In Europe and Eurasia, 2005 brought positive developments toward building democratic societies with respect for human rights and the rule of law in some areas and disappointing trends in others. Perhaps most startling was the dramatic change of government in Kyrgyzstan following fraudulent elections in the spring. However, the spring also saw the Andijon massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan and the subsequent crackdown on witnesses, their families, and activists whom the Government tried to implicate in the events that led up to the crackdown. Another disappointing trend this year was the continuing erosion of democratic principles and human rights in other parts of Central Asia, as well as in Belarus and Russia. Nonetheless, independent media, free speech, and civil society flourished elsewhere in the region, such as in the Balkans and Ukraine.
The United States maintained its vigorous support for democracy and human rights in the region in 2005 through various tools. It diplomatically engaged governments of the region bilaterally and in concert with democratic allies, as well as through multilateral forums. U.S. officials at the highest levels have regularly called on leaders throughout Europe and Eurasia to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of their citizens, govern democratically, and hold free and fair elections. The United States also employed a wide range of assistance tools, including training, technical and legal assistance, grants, and exchanges, as well as trial and election monitoring. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continued to play a vital role in promoting democracy and respect for human rights. The United States worked throughout 2005 to protect the OSCE's core values enshrined in the Helsinki Accord and subsequent agreements and the autonomy of its democracy promotion activities, such as its election observation efforts.
The United States continued its robust support for democratic institutions and processes in the region, including free and fair elections. This support was provided through diplomatic engagement bilaterally and multilaterally with international partners such as the OSCE and European Union, as well as nonpartisan assistance programs. These efforts focused on major elections in Albania, Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in 2005 and on promoting democratic elections scheduled for early 2006 in Belarus and Ukraine. High-level U.S. officials urged these governments to conduct elections that would meet OSCE standards. In all of these cases, U.S. diplomacy and assistance supported democratic electoral processes, not a particular candidate. U.S. assistance focused on promoting voter choice and education and on increasing the transparency of the electoral process. Assistance included support for election reform, monitoring media access and objective coverage, national candidate debates, voter education, domestic and international observation, exit polling, and nonpartisan political party training, with an emphasis on encouraging the participation of underrepresented groups, including women and youth, in the political process. In addition, the United States continued to provide vigorous diplomatic and programmatic support for democratic governance, including assistance to local governments and parliaments and support for transparency, accountability, decentralization, and anti-corruption efforts.
Democracy is not just about elections that reflect the will of the people; it also entails a vibrant civil society. The United States has continued to urge governments in the region to respect the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly and to foster flourishing civil societies as the backbone of democracies. The past year has seen restrictions on civil society and harassment of NGOs in various parts of Eurasia. Many governments in the region and beyond misinterpreted the so-called "color revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan—in which people spoke out against electoral fraud and corrupt regimes in favor of popularly elected governments—as the work of NGOs funded by and doing the bidding of foreign governments. In response, some governments—including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus—imposed varying degrees of restrictions on NGOs, particularly on foreign funding, and on political opposition and dissent. U.S. assistance continued to strengthen democratic civil societies and to develop the capacity of NGOs for effective advocacy, governmental oversight, and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. U.S. assistance to NGOs is transparent and abides by the principles of the OSCE and international standards. The United States offered support and technical assistance to NGOs that work to protect human rights, develop freedom of expression and media, monitor elections, serve as watchdogs on government actions, and provide vital services to citizens and refugees.
Another cornerstone of U.S. democracy and human rights promotion in the region remained support for robust independent media that offered diverse views and objective information for citizens. U.S.-funded programs have provided training and exchanges for journalists, assistance to independent print and broadcast media to build their capacity and sustainability, aid to improve the legal framework for media, legal aid for media outlets, and increased access to objective information through the Internet. Events in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 demonstrated the centrality of media freedom to aspiring democratic societies, particularly through the visible role that the U.S.-funded independent printing press played during the democratic breakthrough. In Moldova, the United States successfully used the results of a U.S.-funded independent media monitoring project to prompt the Government of Moldova to grant more equal media access and coverage in the run-up to the March 2005 parliamentary elections.
Promotion of the rule of law and human rights, including religious freedom, remained a core element of U.S. efforts in the region. The United States continued to support human rights defenders and advocate for judicial reform and independence. The United States, bilaterally and through the OSCE, provided support and training to human rights activists and NGOs throughout the region, building organizational capacity and fostering advocacy for the rule of law. U.S. officials provided moral and material support to human rights and democracy defenders and, when permitted, attended their trials and visited many in prison. The United States also provided training to law enforcement and military personnel on protecting human rights, including freedom from torture.
The United States continued to speak out against abuses, including individual cases of abuse, and urge protection of human rights and the rule of law wherever these are threatened, including with our allies in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. The United States led international calls for an independent international investigation into the Andijon events. At the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, the United States supported and voted for the resolution introduced by the EU concerning the abuses in Uzbekistan, including those related to Andijon, and, in conjunction with the EU and several other countries, jointly introduced a successful resolution that condemned and called upon the Government of Turkmenistan to address severe human rights abuses. At the April 2005 UN Commission on Human Rights, the United States co-sponsored a successful resolution expressing concern about the Government of Belarus' actions on a range of human rights issues.
As the Secretary of State has repeatedly said, the United States does not compromise its promotion of democracy and human rights for security interests. Indeed, the United States maintains that stability, prosperity, and security hinge on robust democratic societies that respect human rights, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.
First-Ever, Live, Nationwide Presidential Election Debates in Kyrgyzstan
The sudden, dramatic ouster of former President Akayev prompted a new presidential election in July 2005. Emerging from the grip of authoritarianism, including restricted media freedom, presidential candidates were immediately faced with the challenges of developing and communicating their political platform to voters, while Kyrgyz citizens needed to familiarize themselves with candidates and key issues. The United States supported several projects to address these needs and to promote democratic elections. One of these projects included funding Internews to work with the Kyrgyz National Television and Radio Corporation (NTRK) to assist in the production and broadcast of Kyrgyzstan's first live, nationwide election debates in the run-up to the July 2005 presidential election.
In preparation, experts surveyed over 800 Kyrgyz citizens nationwide to determine the optimal content, format, language, medium (radio versus television), and broadcast time for the debates. Over 50% said that the debates would help them make their decision on election day. Media experts from Kyrgyzstan and Russia trained journalists and producers on the methodology and practical aspects of producing pre-election political debates and talk shows for television and radio and oversaw technical, design, and content issues.
Starting in May 2005, Internews launched a multifaceted information campaign to explain the project to Kyrgyz officials, the candidates, and the public. To this end, Internews wrote letters to and met with high-level Kyrgyz officials and all candidates, published several articles and press releases about the debates, and distributed these to most Kyrgyz media outlets. Several articles about the debates were published in the local press and special edition newspapers and the debate schedule was included in voter information disseminated by partner organizations.
Four television debates took place between July 4 and July 8, 2005. The six official candidates paired off in three 90-minute debates, while four participated in a final 120-minute debate. Each debate had a general theme ranging from property rights, the March 2005 revolution, political reform, presidential elections, and civil society. During the live broadcasts, each candidate was allocated 25 minutes of speaking time in the three first debates and 12 minutes in the final one. Candidates and audience participants were free to ask questions in Russian or Kyrgyz. In addition, the debates included the following:
In addition to the television debates, Kyrgyz State Radio, following an Internews training program, prepared and broadcast a series of election-related programs.
The debates received widespread coverage in both domestic and international print and electronic media, particularly on the day when the leading candidate, interim President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, participated. Journalists were allowed in the studio before and after the debates to gather material for reports. All debates were simultaneously broadcast on the state radio channel "21 Vek." With support from the OSCE, local NGO Internews Kyrgyzstan translated the live debates and organized their rebroadcast with Kyrgyz and Russian subtitles on the state broadcaster the next morning. Also with OSCE support, popular private station Osh TV, which covers much of the southern and Uzbek populations of Kyrgyzstan, broadcast the debates with simultaneous translation in Uzbek to reach the resident Uzbek community. The main independent Kyrgyz press agency, Aki-Press, published regular reports of all debates, detailing arguments and positions expressed by candidates. NTRK reported that the debates had large audiences throughout the country and were well received. Some voters said that the debates had indeed played a role in their candidate choice.
In short, the project improved the professional capacity of NTRK staff to produce and host debates. In addition, it offered fair and balanced new coverage, gave candidates prime media time to communicate their views to voters, provided voters with opportunities to pose questions directly to candidates, and helped voters make an informed choice on election day.
The Armenian Government's human rights record remained poor, although there were some improvements in a few areas. President Robert Kocharian's broad executive powers remained relatively unchecked by a compliant parliament, a judiciary subject to political pressure and vulnerable to corruption, and a weak, fractious opposition. The 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections that extended Kocharian's presidency and brought the country's ruling coalition to power were both marred by serious voting irregularities, as was a November 2005 national referendum that led to the adoption of a package of constitutional amendments. At year's end, it remained unclear how or to what extent the Government planned to implement the new amendments and other legal reforms required by the Council of Europe (CoE) under conditions of Armenia's accession in January 2001. The few political rallies and public demonstrations in 2005 drew only nominal attendance. As a result, police activity was not a serious problem as in years past. Physical abuse and lengthy pretrial detention of some suspects and witnesses remained a problem, as did police and prosecutorial corruption. Prison conditions remained poor. There were some limits on freedom of the media, assembly and religion. Violence against women continued, as did trafficking in persons (TIP).
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Armenia focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, independent media, freedom of assembly, a vibrant civil society, rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and anti-TIP measures. Armenia's recently approved, five-year Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) is tied to its performance on these and other indicators related to good governance. The United States emphasized to Armenian authorities that continued eligibility for MCC funding remained contingent upon the Government's progress toward ruling justly.
The Embassy convened a special Democracy Strategy Working Group in 2005 to determine how to best utilize U.S. resources in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008. The United States inaugurated a three-year package of financial and technical elections assistance that focused on enhancing the capabilities of the Armenian election administration (including producing accurate voter lists, providing public information and voter education), developing a democratic political culture, building public opinion polling capacity, strengthening fair electoral adjudication, enhancing election monitoring capabilities, strengthening political parties, and increasing independent media coverage.
The United States consistently raised the importance of media freedom and responsibility with high-level officials, media directors, and journalists. To promote media freedom, the United States launched a new program in 2005 to develop professional media outlets, decrease heavy dependence on biased political sponsorship, and tune programming to public interest. Building on the successes of earlier efforts, the program supported training and technical assistance to help media outlets qualify for and repay loans funded by the United States. The program also established a television ratings system to provide critical information designed to help media outlets develop audience-based programming and increase advertising revenues. The U.S. International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) funded professional and ethics training for journalists and business training for media managers.
To provide free access to independent sources of information, U.S. programs installed a series of Internet Connectivity Centers (ICC), which connected Armenian citizens and schools to one another and the rest of the world. Through the ICCs, a nationwide network of schools and communities engaged in organized discussion forums, courses and other learning activities, which included curricula on principles of democracy, civic involvement, and community development. Two American Corners provided information about U.S. democratic institutions and facilitated cultural events, which included an ongoing series of guest lectures by U.S. officers and exchange program alumni. Lecture topics included: American Political Parties, Democratic Values, Religious Pluralism in the United States, and Civil Society and the State in America.
To promote a vibrant civil society, U.S. officials consistently encouraged the Government, independent and opposition political parties, and civil society to engage in constructive dialogue on good governance issues. With substantial U.S. funding, local NGOs pursued initiatives to promote human rights, media freedom, democratic development, and civil society. This strengthening of civil society produced concrete results. A government-proposed draft law on lobbying introduced in 2005 threatened to curtail significantly the ability of Armenian NGOs to advocate a range of issues until effective lobbying by local and international NGOs -- many of which the United States supported -- prodded parliament to table the bill. U.S. grants supported the creation of municipal councils to encourage citizen participation in government.
U.S. officials urged the Government to respect freedom of assembly and closely monitored the few demonstrations and rallies that took place during the year.
To promote the rule of law and a democratic system of checks and balances, the United States worked with others in the international community to support CoE efforts to help Armenia arrive at a package of constitutional amendments consistent with international standards. The United States provided technical legislative expertise and funds for public awareness campaigns. The Association of Judges of Armenia (AJRA) unanimously approved the constitutional amendments and adopted a new Code of Ethics, which was drafted with U.S. assistance. U.S. programs also helped create a new Chamber of Advocates, which began work in 2005 to establish a Code of Ethics for Armenian attorneys. These reforms did not significantly alter the Armenian legal and judicial environment in the short-term, but provided a good foundation on which Armenian judges and lawyers may build an independent judiciary. To promote the rule of law, the United States also helped train judges, lawyers, and prosecutors. Every U.S. assistance program included anti-corruption components in 2005 in order to fight a persistent culture of corruption.
To promote respect for human rights, U.S. programs provided technical and financial support to link Armenian human rights NGOs with counterpart NGOs in Armenia and throughout the South Caucasus. Armenian human rights NGOs used the contacts to share and develop best practices, initiate cooperative regional training programs, and promote human rights for women, children, minorities, and prisoners. U.S. grants supported public information campaigns to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Ambassador and other U.S. officials frequently discussed religious freedom issues with the Government and religious leaders as part of the overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy maintained close contact with the Catholicos at Etchmiadzin (the head of Armenia's national church, the Armenian Apostolic Church), with leaders of other religious and ecumenical groups in the country, and with traveling regional representatives of foreign-based religious groups such as the Church of Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses, and raised their concerns with the Government. The Embassy closely monitored trials related to religious freedom and took an active role in policy forums and NGO roundtables regarding religious freedom. In meetings with government officials, the Embassy consistently raised the importance of alternatives to military service for Jehovah's Witnesses who are conscientious objectors. The Embassy hosted several roundtable meetings and receptions in honor of U.S. representatives of religious organizations and invited leaders of local minority religious groups to these events.
Combating TIP in Armenia remains a top priority. While the United States downgraded Armenia to Tier 2's "Watch List," U.S. programs produced concrete results. The United States funded a victims' assistance program that provided safe haven and medical, social and legal services, facilitated the repatriation of six victims of TIP, and funded a victim hotline. U.S.-funded programs produced nation-wide public awareness campaigns and trained advocates of victims of TIP. U.S. programs also supported anti-TIP training seminars for orphanage staff and children and funded the establishment of a public information website on TIP.
Azerbaijan's human rights record remained poor. While there were some improvements in the period leading up to the November 6 parliamentary elections, the elections failed to meet a number of international standards. The Government partly restored freedom of assembly in the months leading up to the election. However, members of the security forces used excessive force to disperse unauthorized rallies as well as one authorized post-election rally, beating opposition party members and some journalists covering the events. The Government routinely detained opposition party members for several days often on spurious grounds. There were credible reports that security forces beat and tortured detainees. Human rights monitors reported that alleged abuse and mistreatment contributed to four prison deaths. Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life-threatening, and pretrial detention remained lengthy. The judiciary was corrupt, inefficient and dominated by the executive branch. Freedom of speech and of the press were at times subject to attack, as journalists continued to face disproportionately high libel judgments for slander committed against government officials, although the number of these suits declined. There was vigorous public debate of the Government's policies in the press. The Government restricted some religious freedoms of Muslims and Christians, citing its right to protect society from radical Islam and social instability. The Government adopted legislation to combat corruption and trafficking in persons (TIP), but has only begun implementation and has not yet undertaken vigorous investigation and prosecution.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Azerbaijan focused on promoting democratic parliamentary elections, a transparent and accountable government, a free and responsible media, freedom of assembly and association, a vibrant civil society, rule of law, human rights, religious freedom, and anti-TIP measures.
To promote a democratic electoral process, U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of political parties, a range of human rights and democracy activists and government officials. The Under Secretary for Global Affairs and Democracy, the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and several Members of Congress traveled to Azerbaijan in 2005 to reinforce U.S. support for democracy and human rights, and their application in democratic parliamentary elections.
The United States intensified its efforts to encourage democratic reform through sustained high-level government intervention, public diplomacy outreach, and training programs. The Ambassador and visiting senior U.S. officials regularly engaged Azerbaijani officials in dialogue on the need to conduct elections consistent with international standards. The United States repeatedly raised specific concerns with Azerbaijani officials, including the need to deter fraud and other interference in the electoral process, prosecute cases of such interference, and permit domestic nonpartisan organizations to monitor the elections. The Ambassador co-led the "Friends of Azerbaijan" diplomatic group, which regularly engaged the Government on democratic reform. The United States encouraged Azerbaijan to meet its OSCE commitments.
