Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 - Soviet Union
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||1 January 1991|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 - Soviet Union, 1 January 1991, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca39c.html [accessed 3 May 2016]|
Events of 1990
Human Rights Developments
The year 1990 was a paradoxical one for human rights in the Soviet Union. While official government policy toward human rights continued to improve, the scale of violations grew sharply, due largely to violent confrontations among ethnic groups and political factions that the central government was unable and at times unwilling to control. While individual empowerment increased, individual rights were threatened by growing confusion, hostility and even anarchy.
Political pluralism was accompanied by a breakdown of governmental authority at all levels, giving rise to new conflicts among competing political forces. Contradictions abounded as various republics declared the supremacy of their laws over All-Union laws, or the republics failed to incorporate All-Union laws and decrees in their own legal codes. In Lithuania and Latvia there were two procuracies – one headed by a procurator appointed by Moscow, the other by a procurator appointed by the republican government. The Ukrainian government passed a law calling for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian procuracy. President Gorbachev referred to the danger of what he called the "Lebanonization" of the Soviet Union.
Numerous new laws protecting the right to a free press, freedom of conscience and freedom of association were passed in 1990, although some feared that renewed regulation of individual liberties that had been flourishing de facto for the past three years could result in the diminution of these liberties. Conversely, central government power had so diminished that its ability to regulate or protect these newly enshrined rights was doubtful.
With the economy in rapid decline, the newly tolerant and permissive atmosphere in many parts of the Soviet Union began to be overshadowed by calls for a strong hand, and toward the end of the year, by rumors of an imminent military takeover.
The Judicial System
Progress continued to be made in the Soviet judicial system. On the civil side, a revised law on the right to appeal acts of government officials entered into force in July. Unlike the old law, the new one allows judicial review of decisions of anonymous collegial bodies, so that it is not necessary to identify particular officials as defendants. However, the new law does contain possible barriers to effective judicial review. First, it excludes from court scrutiny "normative" acts. Second, if a republic creates a different appeals procedure for particular administrative decisions, these decisions are not subject to review under this law. Finally, some new laws such as those on the press and religious freedom contain express references to the appeals law, although the appeals law by its terms does not require such a reference to be invoked, creating the potential for confusion when no explicit reference is made.
In December 1989, the Committee on Constitutional Supervision was formed, charged with reviewing the constitutionality of new legislation and the conformity of republic and local laws with USSR laws. If any law is found to violate basic human rights provisions in the USSR Constitution or in international compacts to which the Soviet Union is a party, it is supposed to be automatically suspended. The Commission in 1990 ruled unconstitutional a presidential decree on demonstrations (see Freedom of Assembly, infra). It also criticized the internal passport system (see Freedom of Movement, infra). However, Soviet legal specialists complained that the Commission's findings had no real force; for example, the internal passport regime was still in place at year's end.
As to criminal law, amendments to the Fundamentals of Criminal Procedure passed in April codified the presumption of innocence, and created a right to counsel from the moment that criminal charges are brought, or within 24 hours of arrest or detention. At least one Soviet legal scholar commented that even 24 hours is too long to allow the militia unimpeded access to a defendant; the law says nothing about the right of the accused to remain silent during that time. Moreover, in practice, defendants were not apprised of their right to counsel and continued to be denied access to counsel until later in the criminal process. The amendments allow defense counsel unlimited access to their clients and to the investigative file, but in practice, access to both was still controlled (and sometimes denied) by the investigator or the militia. In addition, the small number of defense attorneys practicing in the Soviet Union made it unlikely that criminal defendants would be able to obtain the level of representation that the new law envisioned.
Although the criminal justice system showed some signs of improvement, other developments were disturbing. Administrative punishment, with less protection afforded the accused, became a major means of harassing those seeking to exercise civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression. Administrative procedures allow detention without formal charges and the imposition of fines; penalties increase for repeat offenses. Administrative detention was used in 1990 with special frequency in areas under emergency rule, such as Azerbaidzhan. Politically motivated criminal prosecutions continued to be instituted, and political prisoners remained. (See Political Prisoners, infra) These cases were brought both by the central government and by republic governments. In some cases these prosecutions reflected interethnic tensions. Long periods of pretrial detention, up to eighteen months, were still permitted by Soviet law, and were still used in 1990, particularly in politically sensitive cases. For example, ten people arrested for participating in riots in Fergana were imprisoned in June 1989 and remained in custody at the end of 1990. After trial in September 1990, the case was dismissed for insufficient evidence, but the defendants remained in jail as procurators attempted to mount a new case against them.
Freedom of Expression
Great strides continued to be made in the area of freedom of speech and of the press, although more improvement was still necessary. A new press law was passed in June with many positive elements: affirmance of the right to free expression and the right to information from the government, and the prohibition of censorship. Prohibitions on publication are limited to state secrets, pornography, advocacy of the violent overthrow or change of the government, propaganda for war or for ethnic or religious intolerance, and incitement to criminal activity. But the requirement that all publications must register with the government provides a possible new means for suppressing publications at odds with the government, although by law a registration request can be rejected only for violating the above prohibitions, or for other systematic violations of the law. Publications must register every year.
Registration proceeded apace, with various publications fighting, successfully, to break free of their official sponsors. Ogonek, Argumenty i Fakty, Literaturnaya Gazeta and other independently minded publications were permitted to register as having been founded and owned by workers' collectives, overcoming claims to their ownership by conservative government- or Party-affiliated groups such as the USSR and RSFSR Writers' Unions, the Communist Party Central Committee Publishing House, and the Pravda Publishing House. The USSR Writers' Union initiated a lawsuit against Literaturnaya Gazeta challenging the registration decision.
Subject matter in the Soviet media appeared to be almost unlimited. Criticism of Gorbachev, the military and the KGB could be found everywhere. Even though prohibited by the press law, pornography was also available.
Despite this openness in the press, contradictory signals continued to emerge. A major blemish on the record of glasnost in 1990 was a new law that criminalizes slandering the President. The law was being used to prosecute a number of people who, in person or in print, disparaged Gorbachev. One case involved an article that compared Gorbachev to Hitler. Another case involved a man who defaced a large photo of Gorbachev and marched down the street with it. Even the new press law contains a typically cryptic formulation of libel, prohibiting the mass media from being used for "the degradation of [citizens'] honor and dignity." These anti-slander provisions reflected the opposition of conservative officials to unbridled public criticism.
"Glavlit," the state censorship organ, was ostensibly abolished in 1990, but in fact it was merely replaced, or perhaps renamed. The new organ, "GUOT" (Main Administration for Safeguarding State Secrets in the Press and Other Mass Media), issued an updated list of "Information Forbidden for Publication." The list, like its predecessors, included subjects as diverse as the disease rate of livestock and any information about crime in the military. While it appeared that the press for the most part ignored GUOT (Izvestia published an article ridiculing the emergence of the new list), its very existence raised the specter of renewed censorship.
