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Hague Tribunal Opens Final Trial, Uzbek Labor Practices in Court of World Opinion

Plus, Azerbaijan’s government cautiously embraces Islamic finance and the Hungarian government takes a slap in the face from a hero of the counter-culture.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 16 October 2012

1. Yugoslav war crimes court opens final case


The trial of Goran Hadzic, the former leader of a self-proclaimed Serb republic on Croatian territory, began 16 October at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He is the last of 161 defendants to be tried by the court, according to Reuters.  


Goran Hadzic
Prosecutors have charged Hadzic with murdering hundreds and expelling thousands of ethnic Croats during the Serb-Croat war of 1992-1994. Hadzic was arrested last summer after having evaded authorities for years. A Croatian court sentenced him in absentia in the mid-1990s to 40 years in prison.


Hadzic’s trial starts just as the defense’s case gets underway in another courtroom for Radovan Karadzic, another high-profile case for the tribunal, Reuters reports. Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader seen as one of the chief architects of the Bosnian war along with his military chief, Ratko Mladic, and late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, was arrested in 2008 after years living under a false identity. His trial began in 2009. In August, the court rejected his request to subpoena former U.S. President Bill Clinton. 


2. EU extends visa bans, other sanctions against Belarus


The European Union extended its sanctions against Belarus 15 October over Minsk’s continued harassment and imprisonment of political opponents, Reuters reports.


The visa bans and asset freezes affecting 243 individuals and 32 companies will stay in effect for another year, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg decided.


The EU’s foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton, said recent elections underlined the abusive tactics of the government.


"Parliamentary elections in Belarus were yet another missed opportunity to conduct elections in line with international standards, and we are very concerned about increased acts of harassment and repression of civil society and political opposition, as well as the diplomatic crisis with Sweden," Ashton said, Radio Free Europe reports.


Only pro-government candidates were elected in the 23 September vote, as many opposition figures boycotted the exercise.


The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the visa decision “practically freezes the relations between Belarus and the European Union at the level that does not suit the interests of either side. … To overcome the existing differences both sides must meet halfway,” RIA Novosti reports.


3. Azerbaijan opens the door to Islamic banking


Azerbaijan’s staunchly secular government is gradually getting over its allergy to Islamic finance but is still not ready to legalize the issuance of Islamic bonds, Reuters reports.


The country’s largest bank, International Bank of Azerbaijan, now provides an “Islamic window,” separate from its normal operations, where small and medium-sized companies can obtain financing, Reuters writes. The Azerbaijani Finance Ministry is the majority shareholder in the bank. Several smaller banks also offer a limited range of financial services compliant with Shariah law, which bars interest payments and other forms of speculation.


Kazakhstan – another secular, ex-Soviet state with a large Muslim majority – has gone further, legalizing the issuance of non-interest-bearing sukuk bonds and announcing its goal of becoming a center of Islamic finance in the former Soviet Union.


Experts and bankers talked about the prospects for Islamic finance at a symposium last month in Baku, Trend News Agency reported at the time. The dean of Azerbaijani State Economic University, Shamsaddin Gajiyev, said the use of interest-free financing would help prevent “economic cataclysms.”


However, Azerbaijan lacks a legal framework to support Islamic finance, Reuters writes, citing spokesmen for the Finance Ministry and central bank as saying there are no proposals on the table to regulate the practice.


4. Cotton harvest yields annual condemnation of Uzbek forced labor


As the cotton-picking season gathers pace, Uzbek office workers, doctors, and nurses are being ordered to take unpaid leave to help get in the harvest, according to the BBC.  Cotton constitutes 45 percent of Uzbekistan’s exports, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, and the authoritarian government in Tashkent has a history of forcing its citizens, including children as young as 10, to harvest the crop.


Uzbek.cotton.workersWorkers in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region. Source:


After a boycott of Uzbek cotton from clothing companies such as GAP, Marks and Spencer, and Adidas, the authorities have apparently cut down on the use of child labor, instead conscripting professionals and civil servants for the September-October cotton harvest.


A nurse from Tashkent told the BBC that all staff at her clinic except pregnant and nursing women were sent to pick cotton. Those who failed to reach the daily quota of 60 kilograms (132 pounds) were forced to buy the remainder from local pickers. A college lecturer whose health didn’t allow him to pick cotton said he paid a man $100 to work in his place


High-school and college students are also being ordered to pick cotton this year, reports.


5. Beat mentor Ferlinghetti rejects Hungarian poetry prize


Lawrence Ferlinghetti
American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti last week turned down a new 50,000 euro ($65,000) poetry prize partly funded by the Hungarian government. In a letter to the Hungarian PEN club, sponsors of the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize, the 93-year-old author cited the Hungarian government’s tendency toward “authoritarian rule” and “the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties” to explain why he could not accept the inaugural edition of the prize, named for a 15th-century poet.


Ferlinghetti, a noted poet and publisher of several leading Beat figures, joins several Hungarian and foreign cultural lights who have publicly condemned the conservative Fidesz government this year. Writer and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel returned a Hungarian government award, criticizing the attendance of government members at a ceremony for a writer accused of fascist sympathies; a polemical writer, Akos Kertesz, reportedly sought asylum in Canada to escape personal attacks for his criticism of Hungarians’ lax attitude toward the Holocaust; and renowned pianist Andras Schiff has ruled out performing in his native Hungary.


A San Francisco music newsletter quoted Schiff as saying, “Important cultural positions (such as those at the State Opera) are occupied by idiots whose only credential is their loyalty to the [Fidesz] party. The extreme right Jobbik party is strongly, disgustingly racist, anti-Semitic, retrograde, and chauvinistic. All of this in the middle of the European Union. I am not sure when this will change, but in the near future there is very little hope. For my part, I refuse to return to Hungary.”


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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