The Ambassador called for democratic elections through the media over 50 times during the year. U.S. programs trained 1,200 political candidates on the basics of campaigning, 1,000 local election officials on the mechanics of carrying out a democratic election process, and 500 judges and lawyers on fair adjudication of the election code. A U.S.-sponsored exit poll provided an independent estimate of the results in half of the races, helped to corroborate credible allegations of fraud, and contributed to public debate on such fraud.
The United States funded numerous campaigns encouraging citizens to vote, which were tailored to target various voter groups. As part of an effort to encourage political dialogue and issue-based parliamentary elections, the United States supported the organization and broadcast of debates between parliamentary candidates in the regions. U.S. programs funded the translation and publication of American books on democracy in an effort to strengthen public knowledge of democratic principles and values.
The U.S. contributed observers to the OSCE international election observation mission. The Embassy separately fielded 35 observer teams to monitor the elections. U.S. programs funded and trained 2,000 domestic election observers. When serious irregularities marred the vote counting and tabulation of results, senior U.S. officials raised concerns with the authorities and the United States issued a statement calling for corrective action. Before and after the elections, the United States urged the Central Election Commission to forward complaints of election code violations to the Prosecutor General's Office.
U.S. officials repeatedly urged the Government to respect media freedom. The United States advocated the launch of the country's first public television channel, which went on air in August 2005, and supported its nascent programming. The United States assisted with the organization of a regional television network to improve the financial solvency of local stations and promote free media. U.S. funding supported the professional development of journalists and advocacy for media rights. U.S.-supported programs provided extensive ongoing technical and programming assistance to several television stations and newspapers. A U.S. program funded training for three TV journalists who went to the United States to study best practices and coverage of democratic processes. Through the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), the United States trained government spokespersons on how to develop and maintain positive relationships with the media. To promote freedom of expression, the United States sponsored a high school debate society network to encourage young people to voice their opinions.
In the aftermath of the murder of prominent independent journalist Elmar Huseynov, U.S. officials encouraged the Government to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into his death and provided technical law enforcement assistance to facilitate the investigation.
The United States continued to support the development of civil society in Azerbaijan by using technical assistance, grants, and IVLPs to support the activities of local NGOs, encourage dialogue between the Government and civil society, and educate the Government about democratic practices in the United States. U.S. grants helped NGOs develop community networks to strengthen participatory government on a national and local level. The United States funded human rights training for eight Azerbaijanis representing different parts of society on how American law and society address freedom of the press and religion, as well as child labor, women's and refugee's issues. U.S. funding supported the establishment of regional information centers that provided independent information. U.S.-funded projects supported the active participation of women in civil society and empowered women to engage local governments in cooperative problem-solving.
U.S. officials repeatedly urged Azerbaijani officials to authorize peaceful demonstrations by opposition parties, which contributed to the Government's partial restoration of freedom of assembly in June. U.S. officials monitored police conduct at political rallies, and the Embassy publicly condemned the excessive use of force against demonstrators. The United States voiced its concerns to all levels of the Government regarding the international right of political parties to organize and demonstrate peacefully against government policies.
U.S. officials promoted respect for the rule of law and the United States funded a variety of rule of law programs. U.S. officials advocated respect for the rule of law during government investigations of individuals accused of fomenting a coup. U.S.-funded programs worked to strengthen the professional development of judges and lawyers, and to assist them in developing codes of ethics, reconstituting the bar association and the administration of a bar exam, expanding programs for law students, helping women to gain better access to justice, and conducting a legal literacy program for the general public. The United States continued to work with law schools on curriculum development and new teaching methodologies. U.S. funding and expertise helped to establish a legal database project, which provided easy access and use of legal framework documents for the legal profession and the general populace. This database will expand the resources available to promote rule of law.
The United States funded programs to increase the professionalism and skills of the judiciary, procuracy, and the defense bar to improve legislation and to implement new anti-corruption legislation. The United States continued to work with the Government and private lawyers to implement the Law on Advocates and to develop an independent bar association. U.S.-funded programs provided training and material to judges, prosecutors, and attorneys on the European Convention on Human Rights, fair trials, and international standards for pretrial detention procedures. A U.S. program provided technical assistance to investigators and prosecutors to encourage evidence-based investigations, which could help decrease forced confessions. The United States sent two judges and one member of the Azerbaijani Young Lawyers Association to the United States to strengthen their skills and understanding of how free, open-market societies combat corruption and promote the rule of law.
U.S. officials repeatedly urged the Government to ensure that police complied with human rights standards and to hold police officials accountable for torture, abuse, or misconduct, and routinely visited detainees during the pre-election period. U.S.-funded training courses focused on the obligation of the police to uphold international human rights by respecting freedom of speech and assembly. The United States funded NGO prison monitoring and U.S. officials visited prisons to focus attention on poor conditions. Several U.S.-funded projects supported the protection of women's rights. The United States funded the reprinting and distribution of the Azerbaijani Human Rights Self Study Manual "Thirty-three Steps Up" to strengthen awareness of the existence and importance of human rights. U.S. grants supported the education of children on basic human rights in an effort to create an early childhood awareness.
The United States continued to support a program, which it helped design, to integrate human rights into training for security forces guarding the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
The United States actively encouraged respect for religious freedom, including the right to practice religion without unnecessary interference or restriction. U.S. officials frequently stressed the importance of respecting religious freedom to government officials. The Embassy and officials in Washington maintained close connections with local religious communities. A U.S. project funded high school debates on the role and importance of religious tolerance in society. The Embassy actively spread the message about religious tolerance and Islam in America throughout the year. The Ambassador and a senior Embassy official each hosted Iftaar dinners in November.
The United States promoted anti-TIP measures and effective preventive mechanisms in meetings with government officials and through programs that included a TIP awareness campaign conducted by NGOs and technical assistance in implementing new anti-TIP legislation. The United States funded two experts to help government officials develop the policies and procedures for a police anti-TIP unit. The United States provided drafting expertise and coordinated an international review of draft anti-TIP legislation to ensure the June legislation, and corresponding criminal code amendments adopted in October, met international standards.
Under its constitution, Belarus is a republic with a directly elected president and a bicameral parliament. President Aleksandr Lukashenko, first elected in 1994, has waged a systematic assault on critical elements of democracy: political parties, the independent media, and civil society. Through a series of flawed referenda, manipulated and fraudulent elections, and repressive laws and regulations, President Lukashenko has concentrated power in his hands, extended presidential tenure, and eliminated presidential term limits. The Parliament, chosen through a flawed election process, routinely approved presidential initiatives. The judiciary was not independent. The Government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. Pro-democracy activists, including opposition politicians, independent trade union leaders, and newspaper editors, were detained, fined, and imprisoned for criticizing the Government. In June, the Government passed a law that made it easier to suspend or close political parties. At the time the law was passed, the Justice Ministry was in the process of closing approximately 80% of the opposition political party offices on a variety of pretexts. The Government increasingly used tax inspections and new registration requirements to complicate or deny the ability of NGOs, independent media, political parties, and minority and religious organizations to operate legally. It overtly interfered in the election of a new leadership of the NGO Union of Belarusian Poles. Amendments to the Belarusian criminal code introduced prison sentences of up to three years for "discrediting Belarus' international image" or for organizing or taking part in activities of a suspended or closed NGO or foundation. The Government tightened its control over independent media by imposing excessive fines and cutting off access to the state subscription service and printing presses. Authorities restricted the Internet by blocking access to some foreign websites, monitoring material posted on the Internet, and harassing persons for material posted on websites. Educational exchange programs and student travel were subjected to increased government interference. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained an issue of concern, although the Government made serious efforts to combat this problem.
The U.S. strategy to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus consisted of applying political and economic restrictions; maintaining bilateral and multilateral diplomatic pressure; limiting high-level engagement with Belarusian officials to the assistant secretary level or below; monitoring, reporting, and speaking out on abuses; supporting democracy and human rights programs; and facilitating educational and professional exchanges. U.S. assistance focused on helping to develop and strengthen civil society groups, increasing access to objective information through the Internet, strengthening independent print and broadcast media, building legal defense capacity and advocacy for the rule of law, and supporting the development of a democratic political process leading up to the 2006 presidential election. The United States also supported capacity-building and legal assistance for independent trade unions. U.S.-funded exchange programs were tailored to familiarize a wide range of Belarusians, from students to professionals, with a democratic, market-based system. To help combat TIP, the United States focused assistance on efforts to prevent trafficking and to protect victims.
The United States cooperated closely with the OSCE, EU, and Belarus' neighbors to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus, including releasing joint U.S.-EU press statements on specific human rights abuses committed by the Government and organizing joint activities to show solidarity on democracy promotion. The United States co-sponsored a successful resolution regarding Belarus at the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). It expressed concern about the Government's policies on human rights issues, including the disappearances and/or executions of two prominent opposition politicians, a businessman, and a journalist, restrictions on freedoms of expression and of the media, restrictions on the activities of NGOs, prohibitions of the rights of workers to organize, restrictions on the freedom of academic institutions, and prosecution of the political opposition. In December 2005, the U.S. Embassy along with EU Heads of Mission in Belarus, conducted a joint roundtable discussion with representatives from Belarusian human rights organizations on the eve of the UN International Human Rights Day to emphasize the shared concern of the EU and the United States over the state of human rights in Belarus and to express their support for human rights activists. Democracy and human rights issues were key themes in virtually all U.S. officials' speeches, press interviews, and public events concerning Belarus. The United States closely monitored the Government's persistent, calculated attacks on civil society and opposition political parties, issued a number of press statements on human rights and democracy violations, and posted these statements on the Embassy website.
In the run up to the 2006 presidential election, the United States repeatedly urged the Government to hold free and fair elections and to invite international observers to conduct election monitoring. The EU joined the United States in delivering these messages. Throughout the year, U.S. officials met with Belarusian election and other government officials to encourage adherence to democratic principles. In December 2005, a U.S. official met with government officials and representatives of political and civil society groups in Minsk to express U.S. concerns regarding the state of democracy in Belarus and to encourage the Government to allow for a free and fair electoral process leading up to the March presidential elections. U.S. funding supported training, technical assistance, grants, and cross-border exchanges for pro-democracy groups and political parties on internal governance, strategic planning, membership recruitment and retention, message formulation, and outreach. Partly as a result of this assistance, leading pro-democracy forces in Belarus developed and successfully implemented a process for democratically selecting a candidate for the presidential election. Nevertheless, in the absence of access to the media and given constant harassment by governmental authorities, pro-democratic forces face overwhelming odds in the election. To promote independent oversight of the electoral process, the United States provided assistance to a civic organization to train non-partisan election observers. Assistance to other non-partisan NGOs and independent media aimed to promote objective, fact-based reporting on election issues and awareness of voter rights.
U.S. programs helped independent media outlets find ways to remain in operation in a political and business environment hostile to free media and helped independent journalists access information resources. Due to the independent media's increased professionalism in providing objective and quality information, the level of public trust in the independent media remains high despite constant government pressure to close down or interrupt the publication of virtually all non-government newspapers. U.S. assistance to a local media partner enabled the production and broadcast of 35 television talk-show programs on social, economic, and civic issues, which were broadcast in seven towns with a combined population of 1.4 million people.
Belarusian NGOs remained highly dependent on outside assistance for survival, a situation complicated by legal restrictions on foreign assistance. During 2005, 18 local communities and 30 NGOs took part in U.S.-funded projects aimed at strengthening civil society. Despite the Government's 2004 closure of a successful U.S.-funded program, the Government nonetheless permitted 11 grants to NGOs to go forward. These grants focused on providing information or training to target social problems, from unemployment to health related issues. To foster greater citizen involvement in community initiatives, 55 training workshops on topics ranging from youth leadership to social entrepreneurship were conducted for more than 300 NGOs and community activists. Eighty-two NGO leaders and representatives of local government and local businesses took part in seven study tours to other Eastern European countries to learn better practices on key issues including health, entrepreneurship, and empowerment of women and youth. Through the U.S. Democracy Commission Small Grants Program, funds were provided to promote the pro-democracy initiatives of non-political civic groups and media organizations, including youth and women's groups, human rights organizations, NGO resource centers, and trade unions. A new U.S. program brought together alumni of U.S.-sponsored exchange programs to carry out democracy promotion projects, including work in support of gender equality and civic education.
The United States continued to provide legal and advocacy training and assistance for NGO lawyers and activists. As part of a legal advocacy program, the United States supported the development of a website for civil society activists with current legal regulations on NGO activity and assisted in conducting a roundtable for 70 NGO lawyers on rendering legal aid in an increasingly difficult working environment. In 2005, local NGOs, with U.S. support, analyzed the impact of mandatory short-term employment contracts on employee rights and conducted a public legal education campaign on worker rights by publishing pamphlets and holding 12 seminars attended by 365 people. Consequently, 18 attendees brought successful lawsuits against their employers for violation of labor rights through mandatory short-term contracts.
Although severely limited by the Government this year, training, exchange, and educational reform programs continued to be an important component of the U.S. democracy and human rights promotion strategy. Under the guise of an anti-trafficking law passed this year, the Government prevented high schools students from participating in the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) for the first time since its initiation 12 years ago. As a result, no Belarusian students participated in the FLEX program this academic year, compared to 50 last year. Additional bureaucratic requirements imposed by this law seriously complicated other student exchange programs. The United States, however, continued to encourage Belarusian citizens to participate in U.S.-sponsored professional and academic training and exchange programs.
The Embassy regularly observed the trials of NGOs and media outlets, such as the Belarusian Helsinki Commission and Narodnaya Volya, which were targeted by the Government for closure on politically motivated pretexts. U.S. officials also attended trials for opposition figures, such as Pavel Severinets and Nikolai Statkevich, who were prosecuted for their political activities. The United States supported the OSCE's efforts to assist Belarus in meeting its OSCE commitments and issued statements calling on the Government to fulfill its OSCE pledges to observe human rights. The United States continued to press the Government to conduct an independent, transparent, and impartial investigation into the disappearances of several opposition activists and a journalist. The United States issued a statement criticizing the authorities' reluctance to investigate these disappearances and their use of intimidation and force against participants in a peaceful demonstration commemorating the anniversary of the disappearances. To support women's rights and to help create a wider network for active women's groups, the United States launched a series of events focusing on women's issues in various aspects of civil society.
The United States urged government officials to respect religious freedom and monitored violations of international norms. U.S. officials met with representatives of a wide spectrum of religious groups and with the Government's Committee of Religious and Nationalities Affairs to advocate freedom of religion and the cessation of the harassment of religious minorities. The United States closely monitored incidents of anti-Semitism that occurred throughout Belarus and took actions in an effort to help prevent future acts. The Embassy regularly followed up on reports of desecrated bodies after the Government built a sports stadium on a Jewish cemetery in Grodno, and the United States issued a statement condemning the vandalism of religious icons and commemorative items at the Kurapaty memorial complex.
In response to workers' rights violations, the United States maintained close contact with local independent labor leaders and the International Labour Organization (ILO) and met with the Ministry of Labor to learn what actions the Government was taking to meet ILO's 12 recommendations to improve freedom of association and collective bargaining with regard to labor and trade union rights. The United States continued to support ILO efforts to promote worker rights and independent trade unions in Belarus.
The United States and other donors have achieved some degree of cooperation at the working level of the Government to counter TIP. U.S. officials worked closely with IOM's Minsk office and local organizations to monitor the Government's anti-trafficking efforts. Belarus increased its law enforcement efforts and instituted anti-trafficking legislation. As a result, U.S. assistance focused on areas where the Government lacked adequate funding, namely victim protection and trafficking prevention. In order to tackle the poverty and lack of job opportunities underlying trafficking in vulnerable communities, the United States worked with the IOM on expanding a successful pilot program based on the economic empowerment of women.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace, the Dayton Accords, created the independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Agreement also created two constituent entities within the state: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS), along with the independent District of Brcko. In 2002 and 2004 respectively, Bosnia and Herzegovina held its first self-administered national and municipal elections, which international observers judged to be free and fair.
