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Rights Group Slams EU Over Central Asia, Srebrenica Suspects Arrested

Plus, the 'Belarusian list' of Katyn victims is uncovered and Russian scientists are jailed for treason. by S. Adam Cardais and Joshua Boissevain 22 June 2012

1. HRW to EU: Geopolitical interests must not trump human rights in Central Asia


With EU foreign ministers set to meet 25 June to discuss the bloc's five-year Central Asia strategy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Brussels to get tough on human rights violations in the region. The watchdog says in a 21 June statement that strategic interests such as access to energy supplies should not undermine "the EU's focus on human rights abuses" in Central Asia.


Nursultan Nazarbaev
The statement follows a 20 June report by the group faulting Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan for manifest human rights abuses. That report singles out the last two countries as particularly repressive – both have abysmal press freedom records, for instance – and notes that the regime of Nursultan Nazarbaev in Kazakhstan has regressed since 2011.


Nevertheless, HRW notes, Brussels all but coddles Central Asia, prematurely lifting sanctions against Uzbekistan and pursuing closer ties with Turkmenistan with no human rights quid pro quo. The group says the 2007 program, "The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership," has amounted to little more than "structured human rights dialogues."


The EU should identify and monitor human rights reform benchmarks for the region and tie them to future cooperation, HRW says. Brussels should also reach out to civil society in Central Asia, ensuring support to those who risk their lives to advance human rights.


2. Former Bosnian Serb military officers arrested over Srebrenica massacre


Bosnian authorities have arrested two men for their alleged involvement in the Srebrenica massacre during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict, Radio Free Europe reports. Ostoja Stanisic, a former Bosnian Serb military commander, and his deputy, Marko Milosevic, were reportedly detained in eastern Bosnia 21 June.


They stand accused of participating in the slaughter by Bosnian Serb forces of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. Stanisic has testified against former Bosnian Serb officers at the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, where he denied participating in the killings, RFE reports.


A memorial lists the names of those murdered in the Srebrenica massacre. Photo by blandm/flickr.


Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is on trial at The Hague on genocide charges related to the massacre. A Bosnian court, meanwhile, just sentenced four wartime Bosnian Serb soldiers to lengthy prison terms for their role in Srebrenica.


3. Scholar finds ‘Belarusian list’ of Polish officers killed in Katyn Massacre


A Russian historian has found the "Belarusian list" of Polish officers executed in 1940 by the Soviet NKVD secret police, RIA Novosti reports, citing a Polish newspaper. Natalia Lebedeva of the Russian Academy of Sciences uncovered the long-sought document in the archive of a Soviet military brigade stationed in Belarus in 1940 and charged with escorting prisoners of the NKVD to Minsk.


The list includes the names of 1,996 prisoners taken from cities in present-day western Belarus and shot along with approximately 20,000 Polish officers in Russian prison camps. Though the executions were carried out at several NKVD camps, the mass killing is called the Katyn massacre because most occurred in Russia's Katyn forest, RIA Novosti notes.


The Nazis were originally blamed for the killings, but in 1990 Moscow acknowledged Soviet culpability. The "Belarusian list" had been thought lost forever, RIA Novosti reports.


4. University professors convicted of selling secret missile information to the Chinese


A St. Petersburg court has convicted two university professors of treason for selling military secrets to China, RIA Novosti reports. Yevgeny Afanasyev will serve 12 and half years, while Svyatoslav Bobyshev received a 12-year sentence.


Afanasyev and Bobyshev were convicted of selling classified information on the Bulava-30 ballistic missile to Chinese officials for $7,000 while on a business trip in 2009, when they were professors at the Baltic Technical University for Military Technologies in St. Petersburg. The men, who pleaded not guilty, have been in prison since their March 2010 arrest, according to RIA Novosti.


Their lawyers plan to appeal. In July 2010, the Committee for the Defense of Scientists called the men "victims of spy mania," RIA Novosti reports.


5. Exxon quits shale-gas exploration in Poland


U.S. oil company Exxon Mobile will end its shale gas exploration project in Poland, according to Reuters, citing a report by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. A spokesman for the company said the decision was made because two early wells did not produce sufficient quantities of gas. 


For years, Poland has been banking on the hope that it was sitting on possibly the largest reserve in Europe. The announcement that Exxon is pulling out is the most recent setback to the country’s ambition of weaning itself off Russian energy imports and possibly replicating the United States’ shale-gas boom to become a regional energy exporter. Poland consumes about 13.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually with most of it coming from Russia.


Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated Poland was sitting on some 5.3 trillion cubic meters of shale gas. But a more recent report by Poland’s geological institute said the actual amount was closer to 346 to 768 billion cubic meters, or one-tenth the first estimate, according to The Financial Times. In October, another gas exploration company, BNK Petroleum, delayed drilling after one of its wells produced inconclusive results, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Other energy companies working in the country, including Chevron, San Leon, and 3Legs Resource, said they have no plans to follow Exxon’s lead, according to the WSJ’s Emerging Europe blog.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Joshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial assistant.
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