Restrictions on revealing state secrets continued to be used against government critics. For example, Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who was stripped of his rank and pension after he began publicly criticizing the KGB, was being investigated on charges of divulging state secrets.
Ink, paper and printing presses were for the most part still controlled by the Soviet government and the Communist Party, with progressive and independent publications at the bottom of the priority list for access to these resources. While all publications were subject to shortages, the independent press was particularly hampered. Paper became a big black-market commodity. Editors of independent publications from all over the Soviet Union, including distant Siberian Kuzbass, sent their material thousands of miles to the Baltic states for printing – after they had managed to scrounge enough paper. Meanwhile, back home in Novokuznetsk, the typography plant manager reserved his premises for the Party. This example shows how far the independent press had come – and still had to go.
Publishers and distributors of unofficial publications continued to be routinely harassed. Printers, editors, writers and distributors of samizdat in Kuibishev, Leningrad, Moscow and Gorky (RSFSR), Kiev and Khabarovsk (Ukraine), Minsk (Belorussia) and various other parts of the Soviet Union were subjected to searches, detentions, fines and administrative arrests. When they were charged with a crime, it was frequently for unauthorized peddling. The publications involved were routinely confiscated, resulting in significant monetary loss, since these publications frequently operated on shoestring budgets. There was no clear explanation for this repressive activity in the midst of positive policy reform, except that it reflected a breakdown of authority and the existence of resistance to reform among some local officials charged with implementation.
Finally, states of emergency in various regions of the Soviet Union gave legal sanction to restrictions on expression (see State of Emergency, infra).
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of assembly improved dramatically in 1990. Although the flawed July 1988 law on demonstrations was still on the books, it seemed to be honored largely in the breach. Thousands of demonstrations took place, varying widely in size, crowd composition and stated purpose. A few examples show their immense diversity: a public campaign, including demonstrations, forced Soviet authorities to move their nuclear test site from Semipalatinsk (Kazakhstan) to Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic; irate smokers in Chelyabinsk protested the dearth of cigarettes; and Ukrainians and others demonstrated to show support for the Lithuanian declaration of independence.
For the most part, demonstrations proceeded unhindered by the authorities. However, it should be noted that some Soviet activists were subjected to heavy fines and administrative arrest for organizing "unsanctioned" meetings, not only in major cities such as Moscow but also in such places as Omsk, Ufa and Voronezh in the RSFSR and Chernovtsi, Zaporozhe and Drogobich in the Ukraine.
States of emergency, in effect at year's end in over a dozen areas of the USSR, imposed severe restrictions on freedom of association and assembly, incuding curfews and bans on public meetings. In Azerbaidzhan, public assemblies were outlawed in connection with the state of emergency first declared in January. A similar ban was announced for parts of Kirgizia after violence erupted during the summer. Other areas under states of emergency were subjected to such bans as well. In two republics, Moldavia and Kazakhstan, where republic authorities feared public unrest, bans on public assemblies were announced even though no state of emergency was in effect. Large demonstrations in these two republics proceeded in peaceful defiance of official bans. In April, President Gorbachev attempted to curtail demonstrations in the center of Moscow by passing a presidential decree forbidding the liberal Moscow City Council from issuing demonstration permits. He transferred this power to the USSR Council of Ministers, a more conservative body firmly under his control. In September, this decree was declared unconstitutional by the Committee on Constitutional Supervision. Its fate remained unclear at the end of 1990, although the Moscow Soviet continued to issue permits. Nevertheless, conflicts between the Moscow authorities and the central government over demonstrations continued. In November, the conservative USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium unsuccessfully attempted to ban counterdemonstrations in Moscow to the official Revolution Day parade. The demonstrations took place unhindered with the permission of the Moscow city authorities.
Freedom of Association
Thousands of diverse civic groups dotted the Soviet social landscape in 1990. A few typical types of new organizations included mass-based national rights groups such as the Popular Fronts that had sprung up in almost every Soviet republic; independent labor unions, including the potentially two-million-strong national Miners' Union; numerous environmental action groups, such as the "Green Front"; and "Memorial," a small but influential national alliance of independent groups for social justice, particularly for victims of Stalinism.
In October, a new law on public associations was passed by the Supreme Soviet and signed by President Gorbachev. The law treats as public associations such not-for-profit organizations as political parties, trade unions, artists' groups and charitable foundations. Like the laws on the press and religion, the public association law requires that an organization register to come within its terms. Properly registered public associations have the right to own property, to establish mass media and engage in publishing activity, and to act as juridical entities. Also like the religion and press laws, the implication of the association law is that associations not properly registered cannot engage in such activities. The law allows international as well as domestic organizations to register. Organizations can be refused registration only if they fail to comply with registration procedures, or if the purpose of the organization as stated in its by-laws is criminal (e.g., the violent overthrow of the government, or incitement of ethnic discord).
There were, of course, exceptions to the generally permissive approach to the right to associate, most notably the refusal of the Belorussian republican authorities to register the influential Belorussian Popular Front. The republic appeared to be waging a propaganda war against the Popular Front, falsely portraying it as an organization that preaches ethnic hatred to justify denying its registration under the new law. The Azerbaidzhan Popular Front operated under severe restrictions imposed by state authorities during the state of emergency. The state of emergency imposed in Osh, Kirgizia also forbade gatherings of more than three people.
The Supreme Soviet, in late October, was debating two alternative drafts of a new law on trade union rights. The labor unions claimed that they should have the right to veto the closure of any unprofitable enterprise and the dismissal of workers. The state authorities, fearful of the effect of such a law on labor productivity, delayed discussion of the issue. A "right to strike" law, passed in October 1989, was widely dubbed the "anti-strike" law due to its restrictive provisions.
Freedom of Religion
A huge increase in the number of places of worship for a wide variety of faiths, including Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Baptist and Catholic, occurred in 1990. Some of the chronic problems faced by Soviet religious believers, such as severe shortages of clergy and religious literature, were being addressed after many decades of official atheism. The import of materials from abroad was much easier. Religious groups were also being permitted to extend their activities to new areas, including hospital and other charitable work. Members of the clergy – such as Russian Orthodox former political prisoner Father Gleb Yakunin – were even elected to various republic parliaments.
In October, a new law on freedom of religion was passed by the Soviet Congress and signed by the President. The law is unequivocal in its support for religious freedom. It contains provisions on nondiscrimination and separation of church and state. Religious education is expressly permitted, and religious organizations are given rights as legal entities to own property, hire workers, etc. Religious organizations are tax exempt, although they must contribute to the social insurance fund for the benefit of their employees.
The major flaw in the law is the requirement of registration. Informal societies of believers need not register, but the law implies that any organization that wants to conduct business as a legal entity must register with the regional or city council. No criteria are given for approving a registration request, although rejection may be appealed according to the law on appeals (see The Judicial System, supra). The law allows republics to draft their own registration procedures, raising the possibility that some repressive republic legislatures might pass restrictive procedures. However, reformist legislatures are free to establish pro forma registration criteria that every organization could meet. The new RSFSR law, for example, states that registration can be denied only for failure to follow the registration procedure laid down in the law.