The Government's human rights record was poor. Although there were improvements in some areas, serious problems remained. Security in sensitive Internally Displaced Person (IDP) return areas and police responsiveness to incidents targeting minority returnees remained poor. Democracy and human rights problems included physical abuse by police officials; overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons; improper influence of the judiciary by government officials and politicians; harassment of the media; official restrictions on activity by religious minorities; government corruption; discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and sexual minorities; trafficking in persons (TIP); and limits on workers' rights. Republika Srpska's cooperation with the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) improved, but the two most wanted war crimes indictees, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, remain at large.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina focused on: building a robust civil society; strengthening the capacity of state-level institutions, especially the criminal justice system, to operate transparently and efficiently; advocating for religious freedom; and assisting the Government in combating TIP and discrimination against vulnerable groups in Bosnian society, including minority returnees. The United States also focused on developing more competitive and inclusive political processes in which moderate political parties could compete more effectively and increasing citizen participation in political decision-making.
Senior U.S. officials continued to send a strong message on democratic reform and respect for human rights in 2005. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs emphasized this message during his visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina in June and October 2005, underscoring the importance of reconciliation and the rule of law and encouraging full compliance with international legal obligations, including the ICTY. The Ambassador continued to travel extensively within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and raised key human rights issues such as TIP and minority returns with senior Bosnian officials. In July, an official Presidential delegation headed by the Special Ambassador for War Crimes Issues represented the United States at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. In November, the Secretary of State hosted an event in Washington focused on the political future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the progress made since the 1995 signing of the Dayton Accords. The event was attended by Bosnian Presidency members, high-ranking religious leaders, and many other senior Bosnian officials and politicians. In a roundtable with religious leaders, the United States provided a platform to encourage open dialogue.
The United States continued to promote the development of an independent and professional media. A number of U.S.-supported media projects provided training and technical assistance to journalists, with a focus on radio management and TV investigative reporting. The U.S. also supported the creation of a permanent local organization dedicated to promoting high-quality investigative journalism. Eight investigative or in-depth reporting projects resulted in innovative print or broadcast reports that fostered public debate and spurred authorities to take positive remedial action. Two separate industry organizations were established with U.S. assistance: the Bosnia and Herzegovina Association of Journalists and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Publishers Association. Both have successfully lobbied on important regulatory matters such as a value-added tax exemption for printed materials. Local journalists also received specialized training in reporting on specific issues, including war crimes, international security, terrorism, and TIP.
Development of civil society and increased cooperation between NGOs and the Government, especially local governments, remained a U.S. priority in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A U.S.-funded civil society program improved the institutional capacity of local NGOs by awarding 25 small grants to implement projects. Other U.S.-funded civil society development programs included a number of grants to local NGOs to increase the profile and influence of the NGO sector in Bosnian society, to educate the public about volunteerism and philanthropy, and to promote cooperation among NGOs, the media, the Government, and the private sector.
The United States also promoted civil society through diverse educational initiatives. A U.S.-funded civic education project developed a democracy and human rights course that is now taught in every secondary school in the country. The program expanded in 2005, and the course is now taught at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences of the University of Sarajevo and at medresas (Muslim secondary schools) throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. The U.S.-funded Parliamentary Internship Program gave talented young Bosnians the opportunity to serve as interns in the country's state- and entity-level parliaments, which afforded them valuable leadership skills and work experience.
U.S. assistance continued to strengthen the rule of law, with strong emphasis on judicial institutions. With U.S. financial, technical, and political support, Bosnia and Herzegovina made significant strides in developing its capacity to apprehend war criminals and to investigate and try war crimes cases. The U.S. was the major financial supporter of the Bosnian State Court's War Crimes Chamber and the State Prosecutor's Office. U.S.-funded initiatives to raise professional standards among lawyers and judges resulted in the creation of national-level professional associations for prosecutors and judges. The United States continued to fund training on the Criminal Procedure Code and its new legal mechanisms for prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. A highly successful U.S.-funded "model court" case management project was introduced in four municipalities. The courts in the pilot program significantly reduced case backlogs and improved efficiency and responsiveness to the public.
The U.S.-funded Justice Sector Development Program (JSDP) is improving the efficiency, transparency, and fairness of Bosnia and Herzegovina's justice system by providing expert assistance to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, which oversees Bosnia's judicial system. The JDSP also helped improve the Bosnian justice system by establishing and implementing improved court administration practices, reforming the current system for the defense of indigent criminal defendants, and working with the State Ministry of Justice and other agencies to improve local capacity to draft legislation and promote citizen participation in legislative development. The United States also supported a national moot court competition, which afforded Bosnian law students the opportunity to practice trial advocacy skills before a panel of senior Bosnian attorneys and judges. The students simulated criminal cases involving human rights violations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The United States remained resolute in supporting efforts leading to truth and social justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), financed in part by the United States, generated DNA matches that could potentially lead to the identification of 1,882 individuals reported missing during the 1992-1995 conflict. ICMP also collected blood samples from surviving relatives that will assist in identifying 958 missing persons. The ICMP assisted Bosnian authorities in carrying out 288 exhumations of mass or illicit gravesites, which led to the recovery of the remains of 282 complete and partial sets of human remains. Despite these efforts, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 persons remain unaccounted for in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States continued to support the development of the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery, where 1,937 of the estimated 7,800 victims of the Srebrenica massacre have been interred.
U.S. programs aimed to improve efficiency and accountability in local governments. The joint U.S.-Swedish Governance Accountability Project continued to focus on improving the service and financial management profiles of 40 target municipalities and on creating an environment in which these municipal governments have the resources and autonomy to respond effectively to citizens' needs. To date, 11 new municipal "one-stop shops" have been created throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. These centers will enable citizens and businesses to receive municipal permits more quickly, while simultaneously reducing corruption and discrimination against ethnic minorities. The United States continued to support the Administrative Law and Procedural Systems (ALPS) program, designed to eliminate barriers that confront citizens because of the unwieldy nature of the Bosnian administrative system. The ALPS project successfully worked with 20 target municipalities to amend their statutes and rules of procedure, allowing for increased public participation in decision-making. The project's local partner monitored 1,045 administrative cases and pursued administrative sanctions against particularly intransigent officials in approximately 50 cases. The project also funded legal assistance to 55,000 citizens in matters relating to housing, urban planning, and disability and pension payments.
The United States donated agricultural commodities that were used to finance civil society development initiatives that promoted respect for the rights of women, children, and persons with disabilities. Other initiatives focused on assisting the Bosnian Government to reduce discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and religion. For example, one U.S.-funded program supported a coalition of local NGOs representing persons with disabilities. As a direct result of the coalition's advocacy efforts, the Government adopted several legislative reforms that directly benefit persons with disabilities. One reform included legislation that provides for the use of guide dogs for the blind.
The United States continued to support the return of refugees and IDPs from the 1992-1995 conflict. The United States funded the repair of vital local infrastructure and improvement of community-based government services. Through loans and grants, 550 families of minority returnees established viable sources of income. Economic and technical assistance for farmers was also critical in promoting the sustainability of minority returns.
In 2005, Bosnian authorities, including the State Coordinator for the Prevention of Trafficking and the Ministries of Health and Education in both entities and Brcko District, expanded anti-TIP efforts with U.S. assistance. U.S.-funded programs supported local NGOs that provided shelter and care for TIP victims. The United States funded an SOS hotline, reintegration assistance for victims, and a regional conference focusing on strategies for successful prosecution of TIP. Local NGOs implemented a U.S.-funded public awareness campaign targeting Bosnian children and youth (ages 6-25), victims of trafficking, potential consumers of sexual services, local authorities, and media professionals. The United States continued to support the national-level Anti-TIP Strike Force with technical advice and training on the effective use of plea bargains. Subsequently, a Bosnian State Prosecutor used these new legal tools to convict four defendants accused of trafficking women from Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine.
Georgia continued to follow an ambitious reform agenda to create and strengthen democratic institutions and processes, including reducing human rights violations. Accordingly, its human rights record improved in some areas, although serious problems remained. Local NGOs considered the October parliamentary by-elections to be generally fair, despite continuing problems including inaccurate voter lists and non-tamper proof ballot boxes. The status of religious freedom improved through increased investigation and prosecution of harassers of religious minorities. The Government took significant steps to reduce torture and ill treatment of detainees by law enforcement officials in pretrial detention facilities. NGOs noted, however, that concurrent with the reduction of such abuse in these facilities was a rise in the number of complaints of abuse during arrest and transport of detainees to the facilities. A culture of impunity in law enforcement, especially outside Tbilisi, persisted. Other continuing problems included inhumane and life-threatening prison conditions, lack of judicial independence, violence and discrimination against women, and trafficking in persons (TIP).
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy focused on the promotion of democratic institutions and processes, the development of a vibrant civil society, fundamental freedoms, rule of law, human rights, and anti-TIP measures.
During his May visit to Tbilisi, the President praised Georgia's progress and encouraged continued democratization. The Secretary of State, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Members of Congress reinforced the President's message and other efforts to achieve U.S. objectives in Georgia in 2005. U.S. officials worked publicly and privately with officials, NGOs, and other organizations to identify and highlight areas of particular concern and encourage reform.
To promote democratic institutions and processes, the United States provided assistance for the October parliamentary by-elections, including providing reliable poll data to all parties, and worked with two leading Georgian youth NGOs to train domestic observers for the by-elections. As a result of U.S. assistance, four of the strongest opposition parties formed an alliance to conduct a primary to field unified opposition coalition candidates in the by-elections. A U.S.-funded project began to reform the Civil Registry to serve as a reliable and up-to-date source for voter lists for elections starting in 2008.
The United States provided the parliament with assistance to promote better governance and leadership skills, particularly by supporting the development of capacity for effective oversight of the executive branch and promoting transparency. To promote improved governance, the United States provided direct assistance to the offices of the President and Prime Minister. To strengthen political pluralism, the United States funded programs and worked with political leaders in the majority and opposition to promote regional and national political party development. The United States provided assistance to women leaders throughout the country to prepare them to run for elected office and positions within their political parties. U.S. assistance supported creation of the Parliamentary Women's Gender Equity Council. To strengthen local governance, the United States supported decentralization legislation and provided assistance to advance fiscal decentralization.
The United States continued to encourage and support the development of a strong civil society. U.S.-funded programs promoted the financial sustainability of the NGO community. As a result of a U.S.-supported advocacy program, a coalition successfully lobbied the Government to adopt amendments to the tax code, thus allowing for tax-free contributions to NGOs. U.S. assistance enabled civil society coalitions to pursue issue-based advocacy campaigns on issues such as democratic elections and human rights protection.
To support development of civil society in regions with large ethnic minorities, the United States worked with NGOs in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli on organizational capacity building, social outreach, and networking with other components of Georgian and international civil society. The United States awarded six Democracy Commission grants to local NGOs that target ethnic integration, Georgian-language instruction, or conflict resolution. Civic education programs supported the development of innovative extracurricular teaching in civic values and responsibilities for youth.
The United States continued to encourage the Government to respect media freedom and to look for opportunities for constructive cooperation with media outlets. The United States funded several media development programs aimed at improving professionalism, including in the regions. The United States sponsored a media development professional to train news directors and reporters in the Autonomous Republic of Ajara. The United States dedicated an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) to broadcast journalists and included print media journalists in other IVLP groups. U.S. Democracy Commission grants supported projects aimed at improving independent journalism. The United States sponsored the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management at the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs. A working tour funded by the United States helped television journalists learn the values and principles of freedom of the press as well as standards of western journalism. U.S. travel grants enabled journalists to work on the issues of trafficking and human rights.
The United States continued to promote rule of law and human rights. U.S. funding supported a rule of law program that increased public awareness of legal rights and assisted in the reform of the legal system. U.S. advisors were closely involved in the ongoing rewriting of Georgia's Criminal Procedural Code in an effort to meet international human rights standards. Parliament recently passed amendments that had long been advocated by the United States, including provisions authorizing plea-bargaining and the use at trial of audio/video tapes taken by investigative journalists. U.S.-sponsored activities also focused on court structure reform, judicial self-advocacy and judicial independence. The rule of law program promoted implementation of the Administrative Code and its freedom of information provisions, funded legal aid clinics, and conducted public education campaigns regarding citizens' constitutional rights.
In response to the Government's willingness to tackle corruption and human rights issues within the framework of law enforcement, U.S. assistance to the Ministry of Interior expanded, including the posting of a permanent representative at the Embassy to administer such programs. The United States also continued to develop a new police training curriculum for entry- and advanced-level officers to meet international standards, including in human rights and establish procedures consistent with international standards at the central forensic lab. In the past, poor forensic capabilities were believed to have led to police abuse of detainees.
The separatist regime in Abkhazia continued to prevent repatriation of approximately 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the de facto authorities of South Ossetia continued to obstruct repatriation of 12,767 ethnic Georgians. The United States regularly worked with Georgia's IDPs to examine the potential for conflict mitigation and recovery assistance and launched a housing program that could act as a model for the return of IDPs.
The United States has historically been in the forefront of efforts to bring perpetrators of religiously motivated violence to justice. Embassy officials attended the trial of defrocked Orthodox Priest Father Basil Mkalavishvili, who was convicted in January and sentenced to six years imprisonment. Reports of violence against minority religious groups continued to decrease in 2005; however, several groups continued to report intimidation by local authorities as well as by citizens, prompting continued U.S. engagement on the issue. U.S. officials attended several governmental and non-governmental conferences on religious freedom and legislation concerning religion and urged the Ministry of Justice to register religious groups under a new law granting them legal status.
To combat TIP, the United States assembled a list of suggested steps the Government could take to improve anti-TIP efforts and shared the list with high-ranking members of the Government. The steps urged the Government to provide support to NGOs, demonstrate an increase in arrests and convictions of traffickers, finalize TIP legislation, and create and implement national referral mechanisms for victim assistance. Embassy officials continued to follow these steps by engaging officials from the Prosecutor's office, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and others. A U.S. official visited Tbilisi and met with key figures in the Government, civil society and international community working to fight TIP. The Embassy continued to train members of the Special Operations Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and officials from the Prosecutor General's office on victim identification and the apprehension and investigation of traffickers. The United States funded a project aimed at victims' assistance and general public awareness of TIP. The project was supported by the Government and administered through a local NGO.
The Government's human rights record remained poor. Although there were improvements in other human rights areas, democratic institutions remained weak and President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was reelected to another seven-year term on December 4, dominated the political space. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has not held an election that met international standards. The media climate remained hostile for independent and opposition press, which were subjected to restrictive criminal and civil libel penalties for criticizing the President and other government officials. Legislation enacted during the year eroded legal protections for human rights and expanded executive branch powers to regulate and control civil society. Wary of a possible "color" revolution, the Government harassed and investigated NGOs engaged in democracy support and civil society development. Kazakhstani society is ethnically diverse, and there is a high degree of interethnic tolerance. Despite the erosion of legal protections for religious freedom and some interference from local authorities, religious communities continued to report general government support for the rights of religious communities, including minority faiths. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a problem.
The United States vigorously advocated progress on human rights and democracy as an integral component of bilateral engagement and an essential complement to economic and security cooperation. Speaking in Astana in October, the Secretary of State noted, "Wise statesmen know and history has demonstrated that political and economic freedom must advance together and complement one another. History also teaches us that true stability and true security are only found in democratic regimes." In keeping with this integrated approach, numerous U.S. assistance and training programs in Kazakhstan, including programs involving the military, law enforcement, and other government agencies, had a human rights component. Support for the rule of law and independent media remained priorities. The United States continued to encourage the Government to live up to its OSCE human dimension commitments.
In spring 2005, the Secretary determined that Kazakhstan had not made significant progress in human rights and requested a national security waiver from Congress, as provided for in Section 587 of the Foreign Operations Appropriation Act, so that assistance to the Government for democracy, health, regional security, and economic development could continue. As part of intense U.S. engagement, the Government of Kazakhstan acknowledged the need to further improve its democracy and human rights record. The Secretary, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, CENTCOM Commander, Members of Congress, and other officials traveled to Kazakhstan throughout the year to raise U.S. democracy concerns at the highest levels. The Ambassador and a broad spectrum of U.S. officials based in Kazakhstan, Vienna, and Washington made democratic and human rights progress a daily priority. In late December, the U.S. Ambassador met with and demarched Government officials regarding U.S. Government concerns about the forced return of nine Uzbek refugee seekers in late November. The United States raised concerns about the Government's actions in a March 1, 2006 statement to the OSCE's Permanent Council. The United States remained committed to non-partisan promotion of political pluralism and governance that reflects the political will of its citizens and engaged the Government at every level to emphasize U.S. commitment to those principles.
