Croatia Discriminates Against Roma Students Says ECHR

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled this week that Croatia violated the rights of Roma students when it forced them into segregated classes in Croatian public schools.

Fifteen Roma students were segregated into separate classes in two primary schools in Croatia. All of the students were Croatian citizens of Roma ethnicity. The public schools were located in Macinec and Podturen, small villages in the north of Croatia. The villages in that area of Croatia in are in general understood to have negative views of the minority Roma population, like many areas of central Europe.

The ECHR ruled that segregating the students based on language alone constituted discrimination in violation of the EU Convention of Human Rights.As a result of the ruling, Croatia must pay the students 77,500 Euros, which amounts to 4,500 Euros each in compensation and 10,000 Euros in court fees.

This decision builds on previous ECHR rulings, where segregation of Roma students into within public schools based on ethnicity and in separate special schools for children with mental disabilities was ruled discriminatory.

The Roma students in this case initially brought a lawsuit in Croatia’s trial courts, but that case was summarily dismissed. An appeal to the Croatian Constitutional Court was likewise denied. The defense in previous litigation successfully argued that fully segregated classrooms were necessary based on Roma students needing additional class time on learning the Croatian language.

According to Lydia Gal of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), the European Union will likely penalize Croatia in its effort to be admitted to the EU in 2012 as a result of this decision. Dzavit Berisha of the ERRC said that those of Roma ethnicity will continue to face discrimination in Croatia, despite this decision.

For more information, please see:

B92 – EECHR: Croatia discriminating against Roma children – 17 March 2010

CROATIAN TIMES – Croatia to pay Roma €77,500 for school segregation – 17 March 2010

BBC – European Court says Croatia violated Roma rights – 16 March 2010

PR NEWSWIRE – Europe’s Highest Court Rules Roma School Segregation by Language Illegal – 16 March 2010

Amnesty International Report Reprimands Numerous European Nations For Selling Torture Instruments

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – A newly released Amnesty International report has criticized a number of European countries for exporting instruments that can be used to commit torture, which is a violation of the European Union human rights standards.

Legislation passed by the EU Parliament in 2006 banned the international trade of any instruments that are designed for the purpose of conducting torture.  In cases when an item was made for other purposes, but has the potential nevertheless to be used for torture, the law requires that their trade be monitored.

During the time period of 2006-2008, the Czech Republic government approved the sale of chemical sprays, electric shock devices, and shackles.  In many cases, these sales were made to foreign nations with questionable human rights records.

A spokesman for Amnesty International’s European Union office described the extent of the sales.  “There are a number of exports that have been granted to countries such as Georgia, Pakistan, Mongolia and Senegal where there is evidence of torture.  We are still awaiting a response from thee Czech government on what the destination of the exported equipment actually was.”

The Czech Republic has not, however, sold to all potential buyers.  The central European nation refused to sell torture equipment to Iran and Azerbaijan.  The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government agency who holds the final authority to approve a sale, utilizes a standard of taking in consideration a potential buyer country’s United Nations human rights and torture records as well as their own diplomatic reports on those nations.

In responding to the Amnesty International report the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union stated that it was taking the report “very seriously” and will “examine the suggestions in the report with great attention.”

The Amnesty International report also noted that Germany, Spain and Italy have also sold equipment in recent years that could be used for torturing purposes.  Germany has sold foot chains and various chemical sprays to China, India and the United Arab Emirates.  Additionally, the majority of European nations have yet to disclose their exports of the banned items.

Uncertainly regarding the implementation and enforcement of the EU torture legislation was also echoed in the report.  Amnesty International researcher Mike Lewis noted that “although the legislation exists, and was a leader in its field when it was introduced, European member states have not uniformly followed up on their obligations under the regulations.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – EU firms ‘exporting torture equipment’, Amnesty says – 18 March 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Amnesty International Says EU States Exporting Torture Instruments – 18 March 2010

RADIO PRAGUE – Czech Republic picked out in Amnesty International report for exports of ‘torture’ equipment – 18 March 2010

Two Serbs Convicted of War Crimes

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – A war crimes tribunal in Serbia convicted and sentenced two Serbs for perpetrating war crimes during the conflict for independence in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

On Monday March 15, Pano Bulat and Rade Vranesevic were found guilty by the War Crimes Council of the Belgrade High Court for murdering six civilians in March 1992 during the conflict.

