Europe and Central Asia
“I dream of living somewhere in peace with my daughter, becoming a grandmother and being kind to my grandchildren, but I still have a task to fulfil here... This is a declaration of war, we have to fight for justice, we cannot give up.”
Natalia Estemirova, talking to Amnesty International in 2009, after the murder of her friend and fellow human rights defender Stanislav Markelov.
At 8.30 on a July morning in the Chechen capital of
It would also be a tragedy doomed to repetition, should the Russian legal system again prove utterly ineffective in ensuring accountability for the life of another activist who braved death threats and intimidation to demand justice for others.
This was not, sadly, an isolated story. Across Europe and
Counter-terror and security
One of the most striking cases in point is that of renditions. The involvement of European states in the global programme of rendition and secret detention operated by the CIA in the years after 2001 has long been known. But despite repeated denials and obfuscation by individual governments, we now have clear evidence of the involvement.
Most governments, however, still failed to seek effective and transparent accountability for these human rights abuses, either at the national level or through European institutions. Some initiatives that had been taken remained unsatisfactory. A German parliamentary inquiry into German involvement in renditions concluded in July 2009, but exonerated all German state actors, despite compelling evidence to the contrary. A German court had previously issued warrants for the arrest of 13 CIA agents for their involvement in the rendition of Khalid al-Masri but the government refused to transmit these warrants. The methods, evidence and findings of an investigation into the existence of an alleged secret prison in
"The signature response of European states to the challenges of large and mixed flows of irregular migration was to repress them."
There were some other signs of progress towards accountability, however. In November, an Italian court convicted 22 CIA agents, one US military officer and two Italian agents for their involvement in the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar – a man kidnapped in broad daylight from an Italian street and then illegally transferred via Germany to Egypt where he said he was tortured. The prosecution of those involved had faced serious obstacles due to restrictions on the evidence available to prosecutors on grounds of national security. And in December a European government admitted for the first time that a secret “black site” had existed on its territory after a Lithuanian parliamentary committee concluded that a CIA secret detention facility had been constructed there. The committee found that officials from the Lithuanian State Security Department had assisted in the construction of the site, and knew of CIA flights landing without border checks, but failed to notify the President or Prime Minister – an echo of concerns raised elsewhere about the lack of oversight of intelligence and security agencies.
In other areas too, security trumped human rights in government agendas, to the detriment of both. In waves of arbitrary detentions, the security forces in
Armed opposition groups continued to cause death and destruction in parts of the region, including in the North Caucasus, Spain,
People on the move
Real or perceived risks for security also continued to drive the debate in other areas, providing fertile ground for populist rhetoric particularly in relation to migration, and exclusion of the ‘other’.
The signature response of European states to the challenges of large and mixed flows of irregular migration was to repress them, resulting in a consistent pattern of human rights violations linked to the interception, detention and expulsion by states of foreign nationals, including those seeking international protection. In May, for example, the lives and safety of hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers
Some others, including
Many countries such as
Across the region, hundreds of thousands of people remained displaced by the conflicts that accompanied the collapse of the former
A climate of racism and intolerance in many countries fuelled ill-treatment of migrants, and helped to keep them and other marginalized groups excluded from society, blocking their rights to access services, participate in government and be protected by the law. The marginalization was heightened in 2009 by fears of the economic downturn, and accompanied in many countries by a sharp rise in racism and hate speech in public discourse. The endorsement by Swiss voters in November of a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets was an example of the dangers of popular initiatives transforming rights into privileges.
Many asylum-seekers and migrants were subject to discrimination and exclusion from services and employment, and experienced extreme poverty. In
"Authorities in a number of countries continued to foster a climate of intolerance against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities."
One of the most profound illustrations of systemic discrimination was against the Roma, who remained largely excluded from public life. Roma families were frequently unable to enjoy full access to housing, education, employment and health services. In some cases, such as in Kosovo, one factor was a lack of personal documents enabling them to register their residency and status. One of the routes out of the vicious cycle of poverty and marginalization – education – was denied to
Authorities in a number of countries continued to foster a climate of intolerance against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, making it harder for their voices to be heard and their rights to be protected. In August, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a controversial law that institutionalized homophobia. It could be used to prohibit any legitimate discussion of homosexuality, impede the work of human rights defenders and further stigmatize LGBT people. In
Five transgender women were murdered, and in only one case was a conviction secured. The Belarusian authorities denied an application by a group of 20 people to hold a small public awareness action about LGBT issues. Their excuse was that the request did not include copies of contracts with the local police department, the health clinic, and the waste disposal services to cover the expenses of ensuring public order, safety and for cleaning up after the action.