Improving electoral processes was a main focus of U.S. democracy promotion efforts. U.S. officials regularly emphasized to the Government, including President Nazarbayev, the importance of holding elections meeting international standards. While the OSCE's election observation mission determined that the December 4 presidential election failed to meet international standards, U.S. diplomatic and programmatic efforts contributed to small improvements, which the OSCE cited, in the transparency of the electoral process. On December 10, President Bush called to congratulate President Nazarbayev and to underscore the importance of addressing electoral violations and implementing OSCE election recommendations.
The United States funded projects that provided nonpartisan, capacity-building support to improve political party, civil society, and independent media participation in the electoral process. A U.S. partner NGO conducted a nationwide pre-election opinion poll and shared the findings with all political parties to encourage responsiveness to voters' concerns, consistent with non-partisan political party development training programs. The United States provided broad support for election observation and monitoring. Dozens of U.S. officials observed the election, and U.S. grants supported a variety of independent domestic and international observation efforts. A U.S. partner NGO trained partisan election monitors in seven cities across the country. The United States also supported exit polling on election day. With U.S. support, a coalition of eight domestic NGOs worked with the Central Election Commission to produce brochures on the electoral process and candidates' policy positions.
Other U.S. programs promoted good governance, citizen participation in the decision-making process, and civic education. A U.S-sponsored expert spoke with Kazakhstani officials about electronic rulemaking processes in the United States, noting that e-government leads to greater government transparency and public participation. The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program issued several grants to independent, grassroots NGOs for projects aimed at encouraging local self-governance, and the United States underwrote a larger grant for a pilot program to develop citizen advisory committees to work productively with local governments. To foster increased civic participation, U.S.-funded civic education activities reached more than 41,000 secondary students. More than 3,100 students participated in U.S.-supported extracurricular activities, such as summer camps, student action committees, and local government days, to apply the skills they learned in the classroom. Surveys indicate that 69% of the students who participated in these extracurricular activities demonstrated greater civic activism as a result.
Media support programs provided professional development for journalists as well as legal and technical support, reaching more than 175 journalists and nine television stations in 2005. In anticipation of the December election, the United States funded a conference in Astana for journalists that reviewed the role of media in the electoral process. Five television stations across the country received in-depth technical production training, which each station used to produce talk shows related to election issues. An ongoing U.S.-funded program provided a legal support network for journalists throughout the year. U.S. funding also supported the creation of an Internet-based "news factory" that enabled journalists and media outlets to share stories and data. The United States provided grant support that enabled a well-established domestic media advocacy NGO to monitor and publicize abuses of journalistic rights and freedom of speech. In addition, the United States funded projects aimed at improving the professional skills of women journalists and coverage of women's issues and human rights.
Through the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) two groups of Kazakhstani print and broadcast journalists engaged with their U.S. counterparts and learned best practices. The Embassy, the OSCE, and an international NGO co-sponsored a seminar on professional journalistic standards in covering terrorism for 35 regional journalists. The Ambassador opened the conference with remarks on "Terrorism vs. Democracy," and a U.S.-sponsored speaker conducted classes on reporting on terrorism.
With U.S. support, a domestic NGO conducted an information and advocacy campaign in cooperation with Kazakhstani and international organizations to inform the public about draft legislation that would have seriously hindered NGO activity in Kazakhstan. The grantee led public consultations, collected opinions and concerns for a database, provided other NGO leaders and civic activists with information about proposed legislative changes, and involved civic leaders in the advocacy campaign aimed at protecting the rights and freedoms of civil society. At the end of the information project, the Constitutional Council found the draft laws unconstitutional.
A U.S.-supported civil society association took an active role in policy dialogue, advocacy, and representation of broad NGO interests. The association advocated implementing a law on the rights of persons with disabilities, holding local government budget hearings, investigating the use of regional government funds, protecting students' rights, and paying fair compensation for demolished housing. The United States funded a democracy information center in the southern city of Shymkent, providing human rights and democracy information and training, offering Internet access, and hosting discussion clubs. IVLPs provided an opportunity for eight NGO leaders to travel to the United States to exchange expertise with American experts and counterparts. Embassy officials met with current and former grantees and IVLP alumni and found that most grantee NGOs had accomplished the goals set and continued to apply lessons learned.
Support for the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, remained a fundamental goal of U.S.-funded training programs for NGOs and Kazakhstani officials. To support judicial transparency and accountability, the United States cooperated with the Government on a successful pilot program that tested a video and audio recording system for court proceedings. The United States encouraged Kazakhstan to institute a jury trial system in coordination with the OSCE and arranged a study tour on jury trials for five Government officials. In January 2006, parliament adopted a jury system. A U.S. partner NGO developed a legal reasoning and writing curriculum expected to be introduced into law school curricula in 2007. The United States continued its advocacy with law faculties to emphasize the importance of maintaining mandatory legal ethics training. The Embassy conducted two "Integrity Awareness" training sessions and worked to establish anti-corruption programs for customs inspectors to increase operational effectiveness and accountability. Four government officials and two journalists completed a U.S.-sponsored study tour focusing on anti-corruption measures.
Two Embassy small grants addressed penal reform. One grant underwrote a seminar focusing on juvenile justice and recidivism concerns that law professors, judges, penitentiary officials, and NGO leaders attended. The second grant supported ongoing human rights training for prison psychologists, which received praise from international penitentiary reform experts. The United States included mandatory human rights components in all bilateral military training. With U.S. technical assistance, Kazakhstan reduced incidents of military conscript hazing and abuse through a series of reforms to its non-commissioned officer (NCO) system. As a result, professional responsibility and training increased for NCOs, who now earn their rank by merit in areas including protection of the rights of the conscripts in their command. The United States continued to encourage the Government to find a just resolution in the case of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan leader Galymzham Zhakiyanov, convicted in 2002 on what appeared to be politically motivated charges. Zhakiyanov was paroled on January 14, 2006.
Additional grants were awarded to NGO programs focused on youth, women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program awarded grants to two domestic NGO projects focused on protecting and rehabilitating at-risk children. Another grant supported a series of women's rights roundtables for local NGOs. The United States funded a project that increased women's participation in policymaking and promoted government accountability at local levels through the creation of unprecedented public advisory councils that worked with several local governments.
The Ambassador and other U.S. officials advocated that legislation relating to religious freedom be drafted transparently and reflect international commitments and standards for protection of religious freedom. U.S. officials raised concerns in Kazakhstan and Washington about proposed legislation such as the Extremism Law, the National Security Amendments, and the NGO Law. Following passage of the Extremism Law and the National Security Amendments, U.S. officials in Kazakhstan, Washington and at OSCE forums in Vienna and Warsaw urged the Government to implement these laws in a manner that promoted human rights and respected religious freedom. Throughout the year, the Embassy brought specific cases of concern regarding religious communities to the attention of government officials, who often corrected subordinates' infringements of religious rights. Through a U.S.-funded program, a U.S. expert lectured on African-Americans and Islam in the United States. In his preface to a documentary on Muslims in America by regional broadcaster Mir TV, the Ambassador emphasized, "Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental values of the American way of life," and praised the film for showing the wisdom of community leaders who demonstrated how to separate extremist ideologies from the peaceful observance of the Muslim faith. The finished product was broadcast on local television news in all Commonwealth of Independent States countries except Turkmenistan.
The United States supported its bilateral cooperation with the Government on combating TIP with a broad civil society assistance strategy. Ongoing U.S. assistance programs provided services to trafficking victims through shelters, hotlines, and repatriation assistance. Approximately 10,000 people received information and training on trafficking-related issues through U.S.-supported programs. The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program awarded four grants for anti-trafficking programs to NGOs, which conducted more than 40 community education seminars that reached over 200 at-risk youth, their teachers, and community leaders. The NGOs also conducted more than 30 training sessions on combating TIP for law enforcement, procurators, judges, and other government officials. Embassy officials arranged a U.S.-funded study tour for five key government officials to a leading destination country for Kazakhstanis trafficked abroad. Government officials identified areas where they could better coordinate with host country officials to offer assistance to trafficking victims and to prosecute traffickers. U.S.-supported experts led a conference in Almaty for judges, procurators, law enforcement investigators, and NGO representatives that presented advanced techniques for investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing trafficking cases.
The March 24, 2005 overthrow of President Askar Akayev resulted in a major improvement in the Government's respect for human rights. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, problems remain. Democratic institutions remain fragile pending constitutional, electoral, media, and judicial reform. During the first three months of 2005, the Akayev Government frequently restricted freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. The February-March parliamentary elections were marred by serious violations, particularly in the pre-election period. Even following March 24, members of the security forces at times beat or otherwise mistreated persons, and prison conditions remained very poor, sparking, in part, a series of prison riots in September and October. Corruption continued to be a serious problem, limiting citizens' rights to due process. Trafficking in persons (TIP), violence against women and children, child labor, and discrimination against ethnic minorities were also problems.
During the run-up to the February-March parliamentary elections and July presidential election, the U.S. strategy to promote democracy and human rights focused on creating a conducive environment for free and fair elections by strengthening democratic institutions, increasing observance of human rights, supporting civil society organizations, and promoting the development of independent media. Following the presidential election, the U.S. strategy shifted its focus to anti-corruption initiatives and constitutional and media reform, along with continued support to civil society and independent media.
To promote democracy and human rights, the United States maintains close contact with independent journalists, human rights activists, and politicians from across the political spectrum while encouraging dialogue between the Government and civil society. The Ambassador and visiting senior U.S. officials met frequently with members of the Government, civil society, and human rights groups to solicit their views. For the inauguration of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the United States sent a presidential delegation, led by the Secretary of Commerce, who congratulated the new president on advancing democracy, but stressed the need to implement additional reforms. During an October 2005 visit to Bishkek, the Secretary of State addressed a gathering of parliamentarians, members of the Government, and civil society activists on democratic and constitutional reform. In September, the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs held a roundtable discussion with civil society activists. Both the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary met with President Bakiyev and other senior officials to discuss concerns about human rights issues, corruption, and constitutional reform. Then-Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Davies met with Kyrgyz officials at the UN General Assembly and stressed the need to take swift action on constitutional, media, and electoral reform. The head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting and the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE met with the Kyrgyz delegation to emphasize the need to maintain reform momentum and focus on constitutional, media, and electoral reforms and combating corruption. The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan also held a series of roundtables with journalists, students, and others to discuss the need for further reform. In addition, she maintained an active public diplomacy program to help build support for reform.
For both the parliamentary and presidential elections, the United States financed the purchase of indelible ink as well as training for poll workers on how to use the ink as an anti-fraud tool. In both elections, the ink proved to be an effective measure in combating multiple voting, which had been a serious problem in previous elections. The United States also financed the first-ever comprehensive, hands-on training for over 27,000 election officials, including nearly all precinct election commission members. The training included a significant component on election ethics. The United States also provided substantial financial and logistical support for both domestic and international election monitors for both the parliamentary and presidential elections and financed the first-ever parallel vote tabulation carried out in Kyrgyzstan. For both elections, the U.S. Government was the single-largest source of international election monitors for the OSCE election observation mission.
In the run-up to both elections, the United States supported considerable voter education efforts, designed to inform voters about the use of indelible ink as well as of their rights as voters. The United States also supported a "Rock the Vote" campaign in which a well-known Ukrainian rock star toured Kyrgyzstan in order to increase voter turnout and interest in the July presidential election. Over 22,000 Kyrgyz citizens attended the free concerts. For the presidential election, the United States also sponsored the first-ever nationally televised debates between candidates. U.S. support for non-partisan political party development continued throughout the year, particularly in the run-up to the elections. Training focused on message and platform development, public speaking skills, and coalition building.
The United States continued its support of civic education programs, supplying 66,500 civic education textbooks to students around the country. Throughout the year, over 80,000 students in 1,998 schools participated in a U.S.-sponsored civic education program that promoted greater understanding of civic responsibility, women in political life, and international human rights.
Although media freedom and freedom of speech improved considerably since March, they remained areas of strong U.S. focus. In 2005, the United States provided training to journalists from 42 electronic and print outlets in an effort to improve professional standards and clarify the legal framework for media operation. The United States continued its support for the Media Commissioner Institute, which provides a source for alternative dispute settlement for journalists. The United States also supported efforts to transform state-owned television into a public-broadcasting format station. Throughout the year, the United States continued its support of the Media Support Center, which is the only independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. When the Government of then-President Akayev cut off electricity to the Center immediately before the flawed February parliamentary elections to halt publication of several pro-opposition newspapers, the Embassy provided generators to keep the press running. The United States also supported media resource centers in the Ferghana Valley, and U.S.-funded projects increased the professionalism of women journalists and coverage of women's issues and human rights.
Since March 2005, civil society has become considerably freer. However, although President Bakiyev's government has generally resisted the regional trend toward restricting NGO activity, a few prominent Western-funded NGOs were subject to smear campaigns and harassment in early 2006. Freedom of assembly also improved substantially since March 2005. Nevertheless, the United States continued its strong support for a wide variety of programs designed to strengthen civil society through a network of nine support centers that provide training, grants, legal assistance, and other services to NGOs all over the country. These centers are joined into a countrywide association that advocates at the national level on civil society issues. The United States also supported the establishment of more than 20 Information Centers for Democracy throughout Kyrgyzstan that provide key information and training and host debates. In 2005, 38 NGOs received capacity building grants, while another 82 organizations received community action grants to work on issues of local importance. Throughout the year, 140 NGO leaders focused on promoting democratic reform participated in U.S.-sponsored training on advocacy skills.
As a result of U.S. assistance, 11 civil society organizations improved their internal governance with the aim of fostering more effective decision-making, strategic planning, public outreach, fundraising, and accountability. Another 20 organizations achieved financial sustainability and diversified their funding sources to become less dependent on outside sources of funding. Twenty-one NGOs introduced an ongoing process of strategic planning, while 20 leading NGOs developed and used public outreach strategies, and ten NGOs established or developed existing local civil society networks. The United States also funded regional networks that strengthened the capacity of NGOs to hold public hearings, advocate, and solve conflicts effectively in the Ferghana Valley. In 2005, the U.S.-funded Democracy Commission Small Grants Program provided 44 grants to local NGOs in support of independent media outlets, combating human trafficking, journalism training, academic integrity, human rights, democracy, civic and legal education, and election-related programming.
The United States continued programs to promote greater transparency in the judicial system and improve the legal structure in order to fight corruption. The United States also provided strong diplomatic support to anti-corruption efforts, with visiting high-level U.S. officials stressing to President Bakiyev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov the need to make anti-corruption initiatives the centerpiece of their democracy and economic reform programs. In November, the Government began implementation of a U.S.-sponsored pilot project to reform the Bishkek traffic police to improve its effectiveness and combat corruption. The United States sponsored judicial training for commercial, criminal, and non-commercial civil judges, while the U.S.-funded Judicial Watchdog Group continued its work monitoring courtrooms. The United States also continued programs promoting greater transparency in local government. Partly as a result of U.S. efforts, 21 local governments held public hearings on the local budget, communal property, asset management, and other issues. The United States also provided grants to student groups at 12 Kyrgyz universities and 4 teacher groups to combat corruption within the Kyrgyz educational system.
Throughout the year, a U.S.-supported "Human Rights Defenders" network continued monitoring prisons and pretrial detention facilities in an effort to prevent detainee abuse. The network also reported on human rights abuses around the country and worked with authorities at the local and national levels to prevent further abuses.
Following riots between Uzbek security forces and protesters in the city of Andijon, Uzbekistan, in mid-May, approximately 500 Uzbek citizens sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan. The United States provided food assistance to these refugees; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with Kyrgyz government officials to provide suitable conditions at a refugee camp in southern Kyrgyzstan. The United States took a leading role in urging the Kyrgyz Government to release the refugees to UNHCR for third-country resettlement, which it did for 450 of them between July and September. Four other members of the original group were forcibly returned to Uzbekistan in June, an action strongly protested by the U.S. Government; four more remain in Kyrgyz detention while their asylum cases are heard by the Kyrgyz courts. The United States continues to urge the Government to turn these Uzbek refugees over to UNHCR for third-country resettlement. Following continuous advocacy efforts by U.S. authorities in both Bishkek and Washington, the Secretary sent a letter to President Bakiyev in January 2006 reiterating the U.S. position.
Remaining engaged on the issue of religious freedom, the United States maintained regular contacts with representatives of various religious communities, and several Muslim religious leaders visited the United States through the International Visitors Leadership Program. The Ambassador hosted an annual Iftaar dinner for Muslim leaders and visited the Islamic University and regional mosques. An Embassy official addressed a crowd of over 30,000 worshipers in Bishkek's main square on the Feast of Eid marking the end of Ramadan.
