Russian Police Officers Charged With Assaulting Elderly Man in Ural Mountain City

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

YEKATERINBURG, Russia – An elderly man in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg was allegedly attacked and robbed by local police officers after being unable to produce identification.

Sergei Beloglazov, 62, was returning to his home from a supermarket when he was stopped by a police officer.  The officer demanded identification from Beloglazov.  When Beloglazov informed the officer that he did not have identification with him, the policeman proceeded to push Beloglazov to the ground and kicked him repeatedly.  He was then placed under arrest and placed in jail.  Russian citizens are required by law to have their identification papers on them at all times.

Russian pianist Sergei Beloglazov
Russian pianist Sergei Beloglazov

The story of Beloglazov’s attack was made public after the story was reported by a blogger on a social-networking website.  The day after the assault Beloglazov, who is a classical pianist and professor at Ural State University, filed a complaint with the local prosecutor Yury Ponomarev.  In the aftermath of the story breaking nationally, local police authorities promised to investigate the attack.  Ponomarev has assured the public that “if the police officers are guilty, the head of the Interior Ministry administration will sign an order for the police officers to be called to disciplinary account.”  As a result of the attack, Beloglazov has lost movement in his hands.

The police officers allegedly involved in the attack have been charged with exceeding their official authority through the use of violence, a charge punishable by up to ten years in prison.

The attack on Beloglazov marks that latest in a string of police brutality incidents in Russia within the last year.  Moscow police officer Denis Yevsyukov, who had been drinking while working, shot and killed three people in a city supermarket this past spring.  This most recent attack has inflamed public outcry on the issues of police brutality and corruption in local and national police forces.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Controversy Brewing Over Police Beating Of Elderly Russian Pianist – 11 February 2010

BBC – Russia probes ‘police beating’ of pianist – 10 February 2010

THE OTHER RUSSIA – Charges Filed Against Police for Beating Composer – 10 February 2010

NEWS 24 – Cop beating of pianist probed – 10 February 2010

Chechen Human Rights Activists Detained

By Kenneth F. Hunt

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SHALI, Russia – Police in a Shali, a small town in the Republic of Chechnya in Russia, “arbitrarily” detained three human rights activists overnight on Sunday February 7.

According to Human Rights Watch, the three men were questioned separately through the night, not given access to an attorney, and allowed to make phone calls to human rights colleagues outside of Chechnya. Although the men were never under arrest, they were not allowed to leave the Shani precinct.

According to Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial Human Rights Center, a rights watchdog based in Moscow, claims that activists were not provided with an explanation for the basis of their detention.

Allegedly, the activists were detained because they met with a Shali citizen who had pertinent information about a local abduction victim. But no official explanation for the detention has yet been given. Moreover, Shanli police did not officially process any of the detentions.

The three prominent activists, Dmitry Yegoshin, Roman Veretennikov, and Vladislav Sadykov, were involved in an investigation of numerous abductions and killings of Chechens over the past years.  In particular, the activists were investigating the abduction and murder of Natalya Estemirova, a member of a Memorial branch in Chechnya. Ms. Estemirova was abducted by unidentified masked kidnappers. Her body was found dead in a vehicle that was shot at and struck dozens of times.

Human rights groups, including Memorial, claim that Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of the Republic of Chechnya, ordered Ms. Estemirova’s kidnapping and killing. Mr. Kadyrov has since dismissed these allegations as “slanderous”.

Human rights activists have accused Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering kidnappings and murders in the republic. Kadyrov has dismissed the allegations, calling them slanderous.

International human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line, and Human Rights Watch, have since released a statement to probe the detentions further.

The groups decried the detentions as continuing examples of Russian impunity. Specifically, Holly Cartner, the Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said that “[t]his arbitrary detention clearly demonstrates that the Chechen law enforcement agencies continue harassing human rights defenders despite Prime Minister Putin’s recent call for a healthy working environment for human rights groups.”

