in Taskent, Uzbekistan, have been riddled with serious violations of international fair trial standards.
  • Turkey has adopted reforms of the judicial system and legislation but many of them have not been implemented. For example, while some abusive legal provisions have been abolished under international pressure, prosecutors have used others with similar content to restrict freedom of expression.
  • In the United States, people being held as enemy combatants can now challenge their detention in US federal courts. The decision, however, does not automatically change the legal status of detainees in Guantánamo and other US bases: hundreds remain detained without charges.

Death penalty:

  • Following the Beslan tragedy, there have been voices demanding lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty as an anti-terrorism measure in Russia. In any case, the moratorium can be lifted as soon as jury courts are introduced throughout Russia. This would mean that people could be sentenced to death by a criminal justice system that is still far from meeting the minimal international standards.
  • The United States belongs to the last eight nations in the world that execute offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time they committed a crime. Executions of mentally ill inmates also continue in the US.

Torture, ill-treatment and police misconduct:

  • In Kyrgyzstan, the Criminal Code was amended in late 2003 to prohibit the use of torture, but it remains common practice. The torture methods include beatings, hanging victims up by their limbs, insertion of sharp objects under their finger and toe nails, pulling out finger and toe nails with pliers, forcing victims to stand for long periods of time in uncomfortable positions, and "elephant," i.e. placing a gas mask on the head of the suspect and closing the air filter.
  • In Romania, several cases have been reported this year of brutal ill-treatment of children by police officers for minor wrongdoings. In addition, 17 patients died of malnutrition and hypothermia in the Poiana Mare psychiatric hospital between 1 January and 20 February 2004.
  • Swedish government has circumvented the principle of not returning people to countries where they may face torture by relying on "diplomatic assurances" of the receiving country.

International humanitarian law:

  • Numerous violations on internationally accepted human rights standards and humanitarian law continue in Chechnya, including arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions, torture, "disappearances," and extrajudicial killings of civilians. The perpetrators have been the military, the FSB or other Russian law enforcement agencies, all with impunity. Russian military have also bombed civilian objects. Chechen fighters have killed "collaborators," taken civilians hostage, and used "suicide bombers" against innocent people. One of the few Russian Federation officials, who attempted to take measures to put an end to impunity for atrocities was Rashid Ozdoev, a deputy prosecutor of Ingushetia. In March 2004, he was arrested by the FSB and "disappeared." Violence has increasingly spilled over to Ingushetia.

Freedom of assembly and association:

  • In Azerbaijan, 33 demonstrators arrested in the after-math of the October 2003 presidential elections were still in detention in mid-September 2004. Some of them have been subjected to torture. There are strong allegations that at least some of them are political prisoners.
  • In Belarus, new regulations and practices have dramatically restricted the operation of organizations linked to the political opposition and independent NGOs, the formation of independent trade unions, and the right to peaceful assembly. The wave of threats to and liquidations of NGOs affects the whole of Belarusian civil society.


The interventions (88 pages) are available at or can be ordered from the IHF Secretariat,

For more information: Aaron Rhodes, IHF executive director, mobile: +42-676-635 66 12.


1 See "Violations of Roma Rights in the Russian Federation", Statement prepared by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on the occasion of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, October 2004, Warsaw

[2] See also the report "The Silencing of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya and Ingushetia" by the IHF and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, September 2004, at