The All-Union law does not make clear what legal rights distinguish a registered organization from a nonregistered one. For example, can a nonregistered "religious society," an entity envisioned by the legislation, buy and sell property under its own name? Presumably not, but the law does not state this. Could its individual members buy and sell property in their own names, even though the activity is clearly for the sole benefit of the society?
Regardless of how well the new law protects religious freedom or erects a barrier between church and state, conflicts continued among different faiths over authority, resources and places of worship. These conflicts have inhibited religious freedom in the past. The most notable of these disputes was in the Ukraine, where the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (allied with the Russian Orthodox Church) was battling the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church for use and ownership of church buildings.
Multicandidate elections occurred on the national, republic and local levels in 1990. Although Communist Party candidates almost always commanded the preponderance of resources – particularly access to media outlets and campaign staff – non-Party candidates won in many cases.
For example, in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, non-Party liberals were swept into office; they later took control of the city councils. The maverick former Moscow Party chief Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the RSFSR. Traditional Party bosses lost out to non-Party activists in numerous other parts of the RSFSR.
In Azerbaidzhan, Belorussia and the Central Asian republics, the Communist Party retained control of the legislatures. In Georgia, Armenia, Moldavia and the Baltics, non-Communists dominated the legislature. In the Ukraine, the non-Communists became the dominant political force, in effect if not in numbers.
Article 6 of the USSR Constitution, which proclaimed the leading role of the Communist Party in all facets of life, was abolished in 1990. A de facto multiparty system began developing in many parts of the country. In Soviet Georgia, 31 parties competed for seats in the republican congress. In Moscow, dozens of new political parties, albeit often of marginal power, sprang up. In the Baltic republics and elsewhere, "popular front" organizations became de facto political parties, fielding candidates for republic office. The law on public associations gave central government approval to a multiparty system by recognizing political parties as legal entities.
Election observers reported that in the 1990 elections irregularities were present in regions where the Communists triumphed as well as where they failed. In at least two republics, Azerbaidzhan and Tadzhikistan, elections were held during states of emergency. Interior Ministry troops were present in large numbers, a midnight to 5:00 a.m. curfew was in effect, and free expression was curtailed. In Azerbaidzhan, the military commandant tried to ban foreign and domestic election observers. Despite what appeared to be great popular support, the opposition Popular Front did very poorly in Azerbaidzhan. Election abuses were reported by Communists and non-Communists alike.
Freedom of Internal Movement
Freedom of movement inside the Soviet Union continued to be hampered by the residence registration system that requires official authorization to live in any particular location or to permanently resettle. In October, the USSR Committee on Constitutional Supervision criticized this system, but stopped short of declaring it unconstitutional.
Ethnic minorities, in many cases displaced from traditional homelands by prior Soviet official policy and practice, continued to claim a right to live in historic territories. The government, while beginning to allow these groups cultural autonomy, was slow to permit return – or actively hindered return – to their areas of origin. For example, the Soviet German population, exiled to Central Asia under Stalin, attempted to return to its historic homeland along the Volga river, but the residence registration system made this migration practically impossible. In addition, new Slavic settlers in the Volga area opposed the Germans' return. Many Germans gave up and decided to emigrate to Germany.
The Crimean Tatars, though officially told that they could return to the Crimea, were not able to do so because of land and housing shortages and the resistance of the local population. Government plans to make housing available to them in the Crimea were put on hold, and disputes arose over squatters.
The Meskhetian Turks, a small group expelled by Stalin in 1944 from their historic homeland in Meskhetia, Georgia, were the targets of a pogrom during the summer in Fergana, Uzbekistan. Once again they were forced to flee from their homes. Some 40,000 Meskhetian Turks found refuge in Azerbaidzhan, with thousands more resettled in the RSFSR. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the newly elected President of Georgia, spoke out against their return to that republic.
By 1990, as many as one million Soviet "internal refugees" had fled their homes due to civil unrest or natural disasters. Aside from an initial paltry payment, the Soviet government took no responsibility for their welfare – saying that they were the concern of the republic governments. Because the central government still controlled the majority of resources, and maintained a registration system that dictated where refugees could permissibly resettle, it had a special responsibility to these refugees. In areas like Armenia and Azerbaidzhan, internal refugees were one of the largest problems confronting the government and society.
Freedom of Foreign Travel
The opportunity for foreign travel was one of the most visible signs of reform in the Soviet Union. Restrictions eased substantially, although the central government still required its citizens to have an invitation from a person living in the country of destination. The difficulty of converting the Soviet ruble to foreign currency kept foreign travel prohibitive for many Soviets. The government would only exchange a small amount of dollars for rubles, so that only those Soviets who could rely on friends or relatives in foreign countries for basic living expenses, or those who could buy hard currency on the black market, could afford to travel abroad. Obtaining airline tickets was also very difficult. For example, the government announced a severe curtailment of the number of tickets to the United States that it would sell for rubles to 72 per week, including for tourists and emigres. Even before this restriction, a large black market in airline tickets had sprung up. The government also announced plans to restrict the sale of train tickets abroad to those who could pay in hard currency, or perhaps in the currency of the destination country. Similar plans were also announced and then abandoned for plane tickets; the government's policy remained uncertain at year's end.
Unfortunately, the new opportunities for Soviets to travel abroad were not accompanied by any significant improvements in the ability of foreigners to travel inside the Soviet Union. The government still closed many areas to foreigners for reasons of national security. In practice, over 80 percent of Soviet land area was closed. In addition, states of emergency in 1990 included bans on travel by foreigners to the affected areas. While it had become possible for foreigners to stay in the homes of their Soviet friends, the procedure for arranging personal invitations was extremely cumbersome and time-consuming. As before, itineraries had to be approved in advance, and visas were usually granted only at the last minute.
Freedom to Emigrate
Restrictions on emigration eased substantially, although the long-awaited law on the right to emigrate was not enacted. Comments by KGB officials in December suggested that they, at least, were opposed to unrestricted emigration. They warned of the danger to the Soviet economy of a "brain drain" caused by emigration of educated people. A new draft of the emigration law, published in October, allows restrictions on travel and emigration for people who possess state secrets, without defining what constitutes a state secret. One variation of the draft limits the duration of the restriction to ten years from the time of exposure to the secret.
By far the largest group of emigres continued to be Jews bound for Israel or the United States. As of November 30, some 146,436 Jews had emigrated to Israel in 1990, and 2,956 to the United States. In total, approximately 300,000 people left the Soviet Union in the first nine months of 1990, the largest non-Jewish groups being Germans (108,991), Greeks (10,961), and Armenians (6,107).
The multinational Soviet state long claimed that it granted special legal rights to various nationalities and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union. These rights, often observed more in the breach than in practice, included education in national languages, facilities for preserving unique cultural heritages, and the opportunity to use national languages in workplaces, courtrooms and the like.