For more information, please see:

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH – Watchdogs Call For Probe Into Chechen Detentions – 09 February 2010

MOSCOW TIMES – Rights Activists Detained in Chechnya – 09 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Watchdogs Call For Probe Into Chechen Detentions – 09 February 2010

Serbian Government Considers Resolution to Officially Condemn the Srebrenica Massacre without using the Term ‘Genocide’

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia’s parliament is considering the adoption of a long-awaited resolution whereby the Serbian government would officially condemn the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The speaker of the Serbian parliament, Slavica Đukić-Dejanović, said that the resolution should be ready by March, despite wrangling in the Serbian parliament over use of the term ‘genocide’ to describe the mass killings.

The massacre at Srebrenica is the largest mass-murder to have occurred in Europe since the end of the second world war. Despite its designation as a U.N. ‘safe-zone,’ Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladić murdered roughly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in July of 1995. Mladić, wanted by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for charges of genocide and war crimes, still remains at large.

The Srebrenica massacre was designated as a genocide by the ICTY and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its ruling, the ICTY did not hold Serbia responsible for the genocide, but said that it was responsible for doing nothing to prevent the massacre.

In an interview with the newspaper Blic, Đukić-Dejanović said that sixty-seven percent of Serbians condemn the massacre. “It is our duty to respect their opinion and adopt a resolution [condemning the massacre]. I think it will be done between now and early March.”

Lawmakers in the ruling coalition are reportedly working on the text of the resolution. Opposition Liberal Democrats have singularly insisted that the term ‘genocide’ be used, while other parties have sought alternate terminology. The Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) deputy leader, Aleksandar Vučić, indicated that his party may not support a resolution incorporating the term ‘genocide.’

 When asked whether she would support a resolution incorporating the term ‘genocide,’ Đukić-Dejanović said that she would vote the way her parliamentary coalition voted, and that they were currently satisfied with the term ‘crime.’

 Nenad Prokić, of the Opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said:

 “We are the first country that is entering the EU with genocide in our suitcase – [a] limited territorial genocide. That is a very serious thing in a union based on peace…It is most important for us to recommend to our society and enter it into our schooling…so no one will ever do that in our name again.”

 For more information, please see:

B92 – Still no consensus on Srebrenica resolution – 8 February 2010

Blic – The adequate expression for Srebrenica is ‘crime’ – 8 February 2010

BSANNA – Resolution on Srebrenica to be adopted in early March – 8 February 2010

Javno – Serbian parliament to mull Srebrenica resolution – 8 February 2010

Belarusian Journalist Imprisoned After Clash With Police

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Ivan Shulha, a journalist for one of the few remaining independent media outlets operating in Belarus, was convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced in ten days of jail after he allegedly clashed with police this past week.

Shulha, also a member of the nongovernmental organization Belarusian Association of Journalists, was arrested on Wednesday while police were attempting to enter the Minsk apartment of Michal Janczuka, a reporter for a Polish television network and coordinator of Belsat TV in Belarus.  When the police arrived at the apartment, those journalists present, including Shulha, initially refused to allow the police to enter.  After they eventually entered the apartment, Shulha was placed under arrest.  He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after he allegedly struck one of the officers at the scene.

Belarus reporter
Photo: Belsat TV journalist Ivan Shulha [Source: RFE]

Shulha is employed by Belsat TV, a media outlet based in Poland.  Belsat was created in 2007 by the Polish Foreign Ministry as a way to provide news coverage within Belarus that would not be under the control of the Belarusian government.  Belsat employees independent journalists to work in and cover free speech issues in Belarus.  By being a journalist accredited in Poland, Shulha is able to avoid having to go through the same process in Belarus.  An Belarusian accreditation process was recently enacted by the federal government as a way to control the remaining independent media outlets.