Mr. Bulat and Mr Vranesevic were tried in Serbia because they were both Serbian residents. However, the prosecution proceeded pursuant to an agreement between Serbia and Croatia to cooperate on prosecuting the war criminals.

The six civilians were between the ages of 63 and 81; five were female and one was male. All the victims were killed in Banatski Kovacevac, a town in eastern Croatia. They were given twelve and fifteen year sentences, respectively, for their roles in perpetrating these war crimes

The Court found that the victims were killed with an automatic rifle by Mr. Vranesevic and a pistol by Mr. Bulat. The victims bodies were later burned. In sentencing the men, the Court emphasized that the victims were not part of any police or military group.

Mr. Bulat and Mr. Vranesevic were both members of Republika Srpska Krajina, a self-proclaimed army in territory held by rebel Serbs. Republika Srpska Krajina, and other militant groups, were opposing Croatia’s 1991 declared independence from the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Bruno Vekaric, the Serbian Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor, praised the result as a victory for justice. Mr. Vekaric also highlighted the cooperation between Serbia and Croatia as a success, and said he looked forward to 28 other war crimes prosecutions in which the countries are currently working together.

According to the AP, Serbia continues to cooperate in war crimes prosecutions against its citizens and residents in an effort to seek admission to the European Union.

For more information, please see:

ASSOCIATED PRESS – 2 convicted in Serbia for Croatia war crimes – 16 March 2010

B92 – Conviction for war crimes in Croatia – 15 March 2010

JAVNO – Two Serbs jailed for Croatia war crimes – 15 March 2010

The British Government Challenges a 2008 Ruling Extending Human Rights to Troops Serving Abroad

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch, Europe Desk

LONDON, England –  The British government has asked a panel of Supreme Court justices to overturn a landmark ruling granting UK troops serving abroad the protection of human rights laws. The ruling, which stated that British soldiers abroad must be protected by the Human Rights Act when fighting outside their bases, emerged from a case involving the death of Scottish Private Jason Smith in Basra, Iraq.  This ruling effectively extended to troops the right to sue over decisions made on the battlefield.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has stated that it is not possible to guarantee rights under the European Convention to British soldiers on duty anywhere in the world. Representing the MoD, James Eadie of the Queen’s Counsel (QC) said: “Effective and faithful application of the convention means that not only must they have exclusive legal and physical control over persons who benefit from it, but also legal and physical control over both the area of its application and over those other persons within that area.”

He said further that this would impose an obligation on the UK to ensure that British soldiers could “enjoy convention rights without hindrance, even from those Afghans over whom the UK has no legislative or practical control and where the territory is not controlled by the UK.” Eadie argued that the imposition of a “legal duty of care” would create a disproportional risk that decision making by the military would be more “cumbersome” and result in less effective military leadership and tactical decision-making.

Retired Major-General Patrick Cordingley who commanded the Seventh Armoured Brigade in the Gulf War said: “Life is hugely complex in battle situations and commanders cannot be expected to have to worry about every aspect of the Human Rights Act once they’re engaged in operations.”

Private Smith served with the Territorial Army and was deployed to Iraq in June 2003. He repeatedly told medical staff that the was feeling ill due to high temperatures, and reported sick in August of 2003. He was found lying face down and was taken to a hospital, but had sustained cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead. 

Photo: Private Jason Smith and his niece./ Source: Times Online

Photo: Private Jason Smith and his niece. / Source: Times Online

His mother, Catherine Smith, began legal proceedings after she was initially denied access to documents during an inquest into her son’s death. After struggling seven years to secure a more thorough investigation into her son’s death and to achieve greater protection of soldiers’ rights, the Court of Appeal finally ruled in her favor last May.

At the inquest, Andrew Walker, the assistant deputy coroner of Oxfordshire said that Smith’s death was caused “by a serious failure to recognize and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that he had in adjusting to the climate.”

The High Court ruled in Smith’s case that soldiers on British military bases or hospitals are covered by the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, Justice Collins ruled that a state might be in breach of its obligation to ensure the human rights of soldiers if it could have taken steps to avoid or minimize a known risk to human life but neglected to do so. 

The Court of Appeal took the High Court’s ruling further and argued that as British soldiers were subject to British jurisdiction wherever they went, the link between British soldiers and the UK extended beyond beyond British military bases and hospitals abroad.