In reality, many of these rights were vitiated by the long-standing official Soviet practice of Russification. Members of the over 100 national and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union often felt affronted by Russification, which they viewed as a violation of cultural and other national rights. Hundreds of national rights activists are known to have suffered long years of imprisonment for their nonviolent advocacy.
Due to greater freedom of speech, press and assembly under glasnost, dozens of national and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union began to voice their grievances. In most non-Russian republics, the titular nationalities passed new laws requiring official use of their language, with various requirements that Russians and other members of nontitular nationalities learn these languages within a specified time period.
Such laws, and the rise to local political power of some activists seen as espousing extremist nationalist views, gave rise to fear among members of nontitular nationalities that they would face discrimination or worse. Others, noting instances of interethnic conflict in various parts of the Soviet Union, moved to their ethnic group's titular republic, even though in many cases, their families had not lived there for generations. Taken together, these reactions produced an atmosphere rife with fear, intolerance and potential violence.
The year 1990 saw an intensification of these trends among dozens of national and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union. In the Baltic states, for example, national tensions increased, due in part to the imposition of strict new language laws, which the Russian minority in Estonia found particularly offensive.
Even inside the giant RSFSR, the titular nationalities in various autonomous republics declared sovereignty in 1990 in an effort to assert their national rights. Such assertions angered members of the nontitular nationalities living in their midst.
In Moldavia, a strong drive among the Moldavian majority for enhanced national rights produced a backlash among the 300,000-member Russian-Ukrainian enclave on the Dniestr River and among the 150,000-member Christian Turkish group, the Gagauz. Faced with what these groups perceived as discrimination by the Moldavian republic government, these two groups proclaimed sovereignty – a proclamation which the republic government declared illegal. Tensions reached such a height that six people were killed in violent clashes between troops and Russian nationalists in November, near Dubossary on the Dniestr River.
The increased hostility among ethnic groups of all kinds in the Soviet Union raised concerns about an increase in anti-Semitism, long a particularly serious manisfestation of interethnic discord. On the one hand, conditions for Jews were improving. New Jewish cultural centers were being built, Jews were allowed to emigrate freely, and the problem of anti-Semitism was being addressed more openly in Soviet society. Yet anti-Semitic acts continued, and there was still a widespread perception that these acts were orchestrated with some official complicity, if not at the highest levels of central government power, then at the local level.
An example of these contradictory signals can be found in the prosecution and conviction in 1990 of Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili for leading a group that disrupted a writers' meeting by shouting anti-Semitic threats. It was the first prosecution in the Soviet Union for anti-Semitic behavior, and in that sense it was a positive development. However, there were clear signs that Ostashvili's actions were officially supported, and that official efforts were made first to obstruct the prosecution and then to limit it to Ostashvili alone.
States of Emergency
In April, the USSR Congress passed and the President signed a new law governing states of emergency. It defines a state of emergency as a "temporary measure...[to] ensur[e] the safety of USSR citizens during natural disasters..., and also during large-scale disturbances." The law requires that states of emergency be declared only by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of a union republic or by the USSR Supreme Soviet by a two-thirds vote of all its members. (Presumably autonomous republics can declare states of emergency as well, since elsewhere in the law they are given authority to lift a state of emergency that they declared.)
The law allows the suspension of most civil liberties. Censorship may be introduced, meetings and demonstrations may be prohibited, house arrest may be imposed for no stated reason, compulsory labor may be ordered, a curfew may be established, and political parties and other organizations may be suspended. The government entity that declares the state of emergency is given complete power over subordinate government entities.
Under a state of emergency, administrative and criminal penalties can be imposed for a variety of extremely vague "offenses," including disseminating "provocative rumors," the "active hindering of citizens and officials in the exercise of their lawful rights and the performance of their duties," and "any other actions of this sort that violate public order or the tranquility of citizens." The military or the internal affairs organs are authorized to handle such cases. The USSR Supreme Soviet may change the jurisdiction over any civil or criminal case pending in the affected area.
Troops may be introduced "in exceptional cases"; no other criteria are spelled out in the law. The President or the USSR Supreme Soviet has authority to send in troops.
Pursuant to the reporting requirements of Article 4(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the state of emergency law requires that the Soviet Union notify the United Nations whenever a state of emergency is declared. In 1990, the Soviet Union notified the UN about states of emergency imposed in Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku and other parts of Azerbaidzhan in January, and about a state of emergency imposed in Dushanbe in March. Through the end of 1990, Soviet authorities had not yet notified the UN about any of the other states of emergency that had been imposed.
As of the end of November, there were twelve areas where states of emergency were in force: four in Azerbaidzhan, three in Armenia, and one each in Georgia, Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizia and Moldavia. In each area, several of the following were implemented: bans on public demonstrations and meetings, restrictions on public organizations, restrictions on the media, administrative detention, and the searching of vehicles and people. A reinforced Soviet troop presence was evident in Moldavia, Azerbaidzhan, Kirgizia, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan.
Although states of emergency are supposed to be "temporary," in Azerbaidzhan and Tadzhikistan they had been in effect for almost a year by the end of 1990.
Declarations of "sovereignty" or "independence" by republics and other territorial units resulted in two cases of especially harsh responses from governmental authorities. The central government responded to Lithuania's declaration of independence (the first by any entity in the Soviet Union) with an economic embargo and shows of heightened military activity, including military takeovers of the procuracy and some publishing houses that printed independent newspapers. The takeover took place with unnecessary violence against civilians, disrupted publishing and challenged civilian rule. In Moldavia, the Russian settlements on the Dniestr river and the small Christian Turkic Gagauz community in the south declared their independence and held elections for new governmental bodies. In response, the Moldavian government declared a state of emergency in the Gagauz areas. Central government troops were called in, and many civil liberties were suspended.
Violent clashes were probably the clearest expression of social, political and economic dislocations in Central Asia and the Caucasus. According to official Soviet statistics, a total of at least 900 people died in interethnic violence in 1989 and 1990. According to unofficial information received from local activists by Helsinki Watch, the death toll from violence in Osh alone was over 1,000.
In 1990, violence broke out in Armenia, Azerbaidzhan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kirgizia, Moldavia and the Russian Republic. The response of the Soviet and republic governments to these events was generally erratic, defensive and unhelpful. In most cases, the central government appeared more concerned with protecting government property than protecting the lives of citizens, and in some cases it appeared that the governmental response was dictated more by political considerations than by the desire to minimize bloodshed.
The introduction of Soviet troops in Baku, the capital of Azerbaidzhan, for example, was ostensibly to protect the lives of Armenians who had been the subject of violent attacks in the days preceding the troop deployment. Yet Soviet troops stationed in Baku did nothing to assist the Armenians during the violent attacks; the declaration of a state of emergency in Baku and the introduction of soldiers took place three days after the attacks on Armenians had largely subsided. Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov later voiced what was probably the primary justification for sending in Soviet troops: to prevent the Azerbaidzhani Popular Front, the most popular political group in Azerbaidzhan, from seizing power from the Communists. The Popular Front had been negotiating with the Communists and had taken control of some governmental structures nonviolently. Elections to a new Azerbaidzhani parliament had been scheduled for March, and the Popular Front looked as if it would win a commanding majority in a free election. In addition to scuttling this political process, Soviet troops killed numerous civilians. Eleven months later, after the vast majority of Armenians had fled Baku, the state of emergency remained in force with a 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew, censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.