Member states of the EU continued to block a new regional directive on non-discrimination, which would simply close a legal protection gap for those experiencing discrimination outside of employment on the grounds of disability, belief, religion, sexual orientation and age.
Repression of dissent
In many areas across the region the space for independent voices and civil society shrunk, as freedoms of expression, association and religion remained under attack.
It remained very dangerous for individuals who did speak out. In
Independent journalists were harassed or imprisoned in places such as
"Victims of torture and other ill-treatment, often fuelled by racism and discrimination, and frequently used to extract confessions, were likewise too often failed by justice systems which did not hold to account those responsible."
in places such as
Public events were banned in
In many places the space for freedom of religion and belief contracted further. In
Impunity in post-conflict situations
Although some progress was made in tackling impunity for crimes committed on the territory of the former
Although a report by an international fact-finding mission commissioned by the EU confirmed that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law had been committed by Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian forces during the 2008 war, and called on all sides of the conflict to address the consequences of the war, no side conducted comprehensive investigations into these violations.
For too many others, however, accountability was still a long way off, including for those waiting for justice from the international community. The relatives of two men killed by Romanian forces serving with the UN in Kosovo in 2007 were still among them, although an internal UN investigation had held the troops responsible for the deaths through the improper use of rubber bullets. The Romanian authorities failed to respond to these findings and in March the UN Special Representative in Kosovo, citing security reasons, refused to allow a public hearing into the failure of the UN troop mission to bring to justice members of the Romanian Formed Police Unit.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Victims of torture and other ill-treatment, often fuelled by racism and discrimination, and frequently used to extract confessions, were likewise too often failed by justice systems which did not hold to account those responsible. Obstacles to accountability included lack of prompt access to a lawyer, failure by prosecutors to vigorously pursue investigations, victims’ fear of reprisals, low penalties imposed on convicted police officers, and the absence of properly resourced and independent systems for monitoring complaints and investigating serious police misconduct. Such failures continued in countries such as
For some, however, there was limited redress although it was long in coming. In a unanimous judgment in June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sergei Gurgurov had been a victim of torture in
The Prosecutor General’s Office had previously responded to all requests for a criminal investigation to be opened by saying that the injuries he claimed were the result of torture at the hands of police officers had been self-inflicted.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women and girls in the home remained pervasive across the region for all ages and social groups. Only a small proportion of women, however, officially reported this abuse. They were deterred by fear of reprisals from abusive partners, the idea of bringing ‘shame’ on their family, for reasons of financial insecurity. Mostly, the widespread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators meant they knew there was little point.
Entrenched societal attitudes, and a backlash of traditional discourses in many places across the region in 2009, led to woefully inadequate provision of services to protect victims of domestic violence. In
It held 10 women.
"It is sadly still the case, that the reality of protection from human rights abuses for many of those within [Europe’s] borders falls short of the rhetoric."
Women also frequently lost confidence that the relevant authorities would regard this abuse as a crime, rather than a private matter, and deal with it as such, therefore official reporting rates were exceptionally low. Failure to bridge that confidence gap not only hampered justice in individual cases, but also impeded efforts to tackle such abuses across society by hiding the full extent and nature of the problem.
Certain groups remained particularly vulnerable across the spectrum of violence against women. Migrant women, for example in
In a continuing positive trend, the
One of the clear opportunities that arose in 2009 to uphold
While this was another welcome component of the human rights framework, the gap is still implementation at a national level. Each individual state across the region has a primary obligation to ensure all within its borders enjoy the full range of human rights guaranteed by the international community of which they are a part. The experience of the past year shows that many states fail in this duty, but also that there is no lack of courageous people who dare to stand up, whatever the personal cost, and work to hold them accountable.