Belarusian law enforcement authorities have stated that they were attempting to enter Janczuk’s apartment after they had received noise complaints concerning that apartment.  Critics, however, point to this action by the police as just another example of the Belarusian government attempting to gain greater control over any opposition forces in the country.  They point to the recently enacted legislation giving the federal government the authority to monitor the internet use of individual in the nation as evidence of this.

In response to Shulha’s arrest, Belsat’s director Agnieszka Romaszewska declared that “the actions by the Belarusian authorities towards Belsat TV channel are another attempt to impede journalistic activity and discredit independent journalists.”

For more information, please see:

FROM THE OLD – Belarus – Authorities step up pressure on independent journalists – 5 February 2010

CHARTER 97 – Agnieszka Romaszewska: Repressions won’t influence our position – 4 February 2010

POLSKIE RADIO – Belsat TV journalist accused of assaulting policeman – 4 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Belarusian Journalist Jailed For Hooliganism – 4 February 2010

New Legislation Gives Belarusian Government Authority To Monitor Internet Use

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Recent legislation passed by Belarus will now give the federal government monitor the internet use of its citizens.

The decree, set to take effect on July 1, requires that the nation’s internet providers save all data concerning the websites visited by internet users in the nation for one year.  Upon request, that information must be turned over to law enforcement agencies.  Internet providers also will have to restrict access to any website that the government chooses.

National security concerns were the impetus for the legislation, according to Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko.  “To ensure the security of the state and it’s citizens,…Internet service providers will be required to identify devices used to connect to the Internet and keep information on those devices and the services provided.”

Criticism from the larger European community has called the decree a restriction of individual freedom.  Lucia Morillion, of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), commented that “whatever…president [Lukashhenko] is calling this decree, it is not done to improve the situation of Internet freedom in the country.”  Another response from the RWB declared that Belarus had “[fallen] to the level of North Korea and China…as an enemy of the Internet.”

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) was also quick to condemn the legislation, which will give the government greater control over what has been one of the few remaining arenas of free speech in the Eastern European country.  “It is complete control of information” said Andrei Bastunets, deputy chairman of the BAJ.

Belarus has long been criticized by international press watchdog organizations for the government’s extensive control over the country’s media.  There are currently no independent television or radio stations, and virtually all of the remaining opposition newspapers have been shut down by the government.

The recent internet legislation is likely to further damage the recent attempts by Belarus to become part of the larger European economic and political community.  President Lukashenko, who was re-elected to office in 2006 by results that were disputed by opposition groups in Belarus, has held the office since 1994.  Recent efforts by the President to gain better relationships with Europe has shaken the long-standing relationship that Belarus has traditionally had with Russia.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – EU Calls Belarusian Internet Decree ‘A Step In Wrong Direction’ – 4 February 2010

AFP – Opposition attacks Belarus Internet crackdown – 2 February 2010

DEUTSCHE WELLE – Belarus to further tighten Internet control – 2 February 2010

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Strasbourg On Holocaust Remembrance Day

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism on Wednesday.

Jewish cemetery3
Photo: One of the desecrated tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Strausbourg. [Source: Ynet]
According to The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella group of Jewish organizations throughout France, there was extensive damage done to a number of the tombs in the Cronenbourg cemetery.  In addition to swastikas being drawn on 18 gravestones, the German words “juden ruas”, or “Jews out”, were written on one of the tombs.  Another 13 tombs were overturned.

After learning of the desecration, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that he “firmly condemns this unbearable act, the expression of odious racism.”  A member of the Israeli Knesset, Shlomo Molla, who was in Strasbourg attending events marking Remembrance Day, commented on the tomb’s vandalism.  “It was a horrible sight, which probably stemmed from the rising anti-Semitism [in] Europe.”

The fact that the vandalism occurred on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is believed by some to be more than a coincidence.  Laurent Schmoll, a leader in Strasbourg’s Jewish community, noted that the vandalism occurred “at the moment we celebrate the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and I think there has to be a link.”