The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaidzhan over the territorial enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh continued in 1990. The new Armenian President, Levon Ter-Petrossian took a new stance on this protracted conflict in 1990, calling for negotiations with the Azerbaidzhani leadership, but this did not succeed in stopping the bloodshed.
A tragic new development for 1990 was the emergence of vigilante armies in Armenia, with an estimated membership of 10,000. Shortly after Ter-Petrossyan's election, six people, including an Armenian parliamentarian, were killed by the Armenian National Army. Ter-Petrossian moved at once against the dozen vigilante militias. At his request, the Armenian National Army leaders surrendered their weapons and called upon their followers to do the same. Unfortunately, these actions have not eliminated the problem.
The Soviet government repeatedly denied foreign journalists immediate access to the scenes of civil unrest, and sometimes prevented Soviet journalists from releasing their material. Local governments sometimes denied official investigative commissions access to crucial information and prevented unofficial groups from making public their views on these violent incidents.
The deaths in mysterious circumstances of at least five nonviolent political, religious or national rights activists in 1990 were cause for alarm. Noted Russian Orthodox priest Father Aleksandr Men was brutally murdered in his parish outside Moscow. An investigation by the military procurator was begun. In late August, three members of the Estonian National Independence Party (ENIP) were killed in a car accident, and several days later, a car chased and nearly ran down another ENIP activist. An investigation of the incidents was also initiated. In Azerbaidzhan, the head of the Popular Front's Electoral Committee was killed shortly before congressional elections began. While Soviet governmental or KGB involvement cannot be proven in any way, neither can it be totally discounted in light of official conduct in the not-so-distant past.
Although there was discussion about abolishing the death penalty, it remained in force and continued to be used to punish violent and nonviolent, including economic, crimes. Draft legislation would reduce the number of crimes punishable by death from eighteen to six. In 1990, a Soviet government official reported some death penalty statistics that, when interpolated, indicate 300 executions per year. The exact number is a state secret.
Unfortunately, 1990 did not allow one yet to consign the issue of Soviet political prisoners to history. Cronid Lubarsky, a veteran chronicler of Soviet human rights abuses, documented 57 political prisoner cases, with 21 possible others for which more information was needed. These cases included prosecutions for slandering the President, anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, illegally crossing the border, and hooliganism. The activity punished included criticism of the government and the President, peaceful opposition political activity, and attempts to emigrate. There were 21 additional prisoners being held for conscientious objection or army desertion, with six others for which more information was needed.2
Some of these political prisoners had been imprisoned for many years. Valerii Ianin had been incarcerated for 11 years for attempting to flee to Turkey. Vladimir Chokhisam had been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for 10 years for participating in a Human Rights Day meeting and for tearing down official slogans. Victor Chistkov had been incarcerated for 11 years in psychiatric hospitals (he became mentally ill after his incarceration) for attempting to flee to the United States. After a lengthy public campaign, one veteran Russian prisoner jailed after seeking to emigrate, Mikhail Kazachkov, was released from labor camp in November after 15 years in prison.
Many political prisoners, however, are new cases. Eighteen of the 57 noted above were arrested in 1990. For example, 12 were active in the Azerbaidzhani opposition and arrested in the aftermath of the state of emergency in January. In December, three of the Azerbaidzhani cases were dropped, and two others suspended after the accused were elected to the Azerbaidzhani Congress.
Some of these new cases are reflective of republic-level opposition to political reform. For example, in Turkmenia, Kurbanberdi Karabalakov, a member of the opposition political group "Democratic Platform," was involuntarily confined in a psychiatric hospital in October. Sherali Nurmuradov, leader of the Turkmenia Popular Front, was sentenced in 1990 to seven years in prison on fabricated charges of fraud.
A disturbing new trend in state suppression of dissent in those republics marked by civil unrest was the subjection of nationalist leaders – most of whom were nonviolent – to lengthy terms of pretrial detention on vague charges such as membership in an organization that violates public order. For example, many members of the Azerbaidzhan Popular Front reportedly were jailed in January and spent the remainder of the year in custody on charges of membership in such an organization. Armenian activist Arkady Manucharov spent 15 months in pretrial detention before being released in May.
A presidential decree issued in August rehabilitated en masse "all victims of political repressions from the 1920s to the 1950s." The RSFSR parliament rejected Sergei Kovalev's proposal to rehabilitate all political prisoners since 1917, suggesting that official repentance for abuses was still limited to the Stalin era. In addition, Soviet human rights advocates commented that a blanket rehabilitation has less meaning to the victims and their families than a case-by-case exoneration.
Several prominent exiled intellectuals had their citizenship restored by decree, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Voinovich and Yuri Orlov.
Prison and Labor Camp Conditions
As for conditions in the gulag, even the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), which oversees the labor camp complex, stated its intention to improve lamentable conditions. One hopeful sign of MVD intentions was the granting of permission to Valery Abramkin's nongovernmental Prison Project to inspect gulag facilities. Reports of camp brutality, such as the severe beating in May of Baptist prisoner Anatoly Matviyenko, still surfaced.
The MVD faced scrutiny from former political prisoner Sergei Kovalev in his new capacity as Chairman of the RSFSR Human Rights Committee. During a gulag inspection tour, Kovalev visited the labor camp in which he himself had been a prisoner.
Psychiatric abuse continued in the Soviet Union. Although Soviet officials loudly claimed to be reforming the psychiatric system, the Soviet psychiatric establishment in fact showed little sign of wanting to reform. The leadership of Soviet psychiatry was still the same cast of characters that brought the world the brazen distortion of its medical science to punish dissent. Many psychiatric institutions where abuse was common were still managed by the same doctors as before. The only positive note in terms of personnel was the retirement of Georgy Morozov, formerly head of the Serbsky Institute.
The drugs sulfazine and atropine, banned in the United States because of their questionable benefits and severe adverse side effects, were still used in the Soviet Union in 1990, despite an "official ban" by the Ministry of Health during the summer of 1989.
Peter Reddaway of George Washington University noted that while many political prisoners who had been victims of psychiatric abuse were released, there were still almost certainly a number of unknown victims held against their will in psychiatric hospitals in 1990. In addition, people who had been released from mental hospitals found it extremely hard to lead normal lives because it was still difficult to obtain legal and psychiatric rehabilitation after treatment in a mental hospital.