Smith’s attorney, Jocelyn Cockburn, responded to the Government’s challenge to the Court of Appeal ruling saying: “How can it be right for servicemen and women to lose their human rights protections when they are sent abroad to fight on our behalf?”

Cockburn referred to Eadie’s claims that the ruling would render the military ineffective as “scaremongering,” and said that the Human Rights Act required that “reasonable steps” be taken by the government to protect the lives of British soldiers abroad.  She said: “I don’t think a court would second guess in any circumstances what a commander decides to do in the heat of battle.”  She added: “The issues that could be affected are military planning and the putting in place of, and adhering to, systems to protect soldiers.”

The ruling by the Court of Appeal also requires coroners to conduct more probing inquests in the the causes of death of British troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is speculated that this requirement will likely result in further revelations regarding the failure of military equipment and troop training.

Cockburn stated: “One can only wonder whether we would be hearing the constant complaints of lack of equipment for service personnel if the government had recognized their ‘human rights’ from the start. Rather than appealing this case the Secretary of State [Robert Ainsworth] should be prioritizing the safety of his troops.”

The Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear attorneys representing Catherine Smith, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Oxfordshire Coroner during a three-day hearing. The outcome of the hearing will impact future inquests into the deaths of soldiers.

Mrs. Smith told The Times: “Jason’s life would have been really wasted if I do not keep this going . . . Soldiers have got a right to life. They are fighting to keep our country safe.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – UK troops human rights ruling challenged by government – 15 March 2010

The Guardian – Supreme court considers UK soldiers’ right to sue over military missions – 15 March 2010

The Telegraph – Government challenges court ruling to protect human rights of soldiers – 15 March 2010

The Times Online – Giving soldiers human rights in war zones ‘will hamper battlefield commanders‘ – 14 March 2010

Nazi Victim Mass Graves Discovered in Austria

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GROZ, Austria – Austrian governmental officials have announced the discovery of two mass graves created for victims of the Nazis in World War II.

The grave sites were found on property used by the Austrian Army in the city of Graz in southern Austria. The Austrian Army had been using the land as a sports field and recreational area for service men.

The mass graves were discovered on the basis of photographs taken during World War II. The aerial photos were taken by United States bombers and showed discernible uncovered graves with dozens of visible bodies.

Government officials have begin to seek out the property owners to begin exhuming the bodies. But Rudolf Gollia, the Austrian Interior Ministry spokesperson, said he could not confirm whether the Austrian army owns or rents the involved property.

The Austrian government says that the mass graves contain approximately 70 corpses. Officials have said that most of the victims were in Nazi concentration camps, and these victims were killed by Nazi leaders to prevent witnesses from testifying against them as Soviets entered the country near the end of World War II.

An Austrian Army report suggests that a few of the bodies might be American fighter pilots shot down in Austria by the Nazis.

For more information, please see:

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Austrian govt finds mass graves of Nazi victims – 12 March 2010

IRELAND ON-LINE – Dozens of bodies found in Nazi mass graves – 12 March 2010

NEW YORK TIMES – Austria: Mass Graves of Nazi Victims Are Found – 12 March 2010

Church Abuse Allegations Rock Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands – Dutch Roman Catholic bishops have ordered an independent inquiry into over 200 reported cases of alleged sexual abuse of children by priests, with investigations slated to begin “as soon a possible.”  The Dutch Catholic Church also issued a statement offering its apologies to the victims. The allegations, which first centered on a monastery school in the eastern part of the Netherlands, soon sparked dozens more allegations across the country. 

New allegations of abuse have not been confined the the Netherlands; on Tuesday it emerged that Bruno Becker, head of a monastery in Salzburg, Austria, confessed to having abused a boy forty years ago when he was a monk. Church authorities quickly accepted his resignation on Monday.

Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that the sexual abuse scandals were particularly reprehensible in light of the educational and moral responsibilities of the Catholic Church. He also said that Church institutions in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands have “demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved date[s] many years ago.”

Father Lombardi also denied that the Vatican has tried to erect a “wall of silence” around the scandals.

On Monday, German justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger accused the Vatican of erecting the “wall of silence” surrounding abuse cases, and said that the Vatican secrecy rules were complicating German efforts to investigate the claims of abuse. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also cited a 2001 rule from the Vatican requiring abuse cases to be investigated internally as having hindered investigations.