This is not the first time that Strasbourg’s Jewish cemeteries has been targeted by anti-Semitic messages.  Similar acts in previous years have occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Strasbourg, a city home to approximately 17,000 Jews.

For more information, please see:

AP – Jewish cemetery desecrated in eastern France – 27 January 2010

JTA – French Jewish cemetery vandalized – 27 January 2010

YNET – Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg desecrated – 27 January 2010

Russian Opposition Organization Appeals Ban on Freedom of Assembly Rally

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – The Russian opposition group The Other Russia has declared its intention to appeal the rejection of their application to stage a rally supporting the need for greater freedom of assembly rights in St. Petersburg.

The Other Russia had intended to stage the rally on January 31st along one of the main avenues of St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect.  The city’s Law and Order Committee rejected the organization’s permit to hold a rally, citing concerns about the potential protest’s effects on local traffic.  Immediately after the Committee announced its rejection, the opposition group stated that it would seek a legal appeal to the decision.

The planned rally is part of the larger Strategy 31 movement in Russia, a long term effort to bring the issue of continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly to the attention of the Russian public.  The campaign’s name is based on Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee each Russian citizens’ fundamental right to assemble.

The Other Russia leaders have indicated that regardless of the city’s final determination about their permit to hold the rally, their members will follow through will the protest as planned.

The city of St. Peterburg’s rejection of the rally permit continues a trend in major Russian cities where local authorities have cited various reasons to forbid rallies organized by opposition groups.  When those rallies have been granted permission to occur they have often faced the police detention of those involved.  Earlier this month thirty-four protesters were arrested by Moscow police during an event remembering the deaths of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russian Opposition To Fight Rally Ban In Court – 27 January 2010

AFP – Rights protesters arrested in Moscow – 20 January 2010

AP – Moscow rally in memory of slain lawyer, journalist – 19 January 2010

EU Court Finds UK Provision of Anti-Terrorism Statute In Violation of Human Rights Convention

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that a provision of a United Kingdom anti-terrorism law violated an article of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Court ruled that sections 44-47 of the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act 2000, which gave police the authority to ‘stop and search’ any person without ‘reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing,’ violated a section of the Convention that ensures privacy for the individual and the family.  Under those sections, the police have been able to require an individual to remove certain articles of clothing and all objects from their pockets, as long that the officer believed that person may have objects that could potentially be used in a terrorist act.  Failure to adhere to such a request requested possibly in a fine or possible imprisonment.  In striking down this authority, the Court noted that rather than providing an objective test for which the police could use to determine when the search authority, the power could be applied based on the “‘professional intuition’ of the police officer.”

The case decided by the ECHR was brought In 2003 by British citizens Kevin Gillian and Pennie Quinton, who were stopped and searched by London police while traveling to an arms demonstration protest.  Both Gillian and Quinton sought judicial review in the UK legal system, appealing their claim to the nation’s high court, the Law Lords, but their claims was eventually dismissed.  Following the Court’s decision, Quinton indicated that he was pleased with the court’s ruling.  “There has to be a balance between private life and security.”  He also noted that “the Court has shown that section 44 is an invasion of people’s right to liberty and privacy.  Hopefully the government will have to put a fairer law in place to protect us.”

Until the court ruling earlier this month, the use of the authority by police in the United Kingdom had become more common.  While approximately 33,177 people were stopped in 2004, the police had used the authority 117,200 times in 2008.  Prior to the ruling, the Metropolitan Police had already indicated that the use of the authority would be reduced as a result of its growing controversial nature.

The Court noted that “the absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised.”  Additionally, there lacked any safeguards against abuse of the authority.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has indicated that the government was disappointed with the Human Rights Court’s ruling.  “We are considering the judgment and will seek to appeal.”