Some in the criminal justice system continued to associate dissent with mental illness. A pervasive problem was that of Soviet citizens who had complained about living or working conditions and then were punished in mental hospitals. One such victim, R. Shakin, was forcibly hospitalized five times in the past after exposing administrative abuses in the mine where he worked. It was only in March 1990 that he was reexamined at the instigation of the Independent Psychiatric Association and found to be completely healthy. In 1990 in at least two cases, those of Gennady Smirnov and Valeria Novodvorskaya, Soviet citizens were arrested for slandering the President and immediately detained for psychiatric observation. Novodvorskaya was later found sane and released. Smirnov's fate was not known at year's end.
Mistreatment of Army Recruits
A human rights issue that emerged prominently in the public consciousness for the first time in 1990 was the mistreatment of soldiers in the Soviet army. Reports from Shchit, an unofficial organization advocating military reform, and from the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, another unofficial group, claimed that 15,000 members of the armed forces had suffered noncombat deaths in the previous four to five years. This number was repeated in a number of well known Soviet publications. The causes of death included intentional mistreatment, negligence and suicide. Numerous cases of intimidation and hazing of new recruits were reported in 1990. In addition, reports were rife of discrimination and harassment based on national origin. A decree issued by President Gorbachev did not address this mistreatment directly, but urged other governmental bodies to introduce a universal insurance system to be funded by the Defense Ministry and to consider adopting a procedure for soldiers to challenge unlawful acts of their superiors.
The Bush administration, and especially the Department of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, must be credited for efforts to regularize the human rights dialogue with the Soviet Union by increasing governmental contacts at the legislative, executive and judicial levels. Part of this dialogue has been an effort to educate Soviet officials about human rights and the rule of law. Contacts were established between American and Soviet legislators, judges, and civil and criminal justice officials. The program is unprecedented in the level and continuity of the dialogue, and reflects the administration's recognition of the importance of legal reform in securing individual rights in the Soviet Union. The focus of this program has been primarily all-Union governmental institutions located in European Russia. The program would be enhanced if expanded to all parts of the Soviet Union and all levels of government.
The Human Rights Department also promoted humanitarian exchanges with the Soviet Union touching on human rights issues. Informational exchanges were organized on the subject of social programs for the elderly and the disabled. Specific subjects included providing physical access to public places, the construction of wheelchairs, and institutionalization of disabled children.
The Bush administration also deserves credit for its continued work in some areas of traditional human rights concern. One success was the broad-brush yet significant affirmation of various human rights principles within the so-called Helsinki process, formally the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).3 The Copenhagen Document signed in June contains, on paper at least, a strong affirmance of the right to representative government, freedom of expression, religion and association, among other human rights, and of the rule of law as a means for securing those rights. The Document, while nonbinding, will provide a basis for additional moral and diplomatic suasion to ensure the protection of human rights in the Soviet Union and all signatory countries. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter also suggested using the CSCE process as a forum for the discussion and resolution of interethnic disputes, and he reported that there was Soviet interest in this idea.
The Bush administration, in its approach to human rights in 1990, faced certain problems that are endemic to all attempts to deal with the Soviet Union at this time. The dizzying pace and scope of political and social change in the Soviet Union has bewildered both nongovernmental and governmental experts. When power was effectively concentrated in a very few hands, the task of monitoring human rights and establishing responsibility for abuses was a relatively easy one. Now, with the increasing devolution of power to local entities, a myriad of new social and political groups, and a bewildering number of new laws and draft laws in various stages of discussion and approval, it is more difficult to track human rights abuses and to determine where the responsibility lies.
Like its influence on the American public, "Gorbymania" has also affected the Bush administration which, in its support for the Gorbachev reform program, has closely identified the man with the reforms. The reasons for this are understandable. Gorbachev's strong personality and his role in launching the process of reform in the Soviet Union are key. Moreover, the complexity of the huge multiethnic Soviet Union, and the tradition of dealing with a strong, centralized Soviet government, make it easier and simpler to credit Gorbachev alone for reform. Finally, the specter of the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, long considered one of the world's most powerful countries, is a frightening one with potentially disastrous consequences for human rights and international stability. Secretary Baker voiced such concern in December when he said, "instability in the Soviet Union is definitely not...in the interests of the United States." It is thus a natural reaction for the US and other governments to embrace President Gorbachev as the only Soviet leader who holds out some promise of stable progress.
Yet, the failure to envision what might lie beyond Gorbachev, and the central government and Communist Party power structure upon which he continues to rely, has adversely affected the US government's human rights policies. Fear of weakening Gorbachev and imperiling the US-Soviet dialogue appears to lie behind the Bush administration's reluctance publicly to criticize the Soviet Union for human rights abuses.
For example, the cool US government attitude toward those seeking Lithuanian independence, even when their rights were being violated, was dictated by the conviction that gains in US-Soviet relations should not be risked. On May 23, Secretary Baker stated: "Soviet policies, as we have seen in Lithuania, may disturb us deeply, offending our fundamental values. Yet, as the President has made clear, there is too much at stake in the United States-Soviet relationship to dismiss cavalierly or imprudently the potential for progress." Because of this view, the administration did not present a strong public response to the human rights violations that took place at the hands of the Soviet army in Lithuania, such as the occupation of the Communist Party press building and the suppression of some newspapers, the Soviet army's violent seizure of nonviolent Lithuanian deserters who had sought refuge in a Red Cross hospital, the Soviet army's violent takeover of the procuracy building which resulted in injuries to civilians, and two incidents of Soviet army beatings of peaceful protestors.
The Moscow-centric view of the nation has also meant that too little energy and attention has been focused on events in the non-Russian republics and the non-Russian part of the Russian Republic, and on the behavior of republic and local government officials.
For example, US officials reacted mildly to the introduction of Soviet troops in Baku, Azerbaidzhan, and the resultant killing of many civilians, characterizing it as the embattled central government trying to control interethnic violence. With the first announcement of the troop action, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler stated: "We understand the need to establish order in a situation where order has broken down and where both Armenians and Azerbaidzhanis are being killed." Relying heavily on Soviet press accounts of the event, the administration took at face value the Kremlin's claim that armed forces were needed to protect the Armenian population of Baku from further reprisals. In fact, the troops were introduced too late to save the Armenian population, as even the Armenian government acknowledged at the time. As of January 24, eight days after the troops moved in, there had been no high-level communication on the subject between the United States and the Soviet Union. Hampered by a lack of independent information, the administration reacted to the Azerbaidzhan action with a somewhat reflexive statement of support for Gorbachev.
By contrast, conflicting views about the introduction of Soviet troops in Azerbaidzhan emerged from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Minister of Defense announced that the purpose of sending Soviet troops to Azerbaidzhan was to prevent a takeover of the Azerbaidzhani government by the Popular Front, by then the dominant political force in the republic and poised to win a majority in upcoming elections to the republic congress. Later, the Foreign Minister and the Soviet Ambassador to the United States stated that the purpose was to restore order and maintain peace. The administration, while acknowledging that the Defense Minister's remarks were "disturbing," gave more credence to those of the Foreign Minister, and did not publicly condemn the Soviets. One month after Soviet troops had moved on Baku, and the Western press had reported the number of civilian casualties, the Bush administration's stance was still conciliatory. On February 21 Assistant Secretary Schifter expressed the view that the primary reason for the late arrival of Soviet troops to the area was a cumbersome decision-making process. Schifter stated that the Soviet central government was "confounded" by the problem of interethnic conflict, and genuinely wished to resolve it.