The United States continued to play a leading role in combating TIP. On numerous occasions, U.S. officials lobbied for Kyrgyzstan to employ more effective efforts to combat TIP. In December, the U.S. Government began a three-year project to combat TIP in Kyrgyzstan, with a particular focus on labor trafficking. The United States also sponsored anti-trafficking information campaigns as well as seminars and training sessions aimed at law enforcement officials involved in anti-trafficking efforts. The United States also continued to support the Sezim shelter for trafficking victims.
Moldova is a parliamentary republic with power divided among a president, cabinet, parliament, and judiciary. (Note: In 1992, a separatist regime, supported by Russian military forces, declared a "Transdniester Moldovan Republic" in the region between the Dniester River and Ukraine. Since the Government of Moldova does not control this region, all references that follow are to the rest of the country, unless otherwise stated.) Despite reform setbacks in recent years, the OSCE judged the parliamentary elections on March 6, 2005 to have met most international standards, with the exception of campaign conditions and media coverage that favored the incumbent Communist government. Although the Communist Party won a majority in the legislature, it fell short of the two-thirds needed to return President Voronin to office, and several opposition groups eventually agreed to support him in exchange for commitments to undertake specific reforms. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Controversy continued over pro-government bias in the news programs of the public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova. Widespread corruption persisted throughout government and society, particularly in the law enforcement, judicial, education, and health sectors. Authorities tortured and beat some persons in police custody. In some cases, people were held incommunicado for extended periods, and prison conditions remained harsh. Several religious groups continued to encounter difficulties in obtaining official registration. Societal violence and discrimination against women, children, and Roma persisted. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a very serious problem.
The democratization and human rights record of the separatist-controlled Transnistria region remained very poor. December 11 elections to the Transnistrian "Supreme Soviet" were not considered free and fair and were not recognized by the OSCE, the Government of Moldova, or any other state. Authorities in the region reportedly continued to use torture and arbitrary arrest and detention. Prison conditions remained harsh, and two members of the so-called Ilascu Group remained in prison despite a July 2004 ruling in their favor by the European Court for Human Rights. Transnistrian authorities harassed independent media and opposition lawmakers, restricted freedom of association and of religion, and discriminated against Romanian speakers.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in Moldova continued to focus on strengthening the rule of law, good governance, independent media, and civil society; promoting free and fair elections; combating TIP; and supporting a just and speedy resolution to the conflict in Transnistria. The United States consistently stressed to the Government that it must take concrete steps to promote democracy and human rights in order to enjoy deeper bilateral relations and improve the country's EU membership prospects. The United States worked closely with the EU to promote the conditions for free and fair elections and to maintain international pressure on the Transnistrian regime.
The United States worked through the OSCE and directly with the Government and mediators to push for a solution to the conflict in Transnistria that is fair and respects the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. In 2005, the United States and the EU became observers to the settlement negotiations, and U.S. officials participated in negotiating rounds in November and December. The United States raised the issue at the highest levels in bilateral and multilateral meetings and forums, in particular urging Russia to use its influence with the separatist authorities to promote a settlement and to fulfill its commitments, undertaken at the 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul, to withdraw its troops and munitions from Moldovan territory. U.S. assistance, while limited in its reach into Transnistria, maintained outreach and some support to the Transnistrian people, encouraged interaction between the two parts of Moldova, strengthened local civil society groups, and worked at the grassroots level to promote the growth of democratic institutions. Programs included educational and professional exchanges and training and support for a legal aid clinic. The United States also supported the development of two independent radio stations with reach into Transnistria to provide objective information to the people living there.
Through diplomatic efforts and support for civil society, the United States played a vital role in helping to ensure that the 2005 parliamentary elections met most international standards. During the pre-election campaign, the United States encouraged the Government, both bilaterally and with the EU, to conduct the elections fairly and ensure equal media coverage for all candidates. President Bush underscored the importance of democratic elections in Moldova in a speech in Bratislava in February, and high-level U.S. interventions emphasized to the Government that the conduct of the elections would affect Moldova's standing among the world's democracies. The United States supported a program to monitor the objectivity and content of all major news sources during the campaign period, the findings of which objectively demonstrated the public media's pro-government bias and limited election coverage. This data was a key part of the successful international and domestic efforts to urge President Voronin and his Government to revise campaign media regulations to increase dramatically the airtime for debates on public stations and allow news programs to cover the election campaign. The United States supported the efforts of an association of local NGOs, "Coalition for Free and Fair Elections," to carry out electoral monitoring and voter education programs, develop voter and poll worker guides, and organize candidate debates on television and radio. In addition, the United States funded the work of several other local NGOs to carry out get-out-the-vote campaigns, and on election day, deployed dozens of election observers as part of the OSCE observation mission and supported the deployment of close to 2,000 domestic observers throughout the country.
Following the elections, the United States turned its attention to supporting the newly elected parliament in its unanimously stated priority of European integration. U.S.-sponsored exchange visits for Moldovan parliamentarians helped them learn about building democratic institutions and integrating into Europe from Latvian and Lithuanian legislators. In addition, the United States supported programs to assist the Moldovan parliament in developing a legislative process that is transparent and responsive to the needs and priorities of Moldovan citizens. In one innovative U.S.-funded project, two Moldovan NGOs introduced the American congressional hearing system to key parliamentary committees. The United States also encouraged greater integration of women and youth in political processes, for example through a study trip for 18 women parliamentarians to the United States, training for political party youth factions, and "political party fairs" at universities. To improve local governance and increase citizen participation, the United States supported the work of local governments and communities to implement community-initiated development projects. Assistance focused on building municipal capacity, encouraging local officials to engage their citizens in community decision-making, and enhancing the capacity of citizens to create tangible and positive change in their own communities through civic activity and democratic practices. In the community-led projects, citizens developed, planned, managed, and implemented projects to improve local water, heat, gas, and other municipal services, while the United States provided training, technical assistance, and small amounts of funding.
In support of media freedom, the United States worked on the diplomatic front and through various programs, including exchanges, grants, and training courses for journalists, to promote media freedom and high journalistic standards. U.S. officials raised concerns with authorities about the independence and transparency of the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) in distributing broadcast licenses and frequencies. The United States also pressed the Government to select a truly independent Supervisory Board for Teleradio Moldova, implement merit-based, transparent hiring practices within the station, and bring its broadcast laws in line with OSCE standards. Many independent media outlets received U.S.-funded grants for projects aimed at increasing the independence of media and promoting pluralism. Key to U.S. efforts was work with the News Department of the formerly state-owned television station, Moldova 1, a major source of news for most Moldovans, which U.S.-funded monitoring had shown to give consistently preferential and biased treatment to the Government in its broadcasts. A U.S.-funded media expert worked with the staff of Moldova 1's News Department to improve the objectivity and balance of its daily newscasts and increase the use of multiple sources in its reports. The United States also financed the purchase of updated editing and video equipment, replacing broken and outdated equipment. In addition, the United States supported the development of civil society through the Democracy Commission Small Grants Program, giving grants to promote independent media and citizens' access to information and to empower youth.
The United States supported several efforts to promote the rule of law and combat corruption and engaged the Government and President on the need to address the problem of corruption seriously. In 2005, the United States invited Moldova to submit a proposal for a Millennium Challenge Account Threshold Program, through which it may receive targeted assistance to combat corruption. The United States provided management expertise, technical assistance, and training opportunities to the Center for Combating Economic Crime and Corruption and the Prosecutor General's Office to develop initiatives to fight corruption and increase the effectiveness of law enforcement anti-corruption and anti-trafficking efforts. With U.S. assistance, the Government developed and passed the so-called "Guillotine Law," which led to the elimination of 189 costly and obsolete regulations, thus reducing opportunities for corruption and making it easier to open and operate a business. This process was accompanied by a U.S.-supported public information campaign to raise citizens' awareness of the limits of government authority and encourage them to fight back against official abuse and corruption. Other rule of law programs assisted legal institutions, judges, bar associations, students, and lawyers to strengthen the quality and awareness of legal education and legal reforms. A U.S.-funded criminal law program conducted training for judges on human rights and for the defense bar on advocacy skills.
The United States highlighted its concern for religious freedom, advocating throughout the year the registration of several religious organizations that have been unable to register for many years. The Ambassador raised concerns about persistent registration difficulties at the highest levels of the Government. In observance of Human Rights Day in December, the Ambassador highlighted religious freedom in an editorial placed in two national newspapers. The Embassy repeatedly raised concerns about certain religious groups encountering hindrances to the construction of houses of worship.
The Ambassador and other U.S. officials, including a U.S. congressional delegation, emphasized the importance of combating TIP. The United States successfully pushed for the passage of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law and the ratification of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. In September, through President Bush's Anti-Trafficking Initiative, the United States signed an agreement with the Government to support the creation of an inter-agency Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons. The President's initiative also includes support for the creation of a network of transitional living and educational facilities to reduce the vulnerability to TIP of orphanage and boarding school graduates and returned trafficking victims. The United States funded several programs to address the economic roots of TIP by improving access for actual and potential trafficking victims to counseling, job training, and legitimate employment opportunities. The United States continued to support the work of the Center for the Prevention of Trafficking in Women in providing victims legal assistance and counseling, legal representation, and help in replacing identity papers.
The Russian Federation has a weak multiparty political system with a strong presidency, a government headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council). The most notable human rights development in 2005 was the continued centralization of power in the executive branch through changes in the parliamentary election laws and a move away from the direct election of regional governors. Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national television networks, and further undermined the effectiveness of NGOs. Legislation passed by the Duma in December 2005 and signed into law by President Putin in January 2006 contained many elements that could severely hinder the work of NGOs in Russia. These trends, taken together with a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in law enforcement, and political pressure on the judiciary, resulted in the further erosion of government accountability. The Government's human rights record remained poor in Chechnya, where there were credible reports of serious human rights violations, including reports of unlawful killings and abuses of civilians by both federal security forces and Chechen Government security forces. Rebel fighters committed terrorist bombings and serious human rights abuses in the North Caucasus region. Authorities, primarily at the local level, imposed limitations on freedom of assembly. Minorities continued to experience widespread discrimination and racially and religiously motivated attacks. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a problem despite steps to combat it.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in Russia focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, a vibrant civil society, rule of law, human rights, independent media, and anti-trafficking measures. A range of senior U.S. officials, including the President, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, and the Ambassador, raised human rights and democracy concerns with their Russian counterparts. In May and November 2005 meetings with President Putin, President Bush raised a broad range of bilateral issues, including democracy and human rights concerns. In addition to meeting with government officials, the President and Secretary of State met with Russian civic leaders during their visit to Russia in May. In early 2006, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor visited Moscow to discuss the NGO law with civil society, Duma, and government leaders.
To promote free and fair elections, the United States continued to provide programmatic and technical support to a Russian election watchdog organization, nonpartisan training for political parties, and training for mass media representatives on covering political issues and engaging with the public about the role of free media in an open, competitive political system. U.S.-funded organizations conducted non-partisan observation of several regional elections in Russia. NGO observers of the December 4 Moscow City legislative elections successfully ran an election day hotline that received calls from candidates, observers, and citizens. However, changes to electoral legislation passed during 2005 could prevent Russian NGOs from observing federal elections in future years. A U.S.-funded organization conducted polling to help political parties, civic organizations, and citizen groups be more responsive to the concerns of their constituents and foster greater citizen participation in the political process. The United States also supported training and development activities for Russian political parties committed to working peacefully within the democratic process to advocate legitimate citizen interests and seek responsible legislative representation, with a focus on strengthening links with constituents, promoting effective governance, and encouraging the participation of women and youth. With U.S. funding, NGOs trained observers to monitor the work of deputies in regional legislatures, with the goals of encouraging interaction between constituents and their elected officials and promoting good governance.
The Government continued efforts to manage civil society, including scrutiny of many foreign and domestic NGOs. U.S. officials raised concerns about the controversial NGO legislation and harassment of specific NGOs. To strengthen civil society, U.S. programs provided technical assistance and grant support to civil society groups, NGO resource centers, advocacy and watchdog groups, policy think tanks, business associations, and labor unions. With U.S. funding, NGOs promoted volunteerism and community service, advocated for citizens' rights, and fought corruption. A civic campaign launched by regional organizations and supported in part by the United States inspired more than 400,000 volunteers to address critical needs in their communities. School-based community service learning engaged thousands of young people in developing and implementing projects to improve their communities. During 2005, at least 20 government entities of the Siberian Federal District introduced competitive grant procedures for NGOs, due in part to the efforts of a U.S.-supported regional resource center. U.S. assistance supported more than 1,000 environmental protection, public advocacy, and other civil society events throughout Russia, with the participation of tens of thousands of activists. U.S. funding also enabled independent Russian think tanks in 17 regions to develop policy recommendations that influenced reform in areas such as local self-governance, economic development, and social policy. In 2005, more than 90 analyses prepared by think tanks, supported in part by the United States, were incorporated into legislation and policy initiatives of the Government. A consortium of U.S. and Russian NGOs dedicated to improving the legislative environment regulating NGOs provided analysis and opinion after the Duma introduced controversial NGO legislation in late 2005. In addition, the Embassy - in part through a U.S.-sponsored American Corner branch at the Duma's Parliamentary Library - helped provide Duma deputies with information on U.S. laws concerning NGOs.
Media freedom in Russia was a continuing concern in 2005 and was publicly raised by the President and Secretary of State. The United States worked to strengthen journalism in Russia, organizing International Visitors Leadership Programs (IVLPs) for journalists on public policy, which advocated a greater role for journalists in the policy dialogue. The United States also contributed to journalism education through an IVLP for journalism educators as well as through the Moscow State University-University of Missouri Columbia partnership in journalism and the Fulbright Summer Institute in Journalism. In addition, journalists across Russia participated in the Open World visitor program and, with U.S. funding, three media experts visited Russia to address various aspects of journalism in discussions with Russian audiences. The United States worked to strengthen regional broadcast media and to improve access to non-governmental sources of information. Organized by a U.S.-funded NGO, over 300 small and mid-sized regional TV stations participated in the first professional television competition that encouraged socially responsible journalism. More than 2,600 broadcast journalists participated in U.S.-financed training, conferences, and competitions on professional standards, socially responsible journalism, production best practices, and media business development. U.S. support also helped create the conditions for an independent association of newspaper publishers to advocate on behalf of its members and for Russia's first media lawyers' association to help protect news outlets from external pressure on editorial freedom.
To promote the rule of law, the United States continued to support exchange and technical assistance programs aimed at bolstering judicial independence, ethical conduct, transparency, and professionalism. In March, a U.S.-funded program helped organize a trip by senior Russian judges to Washington to meet with eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices, at the Chief Justice's request. The delegation discussed issues such as jury trials and the relationship between the courts and the media. The Open World Program brought U.S. Federal judges to Russia to discuss with Russian legal audiences the fundamentals of an independent judiciary, including judicial oversight and the role of prosecutors, and expanded ties between Russian legal professionals and U.S. counterparts. U.S. funding contributed to reforms made in 2005 to further professionalize judicial operations by increasing the use of computers, professional court administrators, justices of the peace, law clerks, and court press officers. Innovations adopted in U.S.-funded pilot courts have improved customer service, efficiency, and transparency of operations, and Russian officials are considering expanding them throughout the court system. Other U.S. programs continued to support legal clinics, defend the rights of women, labor, and migrants, and develop NGO advocacy skills.
The United States supported the use of the legal system by NGOs, which have won the majority of over 2,000 cases taken to court in the last three years. Most cases were on behalf of refugees and labor union activists. The number of visitors to a U.S.-supported human rights website increased from 1,400 in 2003 to 125,968 in November 2005; 37,000 persons have visited the Russian-language version of that website since its establishment in 2004. U.S.-supported legal clinics have been established at approximately 80 law schools, many of which provide representation to indigent persons. Some clinics are now beginning to specialize in subjects such as the rights of women, children, and prisoners.
