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8872: Human Rights Watch -- Letter to Convening Countries of the Community of Democracies (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

Letter to Convening Countries of the Community of Democracies (New York,
August 9, 2001)
      Dear Foreign Ministers of convening countries
      Chile, Czech Republic, India, Mali, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, South
Africa, South Korea, US

            List of countries that merit particular concern

            Burkina Faso

            Related Material

            Standards Urged for Community of Democracies
            Press Release, August 9, 2001

            Democracies Urged to Protect Rights
            Press Release, June 24, 2000

            What is the Community of Democracies?

            Coalition for the Community of Democracies
      As planning gets underway for next year's conference of the Community
of Democracies, Human Rights Watch would like to share our recommendations
concerning this initiative. We welcomed the creation of the Community of
Democracies last year, and offer these thoughts in hope that it lives up to
its promise.

      First, we believe the Community should be a caucus of nations
committed to the universally recognized human rights without which democracy
cannot thrive. It should allow democratic nations to share experiences, to
coordinate policies and to reach out to non-governmental actors with similar
goals. It should offer a forum for those still struggling in repressive
societies to solicit support and to tell their stories to the world.
      The Community of Democracies should not, however, become a substitute
for vigorous engagement in the United Nations and its Commission for Human
Rights. Achieving a consensus for democracy and human rights in bodies with
universal representation may be hard, but such a consensus is also much
harder for dictatorships to dismiss. Indeed, one of the goals of the
Community should be to build effective coalitions so that votes for human
rights at the U.N. are won, not lost.

      Second, we believe the Community can help reinforce international
human rights law as a set of standards that all democracies are expected to
meet. And by including participants from every part of the world, it can
help reaffirm that these standards are truly universal. This year, we hope
the Community will be able to welcome new participants, including the newly
democratic government of Serbia and the soon-to-be independent democracy of
East Timor, to its ranks, so long as they continue their progress.

      The Community of Democracies should not be so inclusive, however, that
it renders its name meaningless. Many countries around the world wish to be
called democracies and wish to be seen as respecting human rights - but on
their own terms. Participation in the Community should be limited to those
who genuinely seek to uphold its principles.

      Last year in Warsaw, the Community adopted a declaration pledging its
members to uphold a comprehensive list of "core democratic principles and
practices," including the right to choose governments through free and fair
elections, the right to freedom of expression, assembly and the press, the
right to be free from arbitrary arrest, detention and torture, as well as
all other rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
other relevant instruments. No nation fully lives up to the standards set
forth in this declaration. Unfortunately, a few of the nations that took
part in the Warsaw meeting fell so woefully short that their presence
threatened to discredit the initiative.

      We hope that you will be more selective in issuing invitations for the
conference in Seoul, and offer the following list of countries that merit
particular concern. We ask the convening states to use the time between now
and Seoul to urge these countries to take specific steps toward genuine
democracy and respect for human rights, including those recommended below.
If they fail to make progress, they should not be invited to attend.


      The policies of Vladimir Putin's government pose the greatest threat
to democratic freedoms in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Since last year's conference, two of Russia's major independent broadcast
media outlets have been brought under quasi-governmental control.
Journalists and at least one human rights activist known for their critical
reporting have been harassed. Several criminal prosecutions of journalists
and academics on unfounded charges of espionage point to the resurgence of
the Federal Security Service as a tool to curtail civic and political
freedoms. Federal forces in Chechnya have continued to commit atrocities on
a scale rarely seen in Europe since World War II, including the torture and
execution of prisoners whose bodies are dumped in mass graves. The Russian
government has not held a single high-level commander to account for these
actions and ignored two successive resolutions of the U.N. Commission on
Human Rights.

      Russia has made great progress against great odds in overcoming the
legacy of its Soviet-era dictatorship. But in the year since it signed the
Warsaw declaration, Russia has moved backwards, not forward, jeopardizing
some of the greatest gains for democracy and human rights in recent history.
The Community of Democracies can perform no greater service than to say that
the preservation of Russia's democracy is vital to the world. Russia should
not participate in next year's conference unless, at minimum, the government
takes credible steps to permit independent media to operate freely, begins
effective prosecutions of those responsible for egregious abuses in
Chechnya, and issues an invitation to all monitors mandated by the UN to
investigate those abuses.


      Egypt remains under a State of Emergency that has been in effect since
1981. Not long after the conclusion of the Warsaw summit, Dr. Saad Eddin
Ibrahim, one of the country's leading advocates for democratic reform, was
arrested along with a number of his colleagues from the Ibn Khaldun Center
for Development Studies. Dr. Ibrahim was ultimately charged with defaming
the country by criticizing earlier elections and the treatment of Egypt's
Coptic minority. He was sentenced to seven years hard labor following a
trial before the State Security Court that did not meet international
standards. Independent candidates representing the banned but tolerated
Muslim Brotherhood were imprisoned until after voting in the Fall 2000
parliamentary elections was completed. Similar abuses marred elections to
the upper body Consultative Council in May. Egypt's participation in the
second summit of the Community should require a concrete display of
recognition of the principles outlined in the Warsaw Declaration. An end to
emergency rule and a halt to trials of political activists and critics
before special security courts and military courts would constitute an
important step forward.


      Since Tunisia signed the Warsaw Declaration, human rights activists
have continued to be summoned before prosecutors or judges, detained for
short periods, and deprived of their passports and the freedom to travel.
Committed Tunisian democrats such as public health educator Moncef Marzouki,
journalist Sihem Ben Sedrine, lawyer Nejib Hosni, and opposition leader
Mohamed Mouada are either in jail or face jail terms and bans on working in
their profession. Protests by human rights defenders and other activists
have increased in the last year, not because the government has become more
tolerant of peaceful criticism, but because of growing frustration with the
denial of basic rights. Up to one thousand suspected Islamists are in
prison, most for nonviolent activities. Basic steps that Tunisia should take
to signal its commitment to political liberalization include the
legalization of the now-banned Council on National Liberties and the release
of all persons detained solely on the basis of peaceful political
association and expression.