There are currently investigations into abuse allegations underway in eighteen of Germany’s twenty-seven Roman Catholic dioceses. In January, pupils at the Jesuit-run Canisius College in Berlin were the first to come forward with allegations of abuse, prompting many others to come forward in subsequent weeks.

Allegations that abuse occurred at a church choir in the Regensburg Diocese have made the Vatican particularly uneasy. The choir was run from 1964-1993 by Pope Benedict XVI’s elder brother, Father Georg Ratzinger.  The abuse, however, is alleged to have occurred before Father Ratzinger took charge of the choir. Although he has denied any knowledge of the sex abuse cases, he admitted that he knew discipline was strict, and said that he had, himself, sometimes slapped students in the face.  He told the Passauer Neue Presse:

“Pupils told me on concert trips about what went on. But it didn’t dawn on me from their stories that I should do something. I was not aware of the extent of these brutal methods.” He added: “At the start, I also slapped people in the face, but I always had a bad conscience.”

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishops, has apologized for the abuse, and is scheduled to meet with the Pope later this week to discuss the scandal. The German Catholic Church has pledged to investigate all 170 allegations of abuse and to investigate whether Pope Benedict XVI knew about the sex scandals when he was a bishop in Bavaria between 1977 and 1994. Father Karl Jüsten, spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference in Germany, said:

“We do not know if the Pope knew about the abuse cases . . . However, we assume that this is not the case.”

The abuse cases have  prompted German legislators to discuss the possibility of changing Germany’s statute of limitations to allow for the prosecution of priests.

 For more information,  please see:

The Times Online – German Catholic Church pledges to investigate all 170 allegations of abuse – 11 March 2010

BBC – Dutch Bishops order abuse inquiry – 10 March 2010

Deutsche Welle – Archbishop will report to Pope on abuse in German church schools – 10 March 2010

Radio Netherlands World Wide – Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal widens – 10 March 2010

BBC – Vatican accused over German sex abuse allegations – 8 March 2010

Russian Official Suggests Finger Printing for North Caucasus

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian official has suggested compiling fingerprints of the entire population of the North Caucasus as a measure to prevent and restrain crime in the region.

The North Caucasus an excessively problematic and violent region of the Russian Federation. The North Caucasus is also home to a large Muslim population, and ethnic tension has certainly contributed to the violence.

The Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, Alexksandr Bastrykin, proposed on March 4 that the Kremlin compile a database of the fingerprints of all North Caucasus residents. DNA samples would also be submitted for inclusion in the database.

Mr. Bastrykin also suggested that Russia re-register all motor vehicles and issue new license plates for North Caucasus residents as part of a solution to “stabilize” the region.

Human rights groups criticized the suggestion, which appears to have some support at the federal level. For example, Lyudmila Alexkseyeva, a Russian human rights advocate, said that the fingerprinting plan is entirely “discriminatory”, calling such a practice “unacceptable in [any] civilized country.”

Tanya Lokshina, a human rights advocate for Human Rights Watch in Moscow, agreed, arguing that the proposed plan violated the European Convention of Human Rights. Ms. Lokshina also predicted that the progam would “antagonize people further in an already volatile region.”

Mr. Bastrykin suggested that the fingerprint and license plate programs would merely be pilots in the North Caucasus, and could later be extended to other parts of Russia where crime is prevalent. He suggested that the programs would not be used in a discriminatory matter, but instead would only be used “to centralize records and investigate crime”.

Chechen Republic spokesman, Alvi Kerimov, agreed with human rights groups and advocates. Mr. Kerimov stressed that if fingerprinting were to be introduced, it should not be used exclusively in the North Caucasus, but instead throughout the Russian Federation.

For more information, please see:

MOSCOW TIMES – Investigators Propose Fingerprinting in Caucasus – 9 March 2010

ITAR-TASS – Investigation Committee suggests total fingerprint/DNA registration in Russia – 5 March 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russian Official Suggests Fingerprinting Entire North Caucasus – 5 March 2010

REUTERS – Russia proposes fingerprinting for volatile N.Caucasus – 5 March 2010

Slovak Village Builds Wall to Keep Roma Out

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

OSTROVANY, Slovakia – In the eastern Slovak town of Ostrovany the town council approved and built a 150 meter long and 2.2 meter high wall out of gray concrete slabs to separate the Roma community from the rest of the village.  Officials in Ostrovany say that the wall was necessary to protect Slovak homeowners whose gardens bordered the Roma settlement.

The wall was built with €13,000 of public funds in a community where two-thirds of the population are Roma.