Officials in the State Department have acknowledged the problem of focusing mainly on the center, and attribute part of its cause to a shortage of resources and to lack of access. The difficulty of expanding the US consular presence beyond Moscow and Leningrad, and the travel restrictions still placed on US officials by the Soviets, are indeed impediments to gathering information in the Soviet Union.
A greater impediment, however, may be one established by the administration itself, by placing undue emphasis on supporting the Gorbachev government. The United States has placed limits on contacts with republic officials for fear of undermining Gorbachev. The National Security Council (NSC) issued a classified directive in 1990 that prohibits all US policy-making officials from direct contacts with republic officials without NSC approval. Pursuant to this directive, for example, a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Treasury Department was prevented in late November from traveling to Lithuania at the Lithuanian government's invitation to discuss tax systems. Because contacts with the republics have been narrowed, available information about human rights in the country as a whole has been reduced.
Toward the end of 1990, the US administration began to expand its Soviet focus. Secretary Baker expressed a willingness to create contacts with non-Communists and other Republic-level officials. High-level meetings took place in the United States with officials from Lithuania, Armenia, Kazakhstan and the RSFSR. But while the Lithuanian President had a brief meeting with President Bush, the Armenian President did not. One State Department official ascribed the difference in treatment to an administration policy that denies the highest level access to all but representatives of the Baltic Republics, whose incorporation into the Soviet Union the United States has never recognized.
The US government still pursued its efforts in traditional areas of human rights concern. State Department officials indicated that the Bush administration continued to raise political prisoner cases with the USSR foreign ministry in private working sessions. For cases considered clear-cut, the administration pressed for the prisoner's release. For cases about which there was some dispute, requests were made for more information, including the investigative record from the criminal proceeding. The case of Stepan Khmara, a Ukrainian People's Deputy who was recently stripped of his immunity and arrested for allegedly assaulting an Interior Ministry officer, was raised by Assistant Secretary Schifter with his Soviet counterparts during the December meeting between Secretary Baker and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Yet the continued existence of several long-standing cases calls into question the efficacy of this exclusively private approach. Particularly with respect to those long-standing cases, some public pressure might be appropriate.
The government faced the same difficulties as nongovernmental groups in determining whether a criminal case represented a violation of human rights. Arrests during 1990 for incitement of interethnic discord typified this difficulty. For example, when the case of Mamed Gatami, an Azerbaidzhani nationalist leader, was raised with Soviet officials, they responded that he was being charged with incitement to riot. (Gatami was eventually released and his case dropped). But other cases did not appear at all on the State Department's prisoner list. For example, none of the Azerbaidzhanis cited by human rights monitors as arrested in 1990 for political reasons (see Political Prisoners, supra) were on the State Department list.
Assistant Secretary Schifter's office reported that it had raised the "slander of the president" law with Soviet officials. The State Department rightfully considers this law a violation of the right to free expression. The law and four cases in which it was known to have been applied were reportedly raised again by Schifter at the December Baker-Shevardnadze meeting.
Since 1974, the US government has linked the normalization of trade relations to emigration guarantees in the Soviet Union, relying on the Jackson-Vanik amendment in denying Most Favored Nation trading status to the Soviet Union. Freedom to emigrate from the Soviet Union has always been a high priority for US administrations, and it remained high on the Bush administration's list of human rights priorities for most of l990.
In late December, responding to pressure from the Soviet Union and Western allies and taking into account the considerable easing of emigration restrictions, President Bush announced a six-month waiver of the Jackson-Vanik restrictions. The purpose of the waiver was to ease severe food shortages in the USSR by providing credits to buy agricultural products.
Nevertheless, a new Soviet law on emigration remained stalled at the end of 1990, as it had been for more than a year. Although Jewish emigration quotas were so high that the National Conference on Soviet Jewry itself approved a temporary waiver of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, true freedom of emigration had not yet been incorporated into Soviet law. It is hoped that at the end of the six-month waiver period, the Bush administration will again examine Soviet emigration policy and practice with a critical eye before deciding on further trade concessions.
The administration's actions with regard to a visit of Soviet psychiatrists to the United States were unfortunate, in the view of Helsinki Watch. The Soviet delegation was invited to the United States to observe psychiatric hospitals after an American investigative mission visited the Soviet Union – a precondition for the reacceptance of the Soviet Union into the World Psychiatric Association.
Bruce Gelb, Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA), which had agreed to underwrite some of the expenses of the Soviet delegation, asked Helsinki Watch to examine the roster of intended participants to identify any members that might have engaged in psychiatric abuse. Helsinki Watch had serious misgivings about a few of the participants, and communicated these in writing to Gelb, and to Assistant Secretary Schifter. These participants had been implicated in abuse, either directly or by employment in hospitals in which systematic abuses occurred. After receiving Helsinki Watch's comments, the USIA decided to withhold funding of the delegation, and the group's visit was postponed.
Assistant Secretary Schifter and the State Department's Bureau of Human Rights later expressed dismay at Helsinki Watch's "intervention" in a visit that clearly had the approval of at least that section of the State Department. Schifter did not address Helsinki Watch's criticism of doctors directly implicated in abuse but, rather, focused on those who had been indirectly associated with abuse.
In September, a different Soviet delegation of psychiatrists came to the United States, in place of those whose trip had been postponed in the spring. The new group was free of anyone implicated in the past abuse of psychiatry, although some apologists for the old system remained part of the delegation. A very busy schedule was planned by the National Institute of Mental Health without any opportunity for human rights groups to meet with the delegation.
State Department officials reported that the issue of anti-Semitism was raised by Secretary Baker at a February meeting with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. Assistant Secretary Schifter stated in 1990 that anti-Semitism remains a problem that, though not officially sponsored "at the top level of government," is not officially condemned at the top either.
In a new area of concern, the Bush administration initiated a proposal for adding free elections to the CSCE human rights framework. The June Copenhagen Document included a requirement of free elections, the accountability of the executive to the electorate, and the separation of the state from any political party. Observers from the US Helsinki Commission issued useful public reports on the conduct of many of the congressional elections that occurred in the Soviet Union in 1990.
The Work of Helsinki Watch
The growing instability of the Soviet Union created new complications for Helsinki Watch's traditional human rights monitoring. It was often not clear whether new human rights violations were exceptions, holdovers from the past, or condoned by the system. If systemic, it was often not clear which part of the splintering system bore responsibility – the central or a local government, or some semiautonomous unit of the bureaucracy.