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES – Strasbourg court rules against UK ‘stop and search’ powers – 25 January 2010

CNN – Britain to fight ruling on police searches – 13 January 2010

BBC – Stop-and-search powers ruled illegal by European court – 12 January 2010

THE GUARDIAN – Stop and search powers illegal, European court rules – 12 January 2010

24 Russians Detained At March Remembering Slain Activists

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Twenty-four people were detained on Tuesday by Moscow police during a rally in remembrance of the killing of an activist human rights lawyer and a prominent reporter.

Approximately one thousand marchers attended the rally in remembrance of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  Markelov had worked with human rights victims in Chechnya while Baburova, a journalist for the Novaya Gazeta, had published a number of articles critical of extremist Russian nationalist groups.  Both were murdered after leaving a building in downtown Moscow where they had been attending a news conference.  Protesters at yesterdays rally declared that those neo-Nazi nationalist forces were responsible for their deaths.

Leading human rights activists, including representatives from For Human Rights and the opposition political party Yabloko, were in attendance at the rally.  Russian human rights activist Gary Kasparov noted that those Russians who had been willing to speak out on human rights issues were becoming targets for extremist groups, and the government was not taking the necessary steps to protect them.

In addition to drawing attention to those responsible for the deaths of Markelov and Baburova, those participating sought to draw more scrutiny on the growing prominence of extreme nationalist groups in contemporary Russia.  Sergei Udaltsov, a human rights activist who attended the rally, noted that “we are here to say our firm “No” to nationalism, fascism, and inactivity of authorities.”

The protesters arrested were held by police on the grounds that they were participating in a march that had deviated from the permitted march route.  The city had originally denied a permit for the rally but eventually agreed to the event with certain restrictions.  Participants were not allowed to carry signs with political symbols and they could march in groups no greater than fifty people.  According to the Interfax agency the police put those who had been arrested onto buses before transferring them to another location.

Regarding the arrests at the rally, a police spokesman offered an explanation for the decision by police to arrest the protesters.  “[Those] twenty four people were detained after they tried to hold an illegal march.  There was an agreement with the authorities for a rally, but after the rally they provoked police by trying to stage a march.”

Nikolai Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, members of a neo-Nazi group, were arrested in November and charged with the killing of Markelov and Baburova.

For more information, please see:

MOSCOW TIMES – 500 Rally in Memory of Markelov – 20 January 2010

AP – Moscow rally in memory of slain lawyer, journalist – 19 January 2010

DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR – 30 arrested in unauthorized Moscow demonstration – 19 January 2010

OTHER RUSSIA – 600 Participate in Memorial March for Slain Lawyer – 19 January 2010

REUTERS – Police Detain 24 At Russian Rally For Murdered Activists – 19 January 2010

Discrimination Against Roma Children Continues In Czech Schools

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Report, Europe

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Discrimination against Roma children continues to exist in the the public educational system in the Czech Republic, according to Amnesty International.

The report by the international human rights watchdog indicated that it has become common practice in the Czech Republic for the children of Roma, or Gypsies, to be transferred by the government to schools designed to house those with mental disabilities.  These schools, now known as ‘practical’ schools, offer limited academic opportunities.  The limited opportunities result in many Roma becoming unable to receive the necessary vocational or academic skills to obtain adequate employment.  Approximately fourth-fifths of the students in these alternative schools are of Roma descent, while only 2% of the children of the non-Romi majority attend.

The Europe program director for Amnesty International, Nicola Duckworth, has stated that “education is a way out of a vicious circle of poverty and marginalisation that affects a large part of the Roma population in the country.  Unless the Czech authorities give them equal opportunities, they will be denying Romani children their chances for a better future and full participation in the life of the country.”  The Amnesty International report, which studied four schools in the eastern portion of the country, calls for an immediate freeze on the placement of any student in the ‘practical’ schools in the 2010-2011 school year.

There are approximately 300,000 Roma in the Czech Republic, and over 8 million Roma in all of Europe, mostly in the center of the continent.  The Roma have historically faced educational and work discrimination across Europe.