The gravest violations of human rights in Russia continued to occur in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus. Senior U.S. officials expressed concern to Russian leaders about the conduct of Russian security services and about the security services' association with the Government of the Republic of Chechnya, which was increasingly linked to abductions and disappearances of civilians. U.S. officials stressed that the United States supports a political, not a military, solution in Chechnya; urged an end to human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict and accountability for such abuses when they occur; and urged officials to conduct the November 2005 local parliamentary elections in a free, fair, and transparent manner. U.S. officials continued to encourage the development and broadening of a political dialogue with all parties, which is a fundamental step necessary to the settlement of the conflict. The United States also condemned terrorist acts and violence against civilians carried out by Chechen fighters and called on them to repudiate terrorism and cut all ties to Chechen and international terrorists. The United States recognizes the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
U.S. officials, in Moscow and during visits to the region, met frequently with human rights NGOs to discuss the situation in Chechnya and to show support for the work of these organizations. In July, a delegation from Washington traveled to Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia to assess the humanitarian situation as well as the potential to provide conflict mitigation and recovery assistance. U.S. officials also regularly met with officials from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and persons displaced by the conflict to ensure that those who returned to Chechnya did so voluntarily or had the alternative of staying in Ingushetiya. U.S. officials stressed to Russian officials that all returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Chechnya should continue to be purely voluntary, that alternative shelter should be provided to those IDPs who wish to remain in Ingushetiya, and that humanitarian aid organizations should be allowed to work without interference. The United States supported legal assistance to IDPs, including through UNHCR and through an NGO that assisted thousands of IDPs in the North Caucasus. The same NGO conducted activities to foster more tolerant societal attitudes toward IDPs through public campaigns and the media. The United States funded international humanitarian assistance programs addressing a wide range of IDP needs in the North Caucasus.
To celebrate International Human Rights Day, the Ambassador addressed and took questions from students of Moscow's Higher School of Economics on the subjects of human rights and democracy. The Embassy, working with a partner organization, supported three fellowships for human rights activists to spend up to a semester in Washington working on human rights-related issues. Gender issues remained an important element of the U.S. human rights strategy. A U.S.-funded program trained 60 social advocates in 2005 to handle domestic violence cases and other gender-related issues. This program also worked to improve law enforcement response to domestic violence complaints. The United States also continued working to promote the rights of the disabled and children. A U.S.-assisted NGO project promoted the use of legal advocacy to secure access to education for disabled students and conducted public campaigns on inclusive education for persons with disabilities. The United States supported seminars on the rights of the disabled for thousands of government and educational officials, community leaders, media representatives, and lawyers and supported the development of a university course on disability law. In November, the Ambassador hosted an event for "Inclusive Education Week," which included the participation of the Minister of Education, to encourage support for better mainstreaming of disabled children in public education.
Senior U.S. officials, including the Ambassador, maintained an active dialogue with government officials, religious denominations, and NGOs on freedom of religion and religious, racial, and ethnic tolerance. U.S. officials condemned attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship and met with Russian officials at multiple levels to urge them to hold accountable those responsible and to condemn publicly such attacks. The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program gave grants to 12 NGOs working to improve inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance. In five regions, the United States continued to support tolerance councils that brought together the general public, law enforcement officials, local NGOs, and local governments to combat intolerance toward ethnic and religious groups. Six speaker programs focused on various aspects of tolerance, including interfaith relations and multicultural themes. Two speakers specifically addressed interfaith relations in the United States, religious tolerance, and the experience of American Muslims.
U.S. support continued for a Russia-wide association of labor lawyers and advocates operating legal centers in seven cities. This association provides trade unions and their members with expert legal advice on a wide range of labor contract issues. In 2005, the organization represented in court the interests of 800 individuals and 34 unions, which resulted in 131 decisions - two-thirds of which were in favor of labor - and more than $160,000 in damages to plaintiffs. The organization appealed one of these cases to the European Court of Human Rights, which is expected to hear the case in 2006.
To assist Russia in combating TIP, the United States worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to train police and prosecutors on methods for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, using a victim-centered approach. Three week-long train-the-trainer conferences were held to train police instructors in state-of-the-art anti-trafficking techniques. The Embassy worked closely with the State Duma to conduct legislative hearings in each of Russia's seven federal districts on additional victim-centered anti-trafficking legislation. The Embassy also worked with the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to develop implementing regulations for Russia's new witness protection program and to assist in drafting an asset forfeiture law that can be used to divest traffickers of illicit proceeds and fund victim assistance. The United States and Russia established a bilateral law enforcement task force to promote closer cooperation among law enforcement officials on trafficking cases. The United States is working with the Federation Council to draft more effective child pornography legislation and continues to work closely with NGO partners throughout Russia to raise awareness of TIP and encourage closer, more effective cooperation between law enforcement and NGOs. The United States continues to support anti-trafficking NGOs throughout Russia that provide assistance to trafficking victims and train police on TIP issues. NGOs in the Russian Far East, supported by U.S. funding, conducted informational seminars for teachers from 55 schools to help them educate young people about TIP and provided more than 100 training sessions in job skill development to young, at-risk women. U.S. support helped to create hotlines for victims and persons at risk of being trafficked and improved community sensitivity to and civic action against TIP.
Serbia and Montenegro
Serbia and Montenegro is a state union consisting of the relatively large Republic of Serbia and the much smaller Republic of Montenegro. The two republics hold most of the authority, while the state union Government's responsibilities are limited to foreign affairs, national security, human and minority rights, and foreign and domestic economic and commercial relations.
The United States promotes human rights and democracy in Serbia and Montenegro through a variety of U.S.-funded programs and projects, exchanges, training, and other professional programs. The Embassy uses interagency working groups through its Rolling Policy Agenda and Democracy Commission to identify priorities and plan programs through the implementation phase. Establishing rule of law is a top U.S. priority for building democracy in Serbia and Montenegro. The United States and European partners continued to deliver a strong message to the Government that Euro-Atlantic integration will not be possible without full cooperation with the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). To combat the persisting public opinion that portrays war criminals as national heroes, the United States funded NGOs to organize media campaigns, public debates, and reports on "dealing with the past."
In Serbia, the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and continued efforts to address human rights violations throughout 2005, but numerous problems from previous years persisted. Government attention to police abuses increased, but incidents of police violence and misconduct continued. There were cases of arbitrary arrest and selective enforcement of the law for political purposes. The judiciary remained marred by corruption and inefficiency, and the judicial process continued to be lengthy. The Government at times impeded freedom of the press and harassed journalists as well as NGO workers. Societal violence and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities continued. Two of ICTY's most wanted war crimes suspects, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, remained at large in the region. Trafficking in persons (TIP) and violence against women and children persisted.
During 2005, the United States trained and directly engaged Serbian party leaders by building the capacity of democratic parties to serve and represent citizens, formulate and implement reform agendas, move toward issue-based political dialogue, and mount fair and transparent election campaigns. The United States also provided technical assistance and training to build the capacity, accountability, and transparency of municipal governments. U.S. officials also urged central government officials to promote greater decentralization in order to foster more participatory and representative democracy.
The United States provided training, technical assistance, exchanges, and grant support to increase media professionalism and competitiveness. In 2005, the United States supported the production of documentaries and reports on topics such as transitional justice. The United States also actively engaged the new Broadcast Council to ensure fairness and media freedom in determining media licensing and assignment of frequencies.
The United States actively supported the continued development of a vibrant civil society by working closely with a variety of NGOs to increase institutional effectiveness and sustainability. U.S. grants supported NGO educational programs on transitional justice and local NGOs working to promote civic awareness, government transparency, and economic and social reform.
The United States assisted in building the rule of law and domestic capacity to try war crimes in Serbia through training programs focused on improving the professional capacity of the police, prosecutors, and judges who oversee war crimes cases. The programs contributed to the establishment of a victim/witness protection unit and helped the Government draft a witness protection law. A U.S.-organized trial monitoring program for war crimes cases helped identify and resolve legal and technical issues that arose during such trials. The United States provided training and technical assistance to magistrates, judges, prosecutors, law schools, and associations of young lawyers to promote a more independent, transparent, and efficient judicial system. The United States contributed to the development of associations for magistrates, judges, and prosecutors. Visitor exchanges also proved to be an invaluable tool for educating government and judicial officials about the U.S. judicial system and methods of judicial reform.
The United States pressed the Serbian Government to prevent and respond appropriately to attacks against ethnic minorities, increase ethnic tolerance, and promote reconciliation within society. The United States supported a university campaign designed to increase tolerance and inter-ethnic dialogue and funded exchange visits focused on managing diversity in a multiethnic society and minority political participation. U.S. efforts to safeguard and promote the rights of ethnic minorities also promoted the rights of religious minorities associated with those ethnic groups. The United States routinely met with government officials to urge revisions to a draft religion law that favors some religions over others.
In 2005, the United States trained and equipped police, prosecutors, and judges and funded a TIP victims' shelter through the IOM. The United States also helped establish a government agency to coordinate assistance to trafficking victims and funded workshops and public awareness campaigns.
Since 1999, Kosovo has been administered by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (June 1999). UNMIK has worked to foster autonomy, effective self-governance, protection of minority rights, and adherence to the rule of law. After six years of international community assistance, the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) must still fully address interethnic reconciliation and make further progress on implementing the "Standards for Kosovo," which help provide the framework for establishing a multi-ethnic, sustainable democratic society. In October 2005, the UN Security Council formally approved commencement of final status negotiations for Kosovo, based on the recommendation of UN Special Envoy Kai Eide. As a member of the Contact Group and contributor to the NATO-led Kosovo Force, the United States remains fully involved in all aspects of peacekeeping and democratization in Kosovo. UNMIK and the PISG generally respected the human rights of Kosovo's residents; however, there were serious problems in some areas, especially relating to Kosovo's ethnic minority communities, including politically and ethnically motivated killings; restrictions of freedom of movement for minorities, particularly ethnic Serbs; and societal violence, abuse, and discrimination against minority communities. Additional progress is also still needed in identifying the fate of approximately 2,500 individuals from Kosovo who remain missing as a result of the 1999 conflict.
The United States continued to promote democracy and human rights to aid Kosovo's post-war transition into a stable, democratic society on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. In a dynamic period of transition in Kosovo, the United States worked to strengthen transparency, institutional accountability, and respect for the rule of law and the rights of minorities. The United States worked diligently with the international community, including UNMIK, the EU, the OSCE, NGOs, and PISG officials to foster democratic and accountable institutions in Kosovo. Officials of the U.S. Office in Pristina, in coordination with the OSCE, assisted UNMIK with monitoring, protecting, and promoting human rights. In tandem with the PISG, the United States worked to combat TIP, build capacity within central and local government in both the executive and legislative branches, and train civil servants, judges, prosecutors, and youth to understand and apply rule of law and human rights standards. The United States funded programs that supported reform of local governance in order to better address the needs of Kosovo's ethnic communities and assisted existing political parties to increase transparency and accountability for their constituencies. The United States also supported NGOs in promoting the return of displaced persons and provided training to the police and judiciary to combat trafficking in persons and foster the creation of an independent, viable, and unbiased judiciary. The United States provided training to print and broadcast media on professional journalism. The International Visitor Program, along with other exchange and speaker programs, promoted a secure, multi-ethnic environment for all of Kosovo's residents in the interest of building mutual understanding.
Following what were characterized as generally free and fair parliamentary elections in October 2004 (although only approximately one percent of Kosovo Serbs participated because of a Serbian Government-sponsored boycott), Kosovo's new Government created the Ministry for Local Government Administration, and the United States provided it with technical and policy assistance to shape policies and plans for municipal finance, the election of local officials, and the decentralization of local government throughout all of Kosovo in order to give all communities, especially minorities, a greater voice in local affairs. The U.S.-sponsored Local Government Initiative and the Municipal Infrastructure and Support Initiative provided training and technical assistance to municipalities in order to strengthen performance in financial self-sustainability, transparency, and accountability, legislative functioning, and citizen participation. The United States continued efforts to create the conditions necessary to facilitate the return of ethnic minority internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who fled Kosovo during and immediately following the 1999 conflict as well as during the March 2004 riots. At the request of the PISG, the United States provided advisors to the Office of the Prime Minister on macro-economic policy, budgeting, legislative drafting, organization, management, and public relations.
The United States used political support and technical assistance to focus PISG efforts on passing and reviewing legislation and to strengthen the newly formed opposition's voice. As a result of U.S. encouragement, political parties now use polling and constituent research data to make timely policy and strategic decisions and better represent constituents' views. In an effort to encourage greater participation by Kosovo Serbs, the majority of whom boycotted participation in central and local government institutions, the United States assisted in the registration of the newly formed Serbian Democratic Party of Kosovo (SDS-KiM). Kosovo Assembly committees received expert advice in a new effort to monitor the implementation of parliamentary and governmental decisions for alignment with budgetary realities. At the request of Assembly members, the United States provided training on the Assembly's rules of procedure, discussed how best to guarantee the rights of newly established opposition and minority parties, and resurrected the dormant Assembly rules committee.
The overall state of Kosovo's print and broadcast media continued to improve, but the level of professional journalism was inconsistent. U.S. assistance supported the enhancement of an independent, self-sufficient media to focus on increased professionalism, effectiveness, and sustainability. The United States reduced its levels of direct subsidy in favor of assistance for business planning, increased the use of audience research and targeting, and strengthened professional and trade associations to represent both media interests and responsibility to the public. With U.S. guidance, the Kosovo Assembly passed legislation establishing the Independent Media Commission to help equalize private and public media, improved public media accountability, and created a new regulatory body governing the licensing and operation of broadcast media. As a result of U.S. support, the Association of Independent Broadcasters of Kosovo and the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo successfully lobbied to decriminalize libel and defamation and change some of the customs restrictions on importing foreign media. U.S. funds supported the creation of a local media association's code of ethics and sponsored a best practices workshop for media professionals of all ethnicities in Kosovo.
Civil society development is crucial to Kosovo's maturation as a modern democracy. The U.S.-funded Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development assisted the Government in drafting the new election law and the Kosovo Research and Documentation Institute worked in all municipalities to improve communication, transparency, and the reporting skills of municipal leadership. The United States assisted the Kosovo NGO consortium and the Advocacy Network of Kosovo to carry out a 15-municipality-strong campaign promoting the implementation of the Standards. U.S. assistance to civil society brought together networks of like-minded organizations while supporting training, management, and grant-making efforts.
The United States provided much-needed computer equipment, books and English-language instruction in the majority ethnic Serb municipality of Gracanica. Two American Corners established during the year in multi-ethnic municipalities - one in the ethnic Serb majority area of northern Mitrovica - provided a springboard for further community outreach, including speakers, exhibits, and English language classes and resources.
Strengthening the rule of law is a key U.S. priority for ensuring a democratic, stable future and efficient, transparent legal structures in Kosovo. Building on U.S. efforts to help establish the policy framework for a modern justice sector, assistance focused on using a consultative process with local and international stakeholders to develop appropriate legislation; draft and enact modern criminal justice laws and regulations; and de-politicize judicial institutions. The United States supported a criminal procedure commentary project, amendments to the Kosovo criminal procedure code, a Kosovo Chamber of Advocates, and a legal clinic/moot courtroom to advance technical skills of law students, judges, and prosecutors. In conjunction with the European Agency for Reconstruction, the United States provided recommendations on court administration, adopted by UNMIK's Department of Justice, and supported the creation of an apolitical, independent, and transparent justice ministry.
The United States actively encouraged the creation of an open and safe climate for the return of IDPs who fled Kosovo following the 1999 conflict and the 2004 inter-ethnic riots. U.S. officials publicly urged the PISG to continue the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to help resolve the fate of an estimated 2,500 persons missing since 1999. The United States contributed funding to identify new gravesites and exhume and identify remains in Kosovo. Additionally, the United States encouraged UNMIK's Department of Justice to develop a war crimes division to investigate and prosecute unsolved war crimes and missing persons cases. The active leadership of the United States on minority issues culminated in conflict mitigation programs, assistance to reconciliation dialogue NGOs, and significant funding to NGOs working with returns-related infrastructure construction. During the year the United States provided advocacy and funding for UNMIK's efforts to relocate and provide health care to hundreds of Roma living in three lead-contaminated IDP camps in northern Kosovo.
The promotion of the rights of women and persons with disabilities continued to be U.S. priorities. In 2005, the United States contributed training, advocacy and political support to the first women's caucus in the Kosovo Assembly, one of Kosovo's few truly multi-ethnic cross-party political institutions. U.S. funding contributed to women's regional business initiatives, awareness campaigns for disability issues, and the first women's center established in Serb-majority northern Kosovo. The United States awarded 22 small grants for projects ranging from conflict resolution training for teachers in multi-ethnic schools to the development of a Junior Achievement-style program. A U.S.-funded program sent Kosovo television crews to the United States to participate in the production of documentaries on community policing, philanthropy, and volunteerism.