The wall dividing the eatern Slovakian village of Ostrovany from the Roma encampment. / Source: BBC
The wall dividing the eastern Slovakian village of Ostrovany from the Roma encampment. / Source: BBC

Stanislav Daniel of the European Roma Rights Center said of the wall:

“It has very high symbolic value. We could not object to the owners building their own wall and paying for it. But this is the first time that a municipality in Slovakia is using public money to protect the property of a few people.”

The village council first agreed to build the wall in 2008 after concerns were expressed over rising criminality in the village, primarily in the form of  fruit theft by Roma children. The wall was supposed to have become part of a community complex including a kindergarten, primary school, and community center –  which have yet to materialize.

The building of the wall has caused outrage among the Roma and human rights activists.  Peter Kaleja, a twenty-one-year-old Roma man who lives with his wife and nineteen-month-old baby daughter in a shack made of mud and wood, said:

“Nobody told us that this was happening – they just came one day and started building . . . The mayor should not have spent that money on the wall, but should have built houses for us.”

The Kaleja’s  live on €170 a month, and have no running water, gas, or sewage connection in their shack. 

Cyril Revak, mayor of Ostrovany, said that the Roma shacks are built illegally on private land.  He said:  “The Roma are also citizens of this country. They deserve all the help they can get, but they must obey the law.” Revak remarked that the municipality was trying to purchase the land the Roma are living on, and planned to build houses for the Roma.  He also said that the village had launched a program to help Roma children graduate from high school.

“I’m not a racist,” Revak said, “I know that there are many decent people living among our Roma. But on the other hand, I do not wish for anyone to go through hell everyday, like the people living in the neighbourhood of the settlement.”

Štefan Šarközi of the Institute of Roma Public Policy criticized the wall, which he said effectively categorized all of the residents of the settlement as thieves.  Šarközi also said that the money would have been better spent on social workers and guards to prevent crime.  He said:

“If someone steals, he or she should be punished for that, but we shouldn’t punish the whole community . . . Where does that leave those who live in the settlement behind the wall now and who never stole anything?”

 There are roughly 350,000 Roma in Slovakia, which is approximately seven percent of the nation’s population. The Roma of Slovakia, and in the rest of Eastern Europe, have a shorter life expectancy, are more likely to be unemployed, and have a higher infant mortality than their non-Roma neighbors.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Slovakia’s separation barrier to keep out Roma – 9 March 2010

The Sofia Echo – Slovak town raises concrete wall around Roma ghetto – report – 18 February 2010

Times Online – Slovakian council in Ostrovany funds wall to isolate Roma community – 18 February 2010

The Slovak Spectator – A wall to keep out Roma – 26 October 2009

 

Terrorist Cell Convicted In Germany For Failed Plot

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

DUSSELDORF, Germany – Four members of a German terrorist cell were convicted for a foiled terrorist plot target United States soldiers and military installations that they had attempted to carry out in 2007.

German citizens Fritz Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider and Attila Selek were arrested, along with Adem Yilmaz of Turkey, in 2007.  Found in their possession at the time of arrest were military detonators and large quantities of hydrogen peroxide.  The cell had been under investigation by German law enforcement authorities for approximately nine months prior to their arrest.  It was their intention to target the U.S. Air Force base in Germany, Ramstein Air Base, along with a number of regional airports and restaurants.  Each defendant had trained at an Al Qaeda camp in northern Pakistan.  They also had joined the Islamic Jihad Union in 2006.

The defendants confessed to the charges leveled against them last year.  Gelowicz and Schneider were sentenced to twelve years in prison.  Yilmaz was given an eleven year sentence, while Selek was sentenced to five years.  Schneider was also was convicted for the attempted murder of one of the police officers who participated in the cell’s arrest.

Judge Ottmar Breidling, who handed down the sentences, commented that the four defendants wanted to carry out a “second September 11th”.  He described the plot as having the potential to have been a “monstrous bloodbath, designed to kill at least 150 people, mostly Americans.”

This failed plot constituted the first radical Islamic plot to be organized and prepared by German citizens.