This report does not mark the first time a human rights group that attempted to push for a change regarding the treatment of Roma in the Czech school system.  Over a dozen organizations, including the European Roma Rights Center, have sought to end the segregation that is resulting from the student transferring process.  In 2007, as a result of a case brought by eighteen Roma, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Czech Prague to discontinue this practice, amending the educational system if necessary.  Amnesty International, in its report, stated that the changes made by the Czech government following the 2007 court ruling have not been sufficient.

The Czech government has offered no response to the conclusions drawn in the Amnesty International report.

For more information, please see:

SOFIA ECHO – Amnesty: End segregation in Czech schools – 14 January 2010

ROMEA – Amnesty International calls on Czech Republic to guarantee full education for all – 14 January 2010

AP – Report: Czechs Still Segregating Gypsy Kids – 13 January 2010

BBC – Amnesty says Czech schools still fail Roma Gypsies – 13 January 2010

FINANCIAL TIMES – Roma children segregated in Czech schools – 13 January 2010

French Legislator Proposes Ban On Wearing of Veils In Public

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Legislation offered in the French parliament on Thursday that would result in a complete ban on individuals wearing veils over their faces in public.

The legislation’s sponsor is Jean-Francois Cope, the President of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party (UMP) in the National Assembly.  President Nicolas Sarkozy is a member of the UPM.  Cope has argued that the ban is necessary on the grounds of public safety and to protect the ‘dignity’ of women.  “Permanently masking one’s face in public spaces is not an expression of individual liberty.  It’s a negation of oneself, a negation of others, a negation of social life.”  Under this legislation, those women failing to abide by its provisions would face fines of up to 7,000 euros.  Men who force women to wear a veil would face even higher fines.

This is not the first time that the issue of hear of veils and headscarves have become issues of public debate in France.  In 2004 Islamic headscarves and other certain religious symbols from school classrooms.  In the summer of 2009 a committee was established in the French parliament to hold hearings on a potential future ban on the wearing of veils in public.  President Sarkozy also commented last June that the presence of veils in France were a “sign of subservience and debasement that imprison women” in and were “not welcome”.  The President has not indicated, however, whether he supports Capo’s legislation.

Criticism to the proposed legislation has come from other French politicians.  The French Labor Minister Laurent Wauquiez commented that Cope was using this issue as a means of self-promotion.  The center-left Socialist Party opposes the ban.  National politicians have also indicated that the proposed legislation could be struck down by EU Courts, to which France is subject to.

Cope also introduced a resolution on Tuesday meant to reaffirm the nation’s values against “radical practices which harm them.”

Approximately 5 million Muslims currently live in France.  However, a recent news report noted that only approximately 400 women wear a veil, which is not required by Islam, in the country.

For more information, please see:

AP – France may ban Muslim veils – 12 January 2010

DAILY NEWS – No veiled threat – France mulls fines for wearing a burka in public – 8 January 2010

UK EXPRESS – France In Bid To Fine Those Who Wear Veils – 8 January 2010

AFP – French draft bill to fine burqa-wearing women – 7 January 2010

Human Trafficking Violates Antislavery Convention, Says European Human Rights Court

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The outcome of a human trafficking case involving a Russian woman transported to Cyprus has resulted in a significant change in the definition of human slavery and the protection of immigrants for many nations in Europe.

In its ruling on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) determined that the act of human trafficking violates the antislavery provisions of the treaty for which all nations who are party to the European Convention on Human Rights are subject to.  Under this new application of the Court’s jurisdiction, each member nation that is the destination or origin of a sex trafficking case is required to independently investigate this matter.

The events that brought about this change in law centered on Oxana Rancheva, a young Russian woman who died after she had been transported to Cyprus in 2001 for the purpose of working in a cabaret.  Rancheva died while attempting to flee in March of 2001 from an apartment building in which she had been held against her while.  Following her death, her father brought her case before the ECHR.  In review of the facts of this case, the ECHR concluded that both Russia and Cyprus had failed to properly investigate the parties that had engaged in the human trafficking in their respective countries.

