Eurasia’s rupture with democracy

eurasia ruptureRussia is playing a pivotal role in accelerating the decade-long decline in democracy among the states of the post-Soviet sphere, according to the latest Nations in Transit report from Freedom House.

Russia serves as the model and inspiration for policies leading to a retreat from democratic institutions throughout Eurasia and bringing the region to a new, alarming level of repression during the past year, the survey states.

“The events of 2013 show that the regime in Russia as a role model for other authoritarian leaders, even in states where the authorities already surpass their Russian counterparts in institutionalized brutality and intolerance,” said Sylvana Habdank-Kołaczkowska, the report’s project director. “Ten years ago, one in five people in Eurasia lived under Consolidated Authoritarian rule, as defined in the report. Today, it’s nearly four in five, and the trend is accelerating.”

Nations in Transit 2014 finds that regression from democratic governance is the dominant trend across Eurasia and the Balkans, as well as in post communist Central Europe, where the persistence of clientelism and corruption further undermined democratic standards.

But the year brought some positive developments in Kosovo, Albania, and Georgia, which scored improved ratings due to better elections and peaceful transfers of power.  “The most encouraging trend of 2013 was the vocal civil society response to repressive or inadequate governance,” said Habdank-Kołaczkowska. “Civil society spoke up not only in Ukraine but also in Central Europe, Kyrgyzstan, and, to a lesser degree, the Balkans.”

Key findings: 

•    Of the 29 countries assessed in 2013, 13 were rated as democracies, 6 as transitional regimes, and 10 as authoritarian regimes.

•    As in every year for the past 10 years, the average democracy score declined in 2013, with 16 countries suffering downgrades, 5 improving, and 8 not registering any score change.

•    Russia’s negative influence on the governance practices of its neighbors became more pronounced in 2013, as replicas of Russian laws restricting “homosexual propaganda” and foreign funding of NGOs appeared in several Eurasian countries.

•    Corruption increased in Central and Eastern Europe in 2013, with half of the 10 assessed European Union (EU) member states receiving downgrades.

•    The Balkans registered some positive developments during the year, including Croatia’s EU accession and a historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, but dysfunctional governments continued to drive down democracy scores in the region overall.

Regional findings:

Eurasia

•    The environment for civil society became more hostile in Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

•    Civil society proved resilient in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, both of which registered ratings improvements in that category.

•    Kyrgyzstan and Georgia are the only Eurasian countries where ratings have consistently improved in the last five years.

•    Conditions remained dire in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—the report’s worst performers.

EU Member States

•    Hungary’s ratings declined for the sixth year in a row, and the country came close to falling out of the category of Consolidated Democracies.

•    Corruption worsened across the region, with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia registering downgrades.

•    Economic and political pressures resulted in ratings declines in the Independent Media category in Latvia, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic.

•    The only EU country to register an overall score improvement was Romania, where conditions calmed after a presidential impeachment attempt and related political turmoil in 2012.

The Balkans

•    Productive negotiations over ethnic Serb areas of Kosovo and an orderly transfer of power following elections in Albania contributed to significant score improvements in the two countries.

•    The outlook is less positive for Macedonia, which fell back into the category of Transitional Regimes—after graduating from the group 10 years ago—due to a deteriorating environment for independent media.

•    A long-running political stalemate continued to paralyze the central government in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

•    Despite improvements in civil society in the last 10 years, minority rights—and especially the rights of LGBT people—continue to be challenged in several countries.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Exporting repression: Extraterritorial practices and Central Asian authoritarianism

 

Governments in the former Soviet Union are routinely flouting European and international rules designed to protect refugees, asylum seekers and others who are at risk of persecution in their home countries, according to Shelter from the Storm?, a publication of the London-based Foreign Policy Centre.

The reports demonstrates how Commonwealth of Independent States member countries are placing regional ties and alleged security concerns ahead of their duties to prevent individuals being returned to face possible torture and other human rights abuses. It shows how the European Court of Human Rights can be a lifeline for those facing extradition to Central Asia, but also that Russia has flouted some judgements and extradited individuals to places such as Uzbekistan where torture and other abuse is believed to be rife.

Post-Soviet authoritarian states view diaspora communities and political exiles as dangerous threats to their political dominance at home, writes Dr David Lewis (University of Exeter). Faced with political activism among their citizens abroad, they seek to expand their domestic modes of repression beyond their own borders.