For more information, please see:

CNN – 4 convicted over foiled German terror plot – 4 March 2010

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Germany Sentences 4 in Terror Case – 4 March 2010

VOICE OF AMERICA – 4 Muslims Convicted in Germany – 4 March 2010

UPI – Germany convicts home-grown militants – 4 March 2010

Dutch Local Elections Return Big Results for Xenophobic, anti-Islam Party

 By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

 Dutch far-right politcian Geert Wilder speaking to supporters in Almere. [Source: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images]

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilder speaking to supporters in Almere. / Source: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands – Wednesday’s local elections in the Netherlands brought major gains for Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV).  The PVV, which ran in two cities, came in first in election results in Almere, and second in in The Hague, where the Labour Party retained a slight lead.

Just days before the elections, Wilders said that a ban on Muslim headscarves in public places would be a non-negotiable facet of the PVV’s platform. In response, dozens of protesters, men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, wore head scarves as they turned out to vote in Almere and The Hague.  

A third of the city of Almere, with its population of  190,000,  is of immigrant origin. Thirty-five-year old Kadriye Kacar, a Dutch-born resident of Almere of Turkish descent, said: “People are looking at us in a new way today as if they are thinking, ‘We won and you are leaving’.”

Wilders, visibly jubilant by election returns, told his supporters in Almere: “Today Almere and The Hague, tomorrow the whole Netherlands . . . We are going to win back the Netherlands from the leftist elite that believes in cuddling criminals, that believes in Islam and multiculturalism and the idiocy of development aid and the European superstate.”

Wilders has called for an immediate stop to immigration from Muslim countries, a ban on mosque construction, and the imposition of €1,000 a year tax on Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves. He has also likened the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, and wants Muslim immigrants deported.

Two weeks ago the ruling Christian Democrat-Labour coalition government collapsed after a disagreement about prolonging the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan beyond August.  The collapse of the ruling coalition prompted the local elections, which were the starting point of an intense three-month national campaign period which will end in June.  The latest opinion polls have indicated that the PVV is likely to take twenty-seven of the one hundred and fifty seats in the Dutch parliament.

Wilders has indicated that he is willing to make the compromises necessary to form partnerships with other parties, but it is yet unclear as to whether other parties will be willing to work with the extremist PVV.

The PVV gains reflect a drift to the right in Dutch politics which has been underway since the anti-immigration and anti-Islam politics of Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered during the 2002 Dutch national election campaign. Fortuyn’s assassin, animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf, claimed that he had assassinated Fortuyn to prevent him from carrying out his anti-immigration agenda.

Agnes Kant of the Dutch Socialist Party stated that Wilders is a threat to samenleving, Dutch society’s history of allowing diverse ethnic and religious groups to live together. Wilders retorted:  “Agnes, thanks very much!”

Muslims now make up six percent, or one million, of the Netherland’s population of sixteen million.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Anti-Islamists gain in Dutch poll – 6 March 2010

The Sydney Morning Herald – Foothold for far right in Dutch local elections – 6 March 2010

Reuters – Dutch concerns over Islam, globalisation drive Wilders’ support – 5 March 2010

RNW – Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party makes major gains – 4 March 2010

The Guardian – Geert Wilders’s party wins seat in Dutch elections – early results – 4 March 2010

Financial Times – Gains for far-right in Dutch elections – 3 March 2010

ECHR Rules Poland Discriminates Against Homosexuals

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Wednesday March 3 that Poland discriminated against a homosexual man for denying him a right to succeed to an apartment in which he lived with his now deceased partner.

In accordance, the ECHR further prohibited Poland from discriminating against homosexual couples, despite a constitutional prohibition on homosexual marriage.

Piotr Kozak lived with a male partner from 1989 to 1998 in an apartment in Szczecin, Poland. The lease agreement was in the partner’s name.

When the partner died, Mr. Kozak applied to continuing living in the apartment, but his landlord refused to allow him to conclude a new lease agreement. The landlord denied the succession to the apartment despite Polish statutory law, which allows any “person who has lived in de facto cohabitation with the tenant” to succeed to the tenancy.

Mr. Kozak first brought suit in the Polish courts. However, Polish authorities courts and authorities consistently rejected the rights of homosexual couples.

Poland rejected Mr. Kozak’s claim on its understanding of Polish law on Article 18 of the Polish Constitution, which provides a definition of marriage as a “union of a man and a woman”. By analogy, the courts said that any cohabitation rights held in Poland apply only to heterosexual couples.

The European Court of Human Rights, however, rejected Poland’s arguments. The ECHR ruled instead that Poland violated Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which give European citizens the right to private and family life and prohibits discrimination, respectively.