The Court found Russia and Cyprus to have violated Article Four of the European Convention on slavery.  Cyprus also “violated the girl’s right to life and right to protection under the law” by failing to determine how Rancheva had arrived in Cyprus and what she was doing there, while Russia should have done more to determine how Rancheva was originally recruited to perform in a foreign cabaret.  The Court ordered the government of Cyprus to pay damages to the family of the woman involved.

The Court decision was welcomed by immigrant rights groups.  Doros Polycarpou, the leader of one such group in Cyrus, commented that the Court’s ruling was significant because “the Republic of Cyprus must finally get the message that we are no longer an isolated village where whatever we do stays between us.”

Rancheva had arrived in Cyprus on an artist visa, a bureaucratic instrument that the Court commented had been used in recent years to allow for the importation of women to the island nation to be exploited.  Three thousand such visas were issued in 2007.  Calls from international organizations for the elimination of this type of visa loophole resulted in its recent discontinuance.

Prior to the Court’s decision, the national government of Cyprus had publicly acknowledged its violations of international law in regards to this case.  However, the ECHR decided to rule on this case anyway, breaking with the court’s past tradition on not hearing cases in which “the defendant admits guilt”.

For more information, please see:

CYPRUS MAIL – ‘Handed over as if she was his possession’ – 9 January 2010

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Rights Court Raises Sex-Trafficking Oversight – 8 January 2010

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE – Cyprus and Russia violated human trafficking laws: court – 7 January 2010

Bulgarian Journalist, Critical of Organized Crime, Gunned Down In Sofia

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOFIA, Bulgaria – A Bulgarian investigative journalist and radio host, who has written a number of books exposing the extent and influence of organized crimes in Bulgaria, was killed by a number of unknown gunmen in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia today.  Boris Tsankov, 30, was killed at the entrance of a federal government building in the center of the city.  Two of Tsankov’s bodyguards were also wounded.

Tsankov’s books have focused on the influence that organized crime elements hold in Bulgaria.  His most recent book, entitled The Secrets of the Mobsters, resulted in Tsankov receiving a number of death threats in recent years, including the bombing of his home in 2006.  Stefan Bonov, a known criminal leader in the country, was arrested in November of this past year for threatening Tsankov.  Tsankov’s writing have also discussed connections between prominent Bulgarian businessmen and known criminal persons.  In a recent interview, Tskankov claimed to have specific information regarding internal struggles within Bulgaria’s criminal leaders, as well as information gleaned from a meeting he conducted with former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s son.

Bulgaria has experienced an increased number of targeted killings in 2008.  In all, approximately 150 contract killings have taken place since 2001. Of the suspects arrested in these murders, hardly any have been convicted.

The newly elected center-right government of Bulgaria, led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, has promised to do more to prevent these targeted killings and fight the continued existence and influence of organized crime and corruption in the country.  Recently, the European Union has called on this government to do more to fight this corruption and the country’s criminal elements.  Concern over continued corruption recently resulted in the EU cutting large amounts of funding that had been appropriated to Bulgaria.

While Tsankov’s writings appear to be the likely explanation for his assassination, some have suggested others reasons motivations for his killing.  At the time of his death, Tsankov allegedly owed money to a number of parties who had sponsored his radio program.

The government’s investigation into Tsankov’s murder is currently ongoing.

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES – Author of book on local mafia shot dead in Bulgaria – 6 December 2010

BBC – Bulgaria journalist Boris Tsankov gunned down in Sofia – 5 December 2010

FINANCIAL TIMES – Gunman kill investigative journalist – 5 January 2010

SOFIA ECHO – Former radio host shot dead in Sofia – 5 January 2010

Aftermath of Russian Prison Scandal Results in Wider Prison Reforms

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed legislation this week aimed at reforming his country’s prison system.