U.S. officials continued to urge dialogue between members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and ethnic Albanian members of the PISG. Officials from the United States met frequently with the heads of major religious communities: the Chief of Mission hosted a well-attended and well-received annual Iftaar (fast-breaking dinners) for the Islamic community, and U.S. officials attended Serbian Orthodox holiday services during the year. U.S. officials continued to urge UNMIK and the PISG to begin reconstruction on religious buildings damaged during the 1999 conflict and in the inter-ethnic riots of March 2004. Officials from the United States met frequently with the heads of the major religious communities, provided funding to preserve Ottoman-era transcripts in the Gazi Medhmed Pasha Library and granted significant funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's large-scale effort to preserve cultural heritage in Kosovo.
The United States continued to highlight the need for increased UNMIK and PISG attention to curbing human trafficking in Kosovo through support of governance structures and NGOs. In addition to sponsoring a speaker to further develop local resources, the United States advocated a joint effort among the more than 20 organizations currently handling trafficking to arrest and convict known traffickers and provide support to victims. The United States actively assisted in developing an anti-trafficking strategy for Kosovo, organized public awareness campaigns, and provided surveillance equipment for UNMIK's anti-trafficking unit, which aided in several arrests.
In Montenegro, the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Shortly after the assassination of the chief of police, police raided a nearby prison and beat and abused suspected prisoners. Human rights abuses by police were generally not brought to justice. Media independence improved but problems remain. An analysis prepared for the Montenegrin Foreign Ministry on the Montenegrin media sparked controversy and sharp reactions from local outlets due to the Government's apparent attempt to better "control" the media. Domestic violence and discrimination against women remained problems. Trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation continued to be a problem. Some ethnic discrimination persisted, particularly with regard to Roma.
The United States continued to support democratic reforms in Montenegro by assisting the development of democratic political parties, strengthening the representative and legislative functions of parliament, and building domestic capacity for credible nonpartisan election monitoring. In Montenegro, political party development helped political parties, particularly younger party members in politically isolated communities in the north, to improve their organization, decision-making, and public outreach in order to be more representative and issue-based. Programs to support civil society development strengthened the capacity of civic organizations to hold the Government accountable, advocate for democratic reform, and monitor elections. Parliamentary capacity building efforts improved caucus and committee work, staff development, and constituency outreach. These programs aimed at creating a political dialogue that is anchored firmly to the public interest and through which complex issues can be addressed democratically.
Through grants, training, and technical assistance, the United States is working to develop the skills and capacity of independent Montenegrin media outlets by enabling them to offer a professional product and become financially sustainable. U.S. programs provided expert advice to leaders of Montenegro's new Public Broadcasting Service regarding adoption of various programming principles and organizational options for the restructuring of the public broadcaster. The United States also promoted media freedom and principles of free speech in Montenegro through small-scale exchange and training programs.
In Montenegro, the United States provided a combination of technical assistance, training, and financial grants to a core group of NGOs to develop institutional capacity according to international standards of transparency and accountability and to develop the skills, expertise, and credibility required to advance public policy dialogue. Through U.S. programs, these NGOs are learning to build constituencies for judicial, economic, and social reform priorities; conduct public education about legislative initiatives; participate in the development of policy solutions; and demand accountability from the government. As a result, the Government adopted more than 25 key pieces of reform legislation, including laws on political party financing, guidelines for police on domestic abuse intervention, a law on witness protection, and a code of ethics for civil servants.
The United States is strongly committed to supporting the rule of law in Montenegro and supported programs focused on increasing the capacity of the judiciary. The United States strengthened the ability of the state prosecutor's office to effectively investigate and prosecute official corruption through technical advice and assistance. U.S.-sponsored police training emphasized the importance of respect for citizens' rights.
The United States funded a "Legal Counseling Office" project implemented by the Association for Disabled Youth in Montenegro. The Association printed and distributed state disability laws to increase awareness on rights and benefits for disabled persons. The U.S. also supported the NGO "Sign of Hope" to provide training and raise awareness on the needs of youth with disabilities.
The U.S. Government continued to promote ethnic and religious tolerance throughout Montenegro. U.S. officials met regularly with the leaders of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Government to promote respect for religious freedom and human rights. U.S. officials reached out to the Islamic community during Ramadan in 2005, sponsoring well-received Iftaars (fast-breaking dinners) in both Serbia and Montenegro.
Trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation continued to be a problem. U.S. efforts helped reestablish an effective, integrated anti-trafficking effort by the Government of Montenegro. Reaching beyond traditional "rule of law" actors, the new effort included health, labor, and education officials. Six traffickers were convicted in 2005, compared to only one total in all previous years. The Government of Montenegro assumed the entire budget responsibility for a TIP victim's shelter that the United States helped establish in 2004 and partially funded through 2005.
The Government of Tajikistan's human rights record remained poor. Tajikistan is an authoritarian state; President Emomali Rahmonov and an inner circle of loyal supporters dominated political life. The country has a constitution and a functioning multiparty political system, but in practice, democratic progress was slow. Although the Government registered two new, pro-government political parties this year, it continued to deny registration to opposition political parties. The executive branch continued to exert pressure over the judicial system and dominated the legislative branch. Corruption continued to hamper democratic and social reform. The Government continued to restrict civil society and denied visas and registration to several international and local democracy and human rights NGOs. The Government refused to register, harassed, and censored independent media outlets. There were reports of torture, abuse, and extortion by security forces that acted with impunity; harsh prison conditions; restrictions on religious freedom; violence and discrimination against women; and child and forced labor. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a problem, but the Government made some improvements in this area.
The U.S. democracy and human rights strategy remained focused on reinforcing positive developments and engaging the Government, the international community, and the Tajik public to advance progress toward democratic reform and respect for human rights to ensure continued stability. The United States identified reliable partners in the NGO, governmental, and private sectors and maintained regular, close contact with like-minded countries and international organizations involved in monitoring the human rights and democracy situation.
U.S. democracy promotion efforts largely focused on parliamentary elections in February 2005 and upcoming presidential elections in November 2006. Embassy officers met regularly with election officials, as well as with other diplomatic and international missions, to emphasize the need for free and fair elections, build election-monitoring capacity, and coordinate activities. Prior to the February elections, U.S.-funded NGOs conducted procedural and ethical training for members of the Precinct Electoral Commissions. The United States supported development of civic and election manuals and textbooks for NGO resource centers and school curricula. In October 2005, the Secretary of State and other senior U.S. officials met with political party leaders for a roundtable discussion of the political climate and encouraged them to continue democratic reforms and voice their opinions. The Secretary of State assured the political party leaders that the United States would work with them to build a democratic society.
To promote genuine political plurality and develop Tajikistan's multi-party system, the United States trained party leaders to build strong constituencies by promoting women, youth membership, and better media and public relations. The United States supported a parliamentary roundtable series, which brought together political parties and citizens in televised town hall meetings. Through local NGO partners, the United States fostered dialogue among citizens and local politicians, mobilized youth and the general public to participate in the 2006 presidential election, and encouraged free and fair elections. A U.S.-funded NGO worked to strengthen registered political parties prior to the February 2005 parliamentary elections and also contributed to post-election party building through workshops and consultations for district party organizers and their parties. This NGO worked with women from political parties, indigenous NGOs, the Government, and the media to advise them on methods of increasing women's political participation.
The United States actively engaged with like-minded international and NGO implementing partners to lay the groundwork for a free, fair, and transparent November 2006 presidential election. The United States focused on improving media freedom and access to information, as the Government refused to register several independent media organizations and broadcast stations. Journalists critical of the Government faced harassment and legal charges. U.S. officials publicly and privately pressed for greater freedom of the press, improved access to independent media, and freedom of speech. The United States supported partner NGOs to develop the capacity of independent media and enhance local media's ability to provide accurate and responsible journalism. U.S.-sponsored programs trained journalists, supported news publications, and sponsored debates and conferences. As a result, many articles dealing with human rights issues have been published. To celebrate World Press Freedom Day, the United States helped a local NGO hold a human rights conference and sponsored a contest for Tajik journalists.
With U.S. funds, local and international NGOs collaborated to launch five radio stations in areas with little access to media. NGOs will assist in setting up the stations and training staff. The radio stations will distribute news freely to independent and state media for broadcast. The United States also funded "Nabzeh Zindago" (The Pulse of Life), which is the only Tajik-language program to consolidate information from all regions and broadcast to an audience of up to one million people.
With the Government increasingly targeting international NGOs and their local partners, U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of this community to urge the Government to treat them fairly. U.S. officials encouraged all implementing partners and grantees to remain transparent to deny the Government any pretense for closing the NGOs or harassing them. The United States advocated for NGO rights and assisted NGOs with growing problems and pressure from the Government, promoting more transparent visa and registration processes. In 2005, the Embassy organized the first-ever NGO roundtable, bringing together government officials, donors, and the NGO community to discuss registration and visa issues. The roundtable started a much-needed dialogue between the Government and civil society. The United States funded seven civil society support centers that provided training seminars, technical support, information resources, and professional services to NGOs and public associations. The United States also provided assistance to develop a comprehensive legal and fiscal framework that will support and strengthen the NGO sector.
To support human rights and the rule of law, the United States worked with partner NGOs to train lawyers in human rights law and establish legal-information centers throughout Tajikistan. A U.S.-funded NGO continued operating the Citizen's Rights Advocacy Network in the Ferghana Valley. The network trained advocates and lawyers and developed advocacy campaigns on citizens' rights, including human rights. The network also promoted the rule of law and educated the public on their legal rights.
The United States raised its concerns about human rights abuses and lack of due process. The United States urged due process and respect for the human rights of Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, who was sentenced in 2005 to 23 years in prison on a variety of charges. Iskandarov maintained the charges were false and politically motivated. The United States spoke out strongly against the process surrounding Iskandarov's rendition from Russia, his prolonged detention, alleged torture, and the limited access to his trial.
The United States collaborated closely with law enforcement and security ministries to train law enforcement and military officers in human rights regulations. As a result of U.S. and other international efforts, the Government institutionalized a mandatory two-day human rights course for all law enforcement recruits. The Embassy sponsored local and federal government employee training in Tajikistan and abroad to instill good governance practices.
The Embassy routinely participated in Human Rights Thematic Group meetings with human rights-focused international organizations and monitored and reported on human rights violations and improvements. In 2005, a U.S.-funded NGO concluded a program to support and strengthen the work of human rights defenders in protecting and promoting human rights. The program focused on press freedom and encouraging cooperation between human rights organizations on both local and regional levels.
Although Tajik law affords women the same rights as men, many women are not knowledgeable about their rights and faced abuse and harassment. Through local partners, the Embassy sponsored programs to educate and support women in both urban and rural areas and helped raise their status through education about micro-finance opportunities, the market economy, and legal rights. The United States raised awareness of domestic and spousal abuse through its NGO partners and supported a project to train female journalists to report on women's issues.
U.S.-funded Women's Legal Advocacy Centers in Dushanbe and Khujand identified and trained lawyers and law students to empower women to defend their legal rights and provided legal services. The Centers also served as repositories for legal material on women's rights for research and dissemination purposes and conducted monthly training programs for the public. The United States also worked with local leaders to draft legislation to improve women's rights.
The Embassy sent five Tajik religious leaders to the United States on an International Visitors Leadership Program focused on religion, politics, and tolerance. The program facilitated an exchange of ideas and views between the religious leaders and immigrants from Tajikistan and Central Asia. The participants gained an understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity in the United States and the role of NGOs, special interest groups, and religious institutions in promoting ethnic and religious tolerance in the United States. The United States continued to promote religious tolerance in meetings with religious leaders and government officials from the State Committee on Religious Affairs. The Embassy assisted religious organizations on a case-by-case basis and continued to monitor and report on religious rights violations throughout the country.
A U.S. grant helped a local NGO educate labor migrants about their rights and responsibilities so they could protect themselves while working abroad. Up to one million Tajiks are labor migrants and often faced hardship abroad, particularly in Russia. Tajikistan is one of the major source countries of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation for Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. The Government proved a responsive ally in combating TIP. The Special Division for Combating TIP and Racketeering investigated and arrested more perpetrators than last year, in part as a result of U.S. funding. In addition, the United States also worked closely with international and local partners to plan a future border checkpoint to interdict TIP operations and will provide a permanent shelter for victim rehabilitation. U.S. partner organizations also worked to raise public awareness, train law enforcement authorities about TIP, and provide social support for victims.
Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president with limited powers elected by the single-chamber parliament, the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In the 2002 parliamentary elections, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the majority of seats and formed a one‑party government. In March 2003, AKP Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdogan was named Prime Minister. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. While there were improvements in a number of areas, serious problems remained. The Government continued to restrict religious freedom and to punish some forms of non-violent expression by the media and private citizens. The Government at times restricted the rights of assembly and association and limited the activities of some political parties and leaders. Human rights organizations continued to report widespread incidents of police torture and ill treatment, although the number of such incidents declined. Observers also reported an increase in the number of detainees who consulted with attorneys during detention. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was sometimes subject to outside influences.
The United States focused on a broad range of human rights issues, including police and judicial practices, religious freedom, freedom of expression, government ethics, trafficking in persons, and the right of return for internally displaced persons. U.S. officials routinely met with representatives of various political, religious, social, cultural, and ethnic groups to discuss human rights conditions and relations between these groups and the Government. U.S. officials also met regularly with members of the bureaucracy, legislature, executive branch, and judiciary to encourage broad reforms, including those needed to meet EU accession criteria. The Ambassador and other U.S. officials met with Cabinet ministers and Foreign Ministry officials to discuss freedom of expression and religion.
The International Visitors Leadership Program continued to provide opportunities for professionals in all fields to be introduced to the United States and their American counterparts. Each year 35 to 40 Turks take part in the program. In 2005, 20 Turks participated in projects specifically related to human rights and democracy, including programs on grassroots activism, NGO management, and legal reform. Exchange projects for the year also included Turkish and American delegations of the American Council of Young Political Leaders. Through the U.S. TV Co-op program, Turkish TV journalists from two major national television stations spent a total of seven weeks during the year in the United States filming documentaries for national broadcast in Turkey on subjects that included transparency and governance, multiculturalism, and interaction between civil society groups and local and national government.
The United States funded a program to enhance the skills of newly elected officials in Turkey and encourage citizen participation in local government. Through an education program and a series of focus groups, the program trained and advised local government administrators and civic activists in six communities in Turkey, and worked to help local officials understand their roles under applicable legislation.
The United States supported a professional exchange program for journalists designed to foster ethics and journalistic responsibility among younger reporters and to promote freedom of expression for editors and media gatekeepers. Two delegations spent three weeks each in the United States exploring, among other topics, how a democratic society handles diversity.
In March, 10 Turkish parliamentarians, under a U.S. grant, explored issues of legislative reform and met with U.S. Congressional counterparts. A U.S.-funded project brought a delegation of Turkish high school students to the United States in January 2006 for a three-week visit that examined democratic governance and respect for human rights in the United States.
U.S. officials discussed concepts such as "due process of law" and "chain of custody" under the U.S. Constitution with members of the Turkish National Police. In December, the Embassy conducted a mock criminal trial for the Ankara Bar Association, in which Turkish lawyers acted as jurors and employed U.S. evidentiary standards, including the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Embassy, working with a Turkish partner, oversaw a project to promote awareness of the rights of detainees under Turkish law. As part of the project, in June, the Human Rights Presidency of the Turkish Government held a U.S.-funded conference on detainees' rights, which was attended by approximately 300 participants, including representatives from each of the country's 81 provincial human rights boards. The project also included the publishing and distribution of pamphlets and books detailing the rights of detainees.
An ongoing Turkish-U.S. Legal Exchange project focused on issues dealing with freedom of expression, police conduct, and trial alternatives in the criminal justice system in 2005, with exchanges of visits by U.S. and Turkish legal professionals. Two delegations of Turkish officials from the Justice and Interior ministries traveled to the United States in March and June, respectively, to examine alternatives to criminal trial procedures used in the U.S. judicial system. In October, 30 prosecutors, judges, and other Ministry of Justice officials attended a one-day seminar in Ankara to discuss with a U.S. District Court judge and a county District Attorney mechanisms used in the United States to reduce judicial caseloads.
The Embassy engaged the NGO community during the year through speaker programs. Kent State University and its partner in Turkey conducted a series of conferences on women's leadership for NGO leaders in Ohio and southeastern Anatolia, culminating in a December conference in Gaziantep that focused on conflict resolution, income generation, and working with local leaders.