The Court ruled that “de facto marital cohabitation” rights must be applied to persons in same-sex relationship the same way it is applied to heterosexual cohabitants. In so ruling, the ECHR stressed that the Convention was a “living instrument”.

Polish human rights groups praised the decision. Yga Kostrzewa, a spokeswoman for Lambda Warsaw, predicted that “[t]here will certainly be many more cases like this because there are a lot of laws and regulations that do not treat people equally.”

For more information, please see:

FINANCIAL TIMES – Homosexuals win legal victory against Poland – 3 March 2010

PINK PAPER – European Court of Human Rights: Polish legislation discriminates – 3 March 2010

RIA NOVOSTI – Strasbourg rules Polish gays can inherit property from partners – 3 March 2010

Russia Considers Fingerprinting Entire Northern Caucasus Population

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – As part of a new anti-terrorism campaign, a Russian official has proposed that the entire population of the northern Caucasus region be fingerprinted.

Alexander Bastrykin, the Chairman of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office Investigation Committee, declared that the program would aid the federal government in investigating continuing acts of violence that originate in the Caucasus region.  According to Bastrykin, approximately five Russian hundred police officers and military personal have been killed in that region in recent years.  The program would be a “mandatory fingerprint registration for all citizens living in the North Caucasus region.”

Bastrykin’s proposal also called for the issuing of new registration licenses for all automobiles in the north Caucusus.

Outcry in response to the fingerprinting proposition was immediate.  Some critics believe that such a program would only inflame the mistrust that the population of that region already holds towards the Russian central government.  “This is going to antagonize people further in an already volatile region,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch.  She also suggested that the program could violate the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Russia is a signatory nation.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a Russian human rights advocate, declared the proposal as ‘discriminatory.’  The population for whom fingerprinting would be required are almost entirely ethnicity Chechen.

A lawmaker in Chechnya was also quick to condemn the fingerprinting program.  Ziyad Sabsabi noted that, in addition to it possibly violating the presumed innocence of those Russian citizens who are fingerprinted, the program would also be ineffective.  Criminals, Sabsabi argued, could easily leave the region to avoid the fingerprinting process.  Additionally, if the purposes of the proposed program is to combat crime, then “[logically] all Russian nationals living in the Russian Federation should be subjected to fingerprinting.”

If successful in implementing this program in the northern Caucasus region, Bastrykin alluded to the possibility of expanding the program throughout Russia.

For more information, please see:

ITAR-TASS – Investigation Committee suggests total fingerprint/DNA registration in Russia – 5 March 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russian Official Suggests Fingerprinting entire North Caucasus – 5 March 2010

REUTERS – Russia proposes fingerprinting for volatile N.Caucasus – 5 March 2010

RIANOVISTI – Chechen MP decries fingerprinting plan as human rights violation – 4 March 2010

Bosnian Leader Arrested for War Crimes in London

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – A Bosnian Muslim and former member of the wartime presidency in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War was taken into custody at Heathrow Airport in London on March 1.

British police arrested Ejup Ganic after an extradition request was lodged by Serbia. That extradition warrant for Mr. Ganic, and eighteen others, was issued to Interpol in November. Serbia opened the case at the behest of Bosnian Serb wartime detainees, upset at the perceived inefficiency of Bosnia’s investigation.

The warrant indicts Mr. Ganic and eighteen other officials for war crimes related to the murder of forty soldiers in violation of the Geneva Convention. These alleged crimes relate to an attack in Sarajevo by Yugoslav forces in 1992, known as the Dobrovoljacka Street attack.

In particular, Serbia claims that the forty soldiers were killed, after Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, when the soldiers were in the process of withdrawing from the country. The soldiers were all part of the Yugoslave People’s Army (JNA).

Mr. Ganic was the president of the Muslim-Croat Federation in Bosnia for two terms, including one during the Bosnian War. Serbia wants to question Mr. Ganic and determine any particular role he had in ordering or organizing the killings.

Serbia has forty-five days to provide documentation to the British courts to support its request for Mr. Ganic’s extradition. Serbian Justice Minister, Snezana Malovic, indicated that the Justice Ministry “is working hard to prepare necessary documents” and will have an extradition request prepared by week’s end.

At the same time, Bosnia is also claiming the right to have Mr. Ganic extradited to Bosnia for investigation and prosecution. Bosnia bases this claim on an extradition treaty it has with Serbia that says suspects wanted by both states will be tried in the country of residence.