Central Asian states, such as Uzbekistan, have been particularly active in this regard, using a wide range of mechanisms to maintain political influence over citizens who have moved abroad. These activities pose a serious threat to the security of dissidents in exile, but also serve to export the dynamics of political repression around the world. EU states should resist unwarranted extradition requests and Interpol ‘Red Notices’ against political exiles, ensure that those seeking political asylum are fully protected and constrain foreign intelligence activities targeting activists, journalists and dissidents under their jurisdiction.

Central Asia’s authoritarian states

Western attempts to support the emergence of liberal-democratic political systems in the post-Soviet world have largely failed. Nowhere is this more obvious than among the five states of Central Asia, where authoritarian rule has become the default political order. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have become two of the most repressive states in the world, scoring the lowest possible scores on Freedom House’s annual rankings of political and civic freedoms. Tajikistan and Kazakhstan offer slightly more liberal environments, allowing some limited space for NGOs and independent media to operate. Only Kyrgyzstan has held recent competitive elections, but its relatively pluralistic system has been marred by instability and an outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in 2010 that claimed hundreds of lives.

Authoritarian regimes in Central Asia rely on a complex mixture of formal and informal mechanisms of control, but a major role is played by repressive security and law enforcement agencies. Inside the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, security forces have clamped down on any popular protest or political opposition. ……………RTWT

Daria Trenina (MGIMO-University) writes about the risks refugees from countries of Central Asia face in Russia. It analyses the provisions of Russian law relevant to extradition and expulsion proceedings and describes the short-comings of the Russian legal system, criticized by the European Court of Human Rights, as well the practices of law-enforcement authorities that lead to the violation of obligations to protect human rights.

Julia Hall and Maisy Weicherding (Amnesty International) focus their attention on the growing use of diplomatic assurances – promises by the receiving state that a person extradited or otherwise forcibly returned will not be tortured or ill-treated on return – by key countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have relied on such unreliable promises to forcibly return or attempt to forcibly return people to places where they have been at risk of torture, including to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, for example, have offered such assurances to other countries in an attempt to rein in people suspected of terrorism or business-related crimes.

Felix Corley (Forum 18 News Service) looks in detail at the way Uzbekistan seeks to extradite those who have fled the country to escape criminal punishment for exercising the right to freedom  of religion or belief. He notes that the United Nations has recognised that torture is ‘widespread’ in Uzbekistan and looks at the cases of 30 such individuals Kazakhstan extradited in defiance of the UN, many of whom received long prison terms. Amid widespread international publicity of their cases, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan eventually refrained from extraditing two others.

Alex Tinsley (Fair Trials International) discusses the problem of political abuse of INTERPOL and presents the legal and practical issues underlying the current perception that it is vulnerable to abuse and in need of reform. He suggests that reform is becoming urgent in view of the broader problem relating to extraditions and unlawful refoulement practices between the authorities of former Soviet Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries, it being essential that INTERPOL maintains a firm line excluding any use of its systems for such purposes. His essay suggests that INTERPOL should make progress consulting relevant stakeholders, updating its rules relating to recognised refugees and reforming the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCIF).

Kris Pollet and Claire Rimmer Quaid’s (European Council on Refugees and Exiles). ….RTWT

Azerbaijan: Hollande should focus on rights

President Francois Hollande of France should raise urgent human rights concerns during his visit to Baku on May 11, when he is scheduled to meet with President Ilham Aliyev, Human Rights Watch said today: 

In the past two years, Azerbaijani authorities have arrested and imprisoned dozens of government critics, including political opposition leaders, journalists, and social media activists, and broken up peaceful public demonstrations. The country has adopted legislation that further restricts fundamental freedoms.

Human Rights Watch has urged Hollande to insist on seeing a prominent human rights defender, Leyla Yunus, and her husband while in Baku. On April 28, the Yunuses were barred from boarding a flight to leave the country for a conference. They were detained and questioned in a 24-hour ordeal linked to the politically motivated treason investigation against their colleague, Rauf Mirgadirov. Police arrested Mirgadirov, a journalist, upon his arrival to Baku’s airport on April 19 following his unlawful forced removal from Turkey….

Human Rights Watch documented many of these cases in a 2013 report. Twenty-three people whose cases are documented in the report are serving prison sentences ranging from 2 to 10 years on a variety of false charges. Among them are Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent political analyst and a chairman of a political opposition group, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013, and Tofig Yagublu, deputy chair of the opposition political party Musavat, sentenced to five years in 2013. Both were convicted of bogus rioting charges.

Also among the 23 are eight pro-democracy youth activists sentenced on May 6, 2014, to terms ranging from six to eight years on bogus allegations that they planned to instigate violence at a March 2013 protest.

