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Ukraine’s PM Wins the Day, Baku Charges Rights Activist With Treason

Plus, European court slaps Russia with another Yukos sanction, and Kosovo seeks an investigation of wartime rapes. by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Barbara Frye 1 August 2014

1. Ukraine’s prime minister stays on, gets ‘war tax’

 

Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Ukraine’s parliament has rejected the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk after acceding to his requests for more money for the military and to rebuild infrastructure destroyed or damaged in the war, the Associated Press reports.

 

Yatsenyuk offered his resignation last week after the ruling coalition fell apart and parliament refused to back measures to raise an additional 12.4 billion hryvnyas ($1 billion), most of it for the war effort. On 31 July, legislators reversed course and approved a temporary 1.5 percent personal income tax as well as increased taxes on tobacco and the mining, oil, and gas industries, Reuters reports.

 

Yatsenyuk had argued that more revenue was essential to ensuring the country did not default and could continue to receive funds from a $17 billion International Monetary Fund bailout, according to Reuters.

 

Although President Petro Poroshenko had welcomed the chance last week to hold new parliamentary elections and form a new government, this week he said, "We need consolidation, not confrontation. We have to be united against external aggression," according to Reuters.

 

The country will still have to hold early elections but no date has been set for the vote.

 

On Yatsenyuk’s political survival, the Kyiv Post writes, “It’s good that he’s staying. His predecessors, such as Mykola Azarov, ​were mostly Soviet dinosaur​s​ who didn’t know what a modern economy looks like. Yatsenyuk speaks English​, just as President Petro Poroshenko and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, so he can get Ukraine’s message out to the wider world with no interpretation or filters.”

 

Meanwhile, international investigators were able to access the site of the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 on 31 July after almost a week of being kept away by fighting in the area. In addition to looking for evidence of the causes of the crash, a spokesman for an international observer team told Reuters that investigators “had detected human remains on the site.”

 

2. Baku says vocal regime critic Yunus spied for Armenia

 

Azerbaijan’s government stepped up its assault on dissent this week in charging prominent rights activist Leyla Yunus with treason.

 

On 31 July, authorities accused Yunus of passing state secrets to Armenia, Baku’s arch foe, through Rauf Mirkadirov, a journalist arrested for treason in April, Radio Free Europe reports. A day earlier, on 30 July, Yunus was arrested, charged with treason, tax evasion, forgery, and fraud, and sent to pretrial detention for three months.

 

In a statement, Human Rights Watch demanded authorities release Yunus and drop the “politically motivated” charges. Though not arrested, Yunus’ husband Arif was charged with treason and fraud.

 

Founding director of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, Yunus is Azerbaijan’s leading human rights activist, a strident critic of President Ilham Aliev, and a longtime advocate of reconciliation with Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

 

Leyla Yunus confronts police who had come to conduct a search of her lawyer's apartment in April the day after she and her husband were stopped at the Baku airport and prohibited from leaving the country. Image from a video by Meydan TV.

 

This week’s charges are months in the making. On 28 April, Yunus and her husband were detained at Baku’s airport and held overnight. Though not charged with a crime at the time, Yunus was banned from leaving the country as part of a wider, sudden crackdown on dissent that included Mirkadirov’s arrest

 

In a wide-ranging June interview with TOL, Yunus accused the West of turning a blind eye to Baku’s increasingly abysmal human rights record.

 

3. European court orders Russia to pay $2.5 billion over Yukos

 

Mere days after a staggering arbitration ruling against Russia, the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Moscow to shell out another 1.9 billion euros ($2.5 billion) to former shareholders of the Yukos oil company, the Associated Press reports.

 

The 31 July ruling involves 55,000 shareholders who sought a total of $37.9 billion in damages over Moscow’s controversial dismantling of Yukos a decade ago. These shareholders were not part of an international arbitration that culminated Monday with a Hague court telling Moscow to pay a combined $50 billion to five majority investors.

 

Though the damages awarded 31 July were less than the amount sought, they are the most ever handed down by the Strasbourg-based court, Reuters reports. The award is “totally unprecedented in the human rights field,” Jan Kleinheisterkamp of the London School of Economics said.

 

They also come as Russia faces possible recession and tough new western sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine.

 

Moscow has six months to come up with a payment plan, the rights court said. However, condemning the verdict as unfair, the Russian Justice Ministry pointed out that it has three months to appeal, Reuters reports.

 

Yukos was broken up after its director, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was convicted in 2005 on charges of fraud and tax evasion that many saw as retribution for his growing opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Rosneft, the state-owned oil giant with close ties to Putin, acquired most of Yukos’ assets.

 

Released from prison last year, Khodorkovsky is not a beneficiary of either of this week’s rulings, having ceded his stake to a business partner.

 

4. Kosovo to request UN report on wartime sexual violence

 

Kosovo will ask the United Nations to launch an investigation into rapes committed during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia, Balkan Insight reports.

 

On 31 July, Edita Tahiri, outgoing deputy prime minister, said a petition that garnered 115,759 signatures will be submitted to the UN in September. Authorities and rights activists launched the petition on 14 July in an effort to finally shed light on sexual violence during the conflict – and to perhaps establish a special UN court to prosecute suspected perpetrators.

 

Once the petition is submitted, Tahiri said, Kosovo authorities will work with victims to share their stories.

 

Balkan Insight points out that, 15 years on, it’s still unclear how many women and girls were sexually assaulted during the conflict. In February, the UN special envoy for sexual violence in conflict launched a report on 21 countries worldwide, but Kosovo was excluded.

 

Critics say the UN petition campaign only shows that local authorities are unable to address sensitive wartime issues themselves. There is still no official accounting of the number of people who were killed, injured, or went missing during the war, according to Balkan Insight.

 

5. Reported prisoner self-mutilation throws spotlight on Kazakhstan prison conditions

 

Four inmates in Kazakhstan who may have maimed themselves to protest prison conditions were denied visits from their relatives, RFE reports.

 

Family members were told that the four, who are imprisoned in a penal colony close to the southern city of Shymkent, had cut their abdomens in protest of “colony conditions and humiliation by the guards,” and were subsequently placed in solitary confinement, RFE reports.

 

The news agency notes that a similar protest took place in Astana a month ago and that a riot in a northwestern prison was recently put down by authorities.

 

Kazakhstan's penal system is notorious for its abuses. Last year, 13 guards and prison officials were convicted of torturing an inmate to death and crucifying him on a metal fence.

 

A 2013 Amnesty International report charged that police had tortured detainees held after breaking up violent protests in the city of Zhanaozen in December 2011 “and put them in prisons where conditions amount to ill-treatment.”

 

“[P]rison conditions are cruel, inhumane, and degrading: inmates are kept in degrading conditions and punished with prolonged periods of solitary confinement in violation of international standards,” Nicola Duckworth a senior researcher at AI, said in the report. 

 

Although the prison population fell from 63,000 in 2010 to 48,000 in 2012, Kazakhstan still has twice the incarceration rate of Europe and the highest rate in Central Asia, Tengrinews reported in January, citing the Prosecutor General’s Office. In addition to putting a burden on the country's budget, the current policy does not lend itself to rehabilitation, Deputy Prosecutor Zhakip Asanov told reporters.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial intern. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor.
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