      In November 2000, just weeks after it signed the Warsaw Declaration,
Azerbaijan held parliamentary elections in which ballot stuffing and other
falsification were widespread and blatant. Indeed, OSCE observers called the
election "a crash course in . manipulation." The repeat elections in 11
single-mandate constituencies, held on January 11, 2001, did not begin to
correct the original, fraudulent vote. Not one of Azerbaijan's five
nationwide elections since President Heydar Aliev came to power has met
international standards, and the parliamentary elections only solidified his
authoritarian control. Continued government harassment of the media and
opposition political parties, and the government's failure to make
significant progress in releasing political prisoners, also reflect a weak
commitment to democratic principles. Lest Azerbaijan be allowed once again
to make a mockery of the Community of Democracies, the convening countries
should insist on an end to civil defamation suits crippling the media,
release of political prisoners, and full implementation of OSCE
election-related recommendations.


      The actions of President Blaise Compaore and his government continue
to hinder the country's progress towards effective national democracy.
Government officials enjoy impunity for acts of torture and extrajudicial
execution, most notably in the case of journalist Norbert Zongo, who was
killed in December 1998. Attempts by opposition groups and human rights
activists to protest the lack of progress in the Zongo case have been
thwarted by riot police. Municipal elections have been postponed several
times. The government of Burkina Faso also faces serious allegations that it
facilitated illegal arms shipments to Liberia and Sierra Leone and illicit
diamond deals with Angolan rebels. President Compaore's party maintains an
overwhelming majority in Parliament, and opposition activities in practice
are limited. Before Burkina Faso is invited to continue participating in the
Community of Democracies, it should at a minimum be expected to prosecute
and punish those responsible for Norbert Zongo's murder. It should also
strictly adhere to international arms embargoes and investigate past and
present illegal arms transfers - democracies committed to the Community's
standards should not be fueling abusive conflicts that violate those


      Kenya has initiated several reforms during the last year, including
the passage of a law to create a Constitution Review Commission.
Nevertheless, numerous promises by President Daniel arap Moi have not yet
resulted in any significant liberalization. The government continues to
stifle peaceful political activity by opposition parties and civil society
groups. Power remains concentrated in the executive branch, and officials
guilty of corruption and human rights violations are not held accountable.
Kenya's progress toward democracy and greater respect for human rights
merits particular attention because national elections will be held in 2002.
The Community of Democracies can help ensure that these elections adhere to
international standards by making Kenya's participation in Seoul contingent
upon concrete steps, including lifting bans on rallies by Muungano wa
Mageuzi, a pro-democracy coalition, and allowing the new constitutional
commission to operate independently.


      Despite recent signs that Haiti's political crisis may soon be
resolved, its progress towards democracy remains uncertain. Local and
parliamentary elections held in May 2000 were marred by abuses. The OAS
Electoral Monitoring Mission labeled them "fundamentally flawed" and quit
Haiti before a second round of balloting. Police forces have failed to
protect citizens from politically motivated killings, assaults, threats and
intimidation. The justice system remains dysfunctional, as highlighted by
the failure to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of
journalist Jean Dominique. Before Haiti is invited to Seoul, the government
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide should take concrete steps to strengthen
democracy and the rule of law, including, at a minimum, the establishment of
an independent and credible electoral commission and making clear progress
toward identifying and punishing the killers of Jean Dominique.


      Once considered a potential model for democratization in Central Asia,
the government of Kyrgyzstan has, in recent years, become increasingly
authoritarian. The Akaev government has responded to criticism directed at
it by harassing and jailing its critics, including independent journalists,
human rights defenders, and political opposition figures. Leading opposition
politicians Feliks Kulov and Topchubek Turgunaliev were arrested just prior
to the presidential elections of October 2000 and remain in prison today.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that the
presidential election ".failed to comply with OSCE commitments for
democratic elections." These trends led the Community of Democracies to
exclude Kyrgyzstan last year after initially including it among
participating states. Barring significant progress on implementing OSCE
election-related recommendations and the release of political prisoners like
Feliks Kulov and Topchubek Turgunaliev, Kyrgyzstan should remain off the
list of participating states for the 2002 meeting.

      Of the other countries invited to participate last year, KUWAIT, QATAR
and YEMEN have done little or nothing to meet the standards of the Warsaw
Declaration. In Kuwait, strict Penal Code and Printing and Publications law
provisions continue to hinder the work of journalists and writers. Women
still do not have the right to vote. Qatar is an absolute monarchy in which
freedom of assembly remains severely limited. Political demonstrations are
prohibited, as are political parties and domestic human rights
organizations. In Yemen, political activists are harassed and detained. The
government continues to impose severe restrictions on freedom of expression
and the press and local elections in February were marked by widespread
irregularities. Absent fundamental democratic reforms that would increase
the ability of opposition parties and activists to undertake their
activities without retaliation or punishment - and in the case of Kuwait,
grant women the right to participate in the political process -- these
countries should not be invited to Seoul.

      Needless to say, the situations in these and other countries will be
fluid over the coming year and a half, and will merit continuing attention.
We urge the convening states to consult closely with individuals and
organizations independent of the government in these countries of concern to
determine whether their participation will advance or hinder the cause of
democracy and human rights. We look forward to discussing with you
developments in each country as the date of the conference approaches.

      Yours sincerely,

      Kenneth Roth
      Executive Director