“Hollande’s visit will be a major event in Azerbaijan, so it’s a crucial opportunity to focus on rights issues,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hollande should not lose this opportunity to urge the Azerbaijani leadership, in private and in public, to free people who have been wrongfully imprisoned.”

RTWT

International concern at Azerbaijan’s treatment of human rights defenders

 

azeri_nida_defendants_-_nidaEU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle have voiced deep concern over the treatment of human rights activists at the hands of the authorities in Azerbaijan, citing the detention of Rauf Mirkadirov and the interrogation of Arif Yunus and Leyla Yunus, the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy.  

The authorities are portraying civil society efforts at “people’s diplomacy” as espionage as an excuse for repression, Yunus said today 

The U.S. State Department and human rights advocates are also concerned about eight members of the NIDA youth movement (left) who are on hunger strike in jail following a trial on false charges of weapons possession. They were charged after they had organized peaceful demonstrations in March 2013 against deaths of military conscripts. The activists were supposed to be sentenced last week but sentencing has been postponed.  Nida means exclamation in Azerbaijani.

Nida_Civil_Movement_logoThe prosecution case in the trial of the NIDA movement finished on April 17, with prosecutors seeking sentences of between six and eight years, according to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting:

The eight defendants – Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, Mammad Azizov, Zaur Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mammadli and Ilkin Rustamzade – immediately went on hunger strike and demanded that the judge acquit them.

In a closing statement made on behalf of all the defendants on May 1, Akhundov said, “The last word has not been spoken yet. The NIDA members sitting here will soon say their last word. We will not surrender the truth either inside or outside prison. The years stolen from our lives will not be lost in vain.”

Prosecutors say that a search of the activists’ homes revealed drugs, Molotov cocktails and large amounts of foreign currency. The official account mixed allegations of a “Facebook revolution” plot with suggestions that NIDA members youth group planned to engage in violence, and hints that unspecified foreign powers were behind this. 

 

Azerbaijan: stop harassing rights defender: Hollande, Council of Europe must speak out

Azerbaijani authorities are harassing and engaging in oppressive tactics against a prominent human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Azerbaijani government should end the harassment against rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif. Azerbaijan’s international partners, in particular fellow members of the Council of Europe, should make clear that continued harassment of human rights defenders, and the Yunuses in particular, will affect their relationships with Azerbaijan’s government….

President Francois Hollande of France is scheduled to visit Azerbaijan on May 11 and 12, and it is expected that Leyla Yunus may meet with him when he is in Baku. In 2013 the French ambassador for human rights awarded Yunus France’s Legion of Honor award (Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur) – the highest French decoration – for her courage and promotion of human rights. Hollande should insist on seeing the Yunuses while in Baku and make clear that their freedom, and Mirgadirov’s, is of great importance to him, and to French-Azerbaijani relations.

“Leyla and Arif Yunus are among many people the Azerbaijani authorities find ‘inconvenient,’” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “No government should be allowed to get away with targeting human rights defenders while it’s seeking to boost its international prestige.”

On May 15, Azerbaijan will take over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, Europe’s foremost human rights body, Human Rights Watch notes, adding that the body’s secretary-general, Thorbjorn Jagland, should express urgent concern about harassment of the Yunuses and the treatment of Mirgadirov, as well as the wider crackdown on civic activists and journalists under way for the past year in Azerbaijan.

The French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Pascal Meunier today  said he has personally escorted Yunus and her husband to Baku Airport:

The ambassador confirmed that they had granted a visa to L. Yunus: “She was invited to Brussels to participate in a conference. She applied to us for visa. There was no reason to refuse it. She has passport and we issued a visa to her”…..The ambassador noted that he knows Yunus as a human rights defender. He also said that he had participated in the opening of Yunus’s joint website with Armenian NGO: “Because we consider that direct dialogue between Azerbaijani and Armenian people, discussion of their anxieties, daily life is one of the ways that makes these peoples close to each other and prevents war in the future”.

In response to Yunus’s detention, Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, urged Azerbaijan authorities to ensure that freedom of expression, association and assembly is respected and to halt pressure on human rights defenders, Reuters reports.

“This is an additional example showing the extent of intimidation and repression of critical voices in Azerbaijan,” Muiznieks said in a statement. “As a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has the duty to comply with its human rights obligations and commitments.”

Yunus is the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights group supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), is calling on concerned parties to write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Ms. Leyla Yunus, her relatives and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as its Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.

Addresses:

· Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az

Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az

Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: cpr@mns.gov.az

Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90

Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az

Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: contact@justice.gov.az; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81

H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az

Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.