Under the new legislation, which amends the country’s criminal code, those who commit a tax crime but then agree to pay the back taxes, as well as the appropriate fine, will avoid any jail time.  Those awaiting trial for tax crimes also can no longer be jailed during the pretrial proceedings.  The requisite amount of money that will qualify a particular situation for the application of more serious tax evasion charges has also been increased.  Responsibility for future alleged tax crime investigations will also be shifted from the Interior Ministry to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Medvedev has indicated that it is his hope that these changes will decrease the common practice in Russia of prosecutors attempting to force suspects in giving confessions rather than carrying out a proper investigation.

These changes are part of a larger groups of proposed reforms that President Medvedev says are necessary to modernize Russia criminal justice system which “has not changed for decades”.  There are also expected to be additional changes in the future regarding those convicted of economic and non-violent offences.  These reforms come in the aftermath of the death of lawyer Sergei L. Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion for more than a year.  Regional and international focus on this incident increased the pressure on Russia’s leaders to take this action.

Medvedev also dismissed Alexander Piskunov, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service system.  Piskunov’s dismissal marks the twentieth firing of a leading prison system official since the death of Magnitsky this past December.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Medvedev bans imprisonment of tax offence suspects – 29 December 2009

CBS – Russian President Bans Tax Crime Suspects’ Jailing – 29 December 2009

MOSCOW TIMES – No Jail for Tax Suspects – 21 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Russia: No Jail for Tax Fraud Suspects – 29 December 2009

RT – Medvedev goes mild on tax evasion – 29 December 2009

Serbian Official Resigns Due To Failure To Catch War Criminal

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – The failure to capture war criminal Ratko Mladic and bring him to justice has resulted in the resignation of the Serbian government official responsible for capturing him.

Rasim Ljajic had indicated earlier in the year that he would resign if he was unable to capture Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, and deliver him to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ITCY) by the start of the new year.  Until this development Ljajic had held the responsibility within the Serbian government of tracking down the war criminal who was first indicated by an international tribunal of the Hague in 1995.

Serbian unit chief

Photo: Official Rasim Ljajic has led the Serbian unit in charge of capturing war criminal Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is charged with ordering the killing of approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and orchestrating the 43-month siege of Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia-Bosnian War.  He is indicted for charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity relating to the massacre.

In his resignation letter to the Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, Ljajic indicated that despite his decision to step down he had confidence that the unit he has headed for four years would achieve their objective.  “The past year has been the most successful so far.  We have never worked so hard…and I am certain that such an effort must have results.”

After the war between Yugoslavia and the breakaway republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina ended in 1995, Mladic lived free from prosecution in Serbia until recent years, when he then allegedly went into hiding.  The effort to capture Mladic began when a specialized unit was formed, with Ljajic in charge.  In the addition to the formation of a unit created for the purpose of capturing Mladic, the Serbian government has also offered a reward of 1 million euros for his capture.

The efforts of this Serbian unit to track down Mladic and deliver him to the ICTY has been seen as a sticking point in the possibility of Serbia receiving European Union membership in the future.  The government of the Netherlands has blocked Serbia’s entry into the EU, demanding that Serbia first must prove its commitment to capturing Mladic and others charged with crimes in the war.

Ljajic will remain in his posts as the Serbian Social Affairs Minister and as president of the National Council for Cooperation, which coordinates Serbian government efforts with the Hague.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Serbian official hunting genocide suspect Mladic resigns – 29 December 2009

AP – Serbian official quits over failure to get Mladic – 29 December 2009

BCC – Serbia minister quits for failing to catch Ratko Mladic – 29 December 2009

EPOCH TIMES – Serbian War Criminal Investigator Steps Down – 29 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Serbian Minister Quits War Crimes Team – 29 December 2009