With the continuing fragmentation of the Soviet Union, it became possible and necessary to expand human rights work to areas other than the traditional focal points of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev. Helsinki Watch began an expanded program to explore human rights issues in the 15 Soviet republics, treating each republic as the separate territory that it may possibly become. Helsinki Watch investigated the Soviet and local governments' responses to violent clashes in various republics about which objective information had been scarce. It worked to overcome the Soviet government's habit of secrecy, particularly with regard to incidents of violence in the non-Russian republics. And it continued to urge greater openness with regard to travel within the Soviet Union and access to information, both by local civic groups and by Western journalists and activists.
Helsinki Watch began publication of a series of reports on human rights in each of the republics. It issued a report on Moldavia in March, describing the evolution of national consciousness in the republic and its human rights implications. The second report in this series, Conflict in the Soviet Union: The Untold Story of the Clashes in Kazakhstan, dealt with the Kazakhstan Republic, in particular the violent events of December 1986. An article that grew out of the Kazakhstan research appeared in the October 11, 1990 issue of the New York Review of Books. Missions and reports on Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaidzhan and Armenia were in progress at year's end.
Helsinki Watch continued to appeal to the Soviet government to account for its behavior in the non-Russian republcs. It protested various central government actions in response to the Lithuanian independence drive, including the violent behavior of the Soviet army in several incidents, and the travel restrictions imposed to and from the republic.
Helsinki Watch also began to create a network of contacts with activists in the non-Russian republics. For example, it provided a public forum in the United States for these activists so that journalists, government officials and the interested public could better understand events in the entire Soviet Union. Helsinki Watch hosted public meetings with people such as: Yuri Butchenko, a Siberian labor activist from Kuzbas; Aleksejs Gvigorievs, a Latvian editor; Mekhdi Mamedov, a member of the Azerbaidzhan Popular Front; Rostislav Bratun, a Ukrainian People's Deputy; Rafael Kazaryan, then Deputy Chairman of the Armenian Supreme Soviet Presidium; Iurie Rosca, Vice President of the Moldavian Popular Front; Kazimiras Uoka, a Lithuanian labor activist and the new State Controller; Hambartsum Galstian, the Chief of Staff to the President of Armenia; Dzhangir Zeinally, a film maker who has documented unrest in his native Azerbaidzhan; and Andrei Makarov, a defense attorney involved in a number of ground-breaking cases.
As is the practice in all of Helsinki Watch's work, follow-up visits were made to areas that had been the subject of published reports. In November, Helsinki Watch representatives returned to Kazakhstan to disseminate the Kazakhstan report and assess local reaction to it. A mission to Moldavia was being planned for 1991. Such follow-up missions greatly increase Helsinki Watch's impact in the Soviet Union.
At the same time, Helsinki Watch continued its traditional work, publicly appealing on behalf of those prosecuted under the slander law and calling for the law's repeal. It also appealed on behalf of members of the independent press who were searched, detained or otherwise harassed in 1990, including the staff of the independent human rights publication Ekspress Khronika and the editor of Glasnost. In addition, appeals were made on behalf of those who were harassed in connection with peaceful political protest or activity, such as members of the Democratic Union who were detained on numerous occasions for holding unauthorized demonstrations.
Helsinki Watch also continued to monitor the cases of the remaining political prisoners in the Soviet Union, publicized their fate to the US government and media, and lobbied the Soviet government for their release. Among others, appeals were made on behalf of Sergei Kuznetsov, jailed for exposing official corruption and released in 1990; Aleksandr Goldovich and Bohdan Klimchak, two prisoners in the notorious Perm 35 prison (Klimchak was released in 1990); and Mikhail Kazachkov, falsely convicted after his attempt to emigrate and finally released in 1990. It also urged the rehabilitation of those unjustly convicted.
A Helsinki Watch newsletter on psychiatric abuse in the Soviet Union was issued in May. Despite certain legal reforms involving psychiatric internment, Helsinki Watch continued to put pressure on the Soviet government to conduct a thorough examination of past abuses and to investigate and halt any continuing abuses including the use of psychiatry for political purposes.
The publication of the newsletter on psychiatric abuse coincided with a proposed visit to the United States by a group of Soviet psychiatrists, a visit which, as noted above, was eventually postponed because several of the psychiatrists were implicated in past abuses. The information provided by Helsinki Watch about the delegation was the basis for a decision to postpone the visit until a more acceptable group of doctors could be found.
Helsinki Watch vigorously supported the creation of independent organizations in the Soviet Union that foster free expression. The emergence of these independent organizations was documented in a Helsinki Watch report published in February, entitled Nyeformaly: Civil Society in the USSR. Included in this report was an appendix listing names, addresses and telephone numbers of 71 particularly active organizations throughout the Soviet Union. Such a list, though incomplete, is invaluable for Western visitors seeking contact with members of the emerging civil society. The contact, in turn, can often serve as a form of protection from persecution by regressive elements in the government.
As another means of disseminating Helsinki Watch's work in the Soviet Union, efforts were made to increase contacts with Soviet journalists. One fruit of these new contacts, and a step toward greater openness in the Soviet Union, was an article describing Helsinki Watch's report on the December 1986 events in Kazakhstan that appeared in Soyuz, a new Izvestia weekly on nationality issues.
Although Helsinki Watch does not monitor the fairness of balloting on election day, it does closely examine human rights issues in the context of elections. Helsinki Watch released a newsletter examining trends relating to human rights before the March 1990 elections for the Congress of People's Deputies.
As Soviet society continued in its transitional phase, social dislocations became increasingly painful. The new problem of Soviet "internal refugees," estimated at around one million, was one manifestation of such dislocation. Helsinki Watch took testimony from refugees in the Meskhi Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaidzhani communities. An op-ed article by Helsinki Watch, "Refugees in the Soviet Union," appeared in the New York Times of June 24, 1990. Helsinki Watch is continuing to monitor the internal refugee problem.
Helsinki Watch also continued to monitor the plight of ethnic minorities displaced from their traditional homelands. It issued an appeal on behalf of Crimean Tatar activists who were mistreated and unjustly tried, and urged the Soviet government to allow the Crimean Tatars to return to the Crimea. The situation of Soviet Kurds was discussed in an article by Helsinki Watch that appeared in the October 11 issue of the New York Review of Books.
In early June, several Helsinki Watch representatives participated in the Annual Meeting of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) in Moscow which brought together leading activists from 19 countries of East and West Europe. The meeting, one of the first independently organized international human rights meetings to take place in the Soviet Union, included two days of public human rights hearings at which representatives of dozens of activist groups from all over the Soviet Union testified about a wide range of human rights problems. Helsinki Watch representatives also participated in a number of official meetings with Soviets including Boris Yeltsin, President of the RSFSR; Sergei Stankevich, Deputy Mayor of Moscow; and Leonid Sizov, USSR Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs.
Helsinki Watch continues to be an active participant in scholarly conferences on issues relating to the Soviet Union, sponsored by organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. It also continues to act as a clearinghouse of information on the Soviet Union for journalists, scholars and other human rights organizations.