A  Bosnian prosecutor insists that Bosnia “considers that dealing with war crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Bosnian citizens is under its exclusive authority.”

In the meantime, Mr. Ganic is next scheduled to appear in front of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in Britain on March 29.

For more information, please see:

REUTERS – Bosnia, Serbia seek war leader’s extradition from UK – 2 March 2010

BBC – Former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganic arrested at Heathrow – 1 March 2010

GUARDIAN – Former Bosnian president Ejup Ganic arrested at Heathrow – 1 March 2010

Karadzic Calls Serb Cause During the Bosnian War “Just and Holy”

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic stated during his trial today that the Serb cause in the Bosnian war was “just and holy.” The statement was made as Karadzic began his defense today at his genocide trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.  He said:

“I will defend that nation of ours and their cause is just and holy…I stand here before you not to defend the mere mortal that I am, but to defend the greatness of a small nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which for 500 years has had to suffer.” 

Karadzic, age sixty-four, led the Bosnian Serbs during the war in the 1990’s.  During his statement today he said that a core group of Muslims in Bosnia – then and now – wanted 100 percent power, at the expense of the Christian majority. He also said that the Serbs acted in self-defense after their peace plans were rejected. He accused former Croat leader Franjo Tudjman and former Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbecović of pursuing “ethnocentric” objectives, and stated that the two, respectively, desired to create Croatian and Muslim states.

He denied charges that the Serbs ran concentration camps where non-Serbs were tortured and killed, referring to them as “collection centers” for refugees. He said: “It was a transit point for persons who had nowhere to go because of the fighting going on around them.”

 The former Bosnian Serb leader is accused of masterminding the worst act of genocide since World War II.  In 1995 at Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave and U.N. safe zone, roughly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred during the course of a week. Karadzic is also accused of leading the bloody forty-four month siege of Sarajevo.

Prosecutors have charged Karadzic with orchestrating the campaign in order to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities in eastern Bosnia in order to create an ethnically pure Serb state. Karadzic insists that that he is innocent of all eleven charges he faces, which include charges of genocide and war crimes. However, he has failed to enter a formal ‘not-guilty’ plea with the court.

For more information, please see:

Balkan Insight – Karadzic: Defence in the Name of the Serbian Nation – 1 March 2010

BBC – Karadzic calls Serb cause ‘holy’ – 1 March 2010

Eurasia Review – Bosnians React to Karadzic Opening Statements – 1 March 2010

The Guardian – Karadzic defends ‘just and holy Bosnian war – 1 March 2010

 

 

ETA Leader Captured In France

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – The leader of the Basuqe separatist group ETA, which has fought for decades to establish an autonomous state in northern Spain, was captured in France today.

Ibon Gogeascoechea, 54, was arrested in the French town of Cahan in Normandy in the culmination of a long-term law joint enforcement investigation by French and Spanish officials.  Gogeascoecha has been wanted for twelve years for the killing of a Spanish police officer.  Benat Aguinegalde and Gregorio Jimenez Morales, both wanted by Spanish authorities, were also arrested in Cahan.  The three men had been using falsified license plates and passport identification, with caused suspicion.  According to Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the three men were planning “to enter Spain almost certainly with the worst of intentions.”

Gogeascoechea is the latest in a string of arrests of high-ranking ETA leaders.  His arrest marks the fifth ETA  leading official arrested since May 2008.  Thirty-two ETA suspects were arrested overall in the last year.  Gogeascoechea has also been wanted by Spanish police for his aid in the bombing of the Guggenheim museum in Biblio, Spain in 1997.

The ETA separatist movement has existed in northern Spain and southwestern France since the 1960s.  The bombing and targeted killings carried out by ETA since then have resulted in approximately 825 deaths.  The ultimate political objective of ETA is the establishment of an independent nation in that part of the Iberian peninsula.

These arrests are believed to have dealt a significant blow to ETA, which has been categorized as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.  Rubalcaba warned, however, against the public becoming complacent.  “This does not eliminate the risk of an attack.  ETA has the worst intentions, so we can’t lower our guard.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Spain says ETA chief arrested in France – 28 February 2010

CNN – Spain: Basque ETA chief arrested – 28 February 2010

DEUTSCHE WELLE – Spain says top ETA rebel leader captured in France – 28 February 2010

TELEGRAPH – ETA leader arrested in France – 28 February 2010