The United States also stressed the need to allow free religious expression for all faiths, including Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baha'i, none of whom have legal standing in Turkey. The United States continued to urge high-level Turkish government officials to reach agreement with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the re-opening of the Halki seminary on the island of Heybeli, to acknowledge the ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate, and to ensure the right of non-Turkish citizens to serve as clergy. Embassy officials regularly continued to engage Turkish officials in a dialogue on religious freedom.
The United States collaborated with the Gaziantep American Corner, the Gaziantep Rotary Club, and the Anatolian Journalists Union in organizing a photo exhibit in June on religious diversity that helped engage attendees in dialogue about issues important to Turkey's continued democratic development.
In February, the United States conducted a seminar in Ankara organized with International Organization for Migration (IOM) for 50 judges and prosecutors on the prosecution of trafficking in persons (TIP) cases. The speaker also led a workshop in Istanbul for NGO leaders to help raise public awareness about TIP issues. In July, the United States hosted a roundtable for NGO leaders on TIP awareness with a board member of the Vital Voices Global Partnership. IOM, with a grant from the United States, continued its cooperation with Turkish authorities to implement a comprehensive protection mechanism for TIP victims and enhance the country's capacity to combat TIP. One-third of the grant money was used for protecting and providing direct assistance to victims of trafficking. U.S. funds allowed IOM to continue the training of the Jandarma and judiciary in high-trafficking areas of the country and to work on international law enforcement cooperation initiatives to facilitate prosecution of traffickers. Finally, the United States funded the implementation of a major international public awareness campaign, including television and print media advertisements for a toll-free 24-hour victim hotline that saved more than 50 lives during its first six months of operation.
The Government of Turkmenistan continued to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remained extremely poor. Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state dominated by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov has been president since independence in 1991 and may legally remain in office until he chooses to step down. In August 2003, Niyazov was elected to a life term as Chairman of the parliament, giving him a substantial say in the selection of any presidential successor. He has retained his monopoly on political and economic power, and controls the parliament, judicial system, and the Democratic Party, which remained the sole legally recognized political party. Niyazov stifled political dissent and freedom of the press, and eroded the educational system. Democracy Party members comprised all candidates in the 2004 parliamentary elections, and the Government did not invite foreign observers to monitor the elections. While serious violations of religious freedom continued, the Government noticeably reduced harassment of registered minority religious groups. The Government continued to restrict registration of civil society groups.
The United States maintained a multi-pronged strategy to support the development of democracy and human rights in Turkmenistan. The United States urged the Government to respect human rights and advance democracy at every opportunity through high-level bilateral meetings, multilateral institutions, and public statements. The United States regularly advocated on behalf of individual cases of abuse and coordinated closely with other diplomatic missions and international organizations. The United States funded a wide range of programs designed to strengthen civil society and respect for human rights. The Embassy expanded public outreach programs directed toward Muslim audiences and continued educational and professional exchange programs to give citizens greater contact with and understanding of democratic values.
Throughout 2005, the Ambassador and other U.S. officials stressed the importance of promoting democratic reform and highlighted human rights abuses in bilateral meetings with President Niyazov and other senior officials. In Ashgabat, the Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs informed President Niyazov that improvement of Turkmenistan's human rights situation is the highest priority, and senior U.S. officials in Washington reiterated this message.
The Embassy, through bilateral meetings with government officials, public statements and a range of speaker and exchange programs, consistently promoted the importance of freedom of media and speech. In 2005, the United States funded three speakers, two conferences, and several International Visitors Leadership Program participants, as well as grants to NGOs for programs that highlighted the importance of media freedom and freedom of speech. An ecological conference organized by the Embassy in November 2005 included a workshop on journalism addressing ecological issues and media freedom. Two new Internet Access Training Program sites opened in 2005, which brought the total to six. These facilities gave Turkmenistani citizens a critical link to the outside world by offering access to independent sources of information.
The Embassy sponsored a landmark conference on civil society development and the role of international organizations that brought together Turkmenistani NGO leaders, representatives of religious faiths, directors of international organizations in Ashgabat, and government officials. Conference participants noted this was a unique opportunity to raise questions about NGO and religious group registration directly to a Ministry of Justice official. The United States continued to urge government officials to register NGOs throughout 2005. U.S.-funded civil society development programs supported a network of four Civil Society Support Centers (CSSC) that provided training seminars, technical support, information resources, networking opportunities, and professional services to NGOs and grassroots activists to build their capacity in the civic sector. In 2005, eight CSSCs were operating, and five had access to the Internet. The United States also provided assistance in the development of a comprehensive legal and fiscal framework that will support and strengthen the NGO sector, as well as direct legal support and services for NGOs through the CSSC Network. A U.S.-funded civil society development program focused on grassroots community development and advocacy. In 2005, this program conducted 114 capacity-building training events for 1,820 participants. U.S. exchange program alumni along with local NGOs conducted regular sessions on debate skills, critical thinking, and freedom of speech.
To promote the rule of law, a U.S.-funded program supported the Legal Resource Center (LRC) at Turkmen State University (TSU). Program staff also worked with LRC staff to develop strategies to increase its accessibility to the public. Since January 2004, the LRC has organized training programs on Turkmenistan's labor legislation, the development of its criminal legislation, legal guarantees of women's rights and the development of civil legislation. Approximately 200 people participated in the seminars in 2005, and over 4,000 people visited the LRC facilities and benefited from access to legal information via the Internet. The civil law clinic operating at the TSU, which was the first clinical program in Turkmenistan, provides individual consultation on both civic and criminal legal issues and develops legal professional and ethics standards through seminars and workshops for law faculty students. Program staff provided ongoing training to clinic staff attorneys on managing a student-run clinical program and addressing practical and pedagogical issues surrounding clinical legal education.
U.S.-funded programs continued to sponsor student participation in national moot court competitions. A program developed in 2005 in cooperation with TSU offered young people the opportunity to learn about the law and basic principles of human rights and democracy. Law students involved in the program learned techniques for teaching primary and secondary school students about their rights and responsibilities under Turkmenistani law. The program's objective is to sensitize students at a young age to the ways in which the law can help solve critical family, social, and political issues. Training in 2005 covered topics such as children's rights, the law on delinquency, administrative violations, the right to individuality, the right to marry, and the legal status of women. The program effectively promoted practical skills and legal knowledge among law student participants and provided desperately needed legal information to the entire population.
In 2005, 120 students and professionals traveled to the United States on U.S.-sponsored exchange programs, which raised the alumni base to 1,287. The Embassy also awarded three- and four-year scholarships to 15 college students to attend the American University of Central Asia in the Kyrgyz Republic. The fourth and newest American Corner opened in 2005.
In November 2005, the United States, EU, and several other countries jointly introduced a successful UN General Assembly resolution that condemned and called upon the Government to address severe human rights abuses. The resolution called for international fact-finding missions to investigate reports of torture and abuse and reiterated the need for the international community to keep pressure on Turkmenistan to democratize and respect human rights.
Through civil society seminars, human rights roundtables, speaker and film programs, as well as numerous other programs and alumni grants conducted in 2005, the Embassy actively promoted the rights of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. The Embassy showed videos depicting the fight for the rights of the disabled in America, and U.S. officials participated in local programs focusing on the disabled. U.S. grants enabled deaf Turkmenistani children to gain computer proficiency, and in 2005 the Future Leaders' Exchange program included more disabled high school students. The United States awarded 40 small grants to independent trainers affiliated with initiative groups to conduct countrywide workshops and seminars on democracy, human rights, and disability rights. Through these programs the Embassy reached out to more than 3,500 Turkmenistanis.
The United States actively supported efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to gain access to all prisoners, including those detained following the armed attack on President Niyazov's motorcade in 2002. The Embassy also advocated for better treatment of relatives of those implicated in the November 2002 attack, and urged the Government to cease systematically harassing them.
The United States continued to monitor Turkmenistan's compliance with its international obligations on freedom of movement. Although in 2004 the Government formally lifted the exit visa regime to avoid Jackson-Vanik sanctions, throughout 2005 the Government maintained a blacklist of select individuals not permitted to travel. In 2005, the Embassy raised individual freedom of movement cases with the Government, advocated on behalf of relatives of prisoners, and protested the detention of a noted author.
The United States continued to urge the Government to respect religious freedom and noted possible designation of "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act. As a result of U.S. efforts, the Government reduced harassment of minority religious groups and held a roundtable to improve communication with religious groups about the registration process. Under U.S. pressure, the Government registered five new religious groups, bringing the total to nine, and established a procedure to register branch minority religious groups. U.S. officials visited Turkmenistan throughout 2005 to discuss religious freedom with officials, religious leaders, and students. In a March visit to Turkmenistan, a Helsinki Commission counsel met with senior government officials and representatives of religious minorities and NGOs to discuss religious freedom and NGOs, including issues of registration. The Embassy also embarked on an intensive Muslim outreach and reporting program by visiting at least one of the welayats (provinces) on a bi-weekly basis to show films on Islam in America and discussing religious freedom in America.
U.S. funding to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) supported IOM's work with the State Border Service on a Ministry of Justice-approved program attempting to ascertain the extent and patterns of TIP in Turkmenistan. Funding also supported an anti-trafficking public education campaign and training for the Border Service to combat TIP.
Ukraine is a republic with a mixed presidential and parliamentary system, governed by a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament (Verkhovna Rada). The Government's human rights performance improved significantly following the Orange Revolution in late 2004. The Administration of newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko largely put an end to government harassment of the mass media and interference with freedom of assembly, lifted limitations on freedom of association, increased accountability by police officers, and brought some improvement to prison conditions. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government harassment. The Government increased its investigation of suspected human traffickers and harmonized its criminal code with the trafficking in persons (TIP) provisions of the UN Palermo Convention, but it is still grappling with how to strengthen its prosecution capabilities. The Government also reduced its role in the sphere of religion. Despite these improvements, a number of serious human rights problems remained, including torture in pretrial detention facilities, violent hazing of military conscripts, and corruption in all branches of government.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Ukraine focused on supporting efforts to maximize the opportunities for democratic reform presented by the Orange Revolution and creating the conditions for free and fair local and parliamentary elections in March 2006. This included strengthening the rule of law, independent media, electoral processes, and respect for civil liberties; fighting corruption; promoting good governance; and improving the monitoring and advocacy capabilities of human rights organizations. Combating TIP was also an important goal. The Ambassador and senior U.S. officials met frequently with senior government officials, including President Yushchenko, to stress the importance of continuing democratic reform and highlight that membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions such as NATO hinges on respect for democracy and human rights. This message was regularly reinforced in Washington and in Kiev by the Secretary of State, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and others.
In the run-up to the March 2006 elections, U.S. assistance focused on strengthening the electoral system and promoting a process that would be judged free and fair by international standards. U.S. assistance, bilaterally and through the OSCE, supported work to develop and implement improvements to the parliamentary election law, create a nationwide voter registry, and train election commissioners on new procedures. Through grants to local NGOs and independent media, the United States supported voter education initiatives that emphasized voter rights and nonpartisan discussion of election issues and placed a particular focus on southern and eastern Ukraine. With U.S. grant support, a Dnipropetrovsk-based NGO worked with the local government to conduct a voter education and get-out-the-vote campaign in 14 of the oblast's cities and create an information brochure for first-time voters in the oblast. Other programs provided support to election monitoring groups, nonpartisan training for political parties, and training for lawyers and judges on election law.
To promote effective, transparent, and participatory governance, U.S. programs provided the parliament with technical assistance in drafting reform legislation, including changes to the election law, and facilitated public hearings by parliamentary committees. At the local level, U.S. assistance concentrated on helping officials to improve service provision and involving the public in decision-making. A U.S.-funded program trained 1,600 local council members in 50 villages in 8 oblasts to better address the concerns of their constituents and use public input in decision making. With U.S. grant support, an NGO in Odesa created a forum for young people to participate in local decision making and represent their interests to the city government.
U.S. media assistance programs focused on improving the legal and regulatory framework for media, supporting legal aid for media outlets, helping independent outlets to improve their financial sustainability, and training journalists in investigative reporting. Grant support for independent media outlets concentrated on regions that had been underrepresented in U.S. programs in the past due to government control of the media environment and an unwillingness to work with the United States out of fear of government retribution. With U.S. grant funding, a Kiev-based NGO developed a plan for the transition of 750 state-owned media outlets to the private sector and briefed Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov on this plan. A U.S.-funded legal defense program helped the small independent newspaper Rivnenska Hazeta successfully fend off a politically motivated lawsuit by the Rivne Oblast Governor for allegedly slandering him in an editorial.
After their pivotal role in bringing about the Orange Revolution, civil society organizations have grown in stature and become more active and professional in their use of U.S. assistance. In 2005, small grants and technical assistance programs enabled NGOs to broaden and deepen their influence with the public and government as advocates for reform, increase their financial sustainability, work together in coalitions, and share successful strategies. In a key development, one U.S.-supported civil society partner organization successfully championed important tax exemptions for NGOs, and deductions for corporate charitable donations were reinstated in the 2005 budget law.
The United States also supported efforts to strengthen the rule of law, increase judicial independence, and combat corruption, capitalizing on the new Government's commitment to reform in these areas. U.S. technical and advisory assistance supported the drafting of amendments to Ukraine's Criminal Procedure Code to harmonize it with Council of Europe standards and curtail many of the Soviet-era powers of the procuracy. The United States helped further strengthen the rule of law by supporting arbitration and mediation as effective and efficient alternatives to litigation, working with the Ministry of Justice to draft a concept paper on the comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system, and launching a pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of respecting the basic human rights of detainees through a fair and transparent pretrial detention system. At the grassroots level, a U.S.-supported legal aid program added 13 new centers to its network of public advocacy centers and thus was able to provide nearly 3,000 legal consultations for disadvantaged citizens last year.
The United States continued to strengthen the independence of the judiciary through training and technical assistance aimed at improving the professionalism of judges as well as the enforcement of judicial decisions. To fight corruption, the United States worked with the Ministry of Interior and General Procuracy to increase accountability and develop rules and procedures to prosecute corruption in a more effective and non-partisan manner. Other anti-corruption programs supported public hearings on corruption, a major public information campaign, the Government's public complaint initiative, training for journalists on investigative reporting, and grants to NGOs engaged in anti-corruption advocacy and watchdog efforts.
Through public diplomacy and small grant support to local NGOs, the United States worked to monitor and curb human rights abuses like torture and to encourage respect for the rights of women, children, minorities, and people with disabilities. The Embassy supported the second annual National Human Rights Forum, organized by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, bringing together over 200 civic activists and representatives of human rights organizations, the media, international organizations, and government agencies to discuss methods for curbing abuses. A 300-page report prepared by a national network of Ukrainian human rights organizations was presented at the forum. The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program provided 22 grants to small human rights NGOs that conducted a broad range of nationwide monitoring and reporting on the rights of refugees and prisoners, the right to a fair trial, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. A Lviv-based NGO used a U.S. grant to help people with disabilities enjoy equal access to national parks and major recreational areas and proposed a list of amendments to current national legislation on access to public facilities by people with disabilities. A Kiev-based NGO, with U.S. support, strengthened cooperation between NGOs, businesses, and governmental organizations to ensure the delivery of social services and charitable donations to people with disabilities and their families. With U.S. funding, a national NGO brought victims of domestic violence together with government, law enforcement, and social services personnel to discuss ways of improving the implementation of Ukraine's domestic violence legislation.
The Ambassador and other officials demonstrated the U.S. Government's concern for religious freedom by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with government and religious leaders and staying in close contact with clerics and lay leaders in religious communities. The Embassy tracked developments in religious freedom and cultural heritage preservation court cases involving anti-Semitism, including the Sambir and Volodymyr-Volynsky Jewish cemetery cases, and raised them with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister's office and the Presidential Secretariat. The United States also provided a grant to the Ukrainian Catholic University to monitor religious freedom across the country and, through the International Visitors Leadership Program, sent groups to the United States for programs focused on the promotion of interfaith dialogue, Islam in America, and the treatment of religious organizations under U.S. law at the national, state, and local levels.
The United States supported the labor movement in its efforts to obtain independence from government control and to exercise its legal rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The United States funded a trade union development program, supported NGO-administered seminars on labor issues, maintained ongoing contact with union representatives, regularly reported on workers' rights issues, and funded a number of technical assistance programs to promote basic rights of workers.
Combating TIP and assisting trafficking victims were also priorities. During 2005, the Embassy was instrumental in convincing the Ministry of Interior to establish a special anti-TIP department staffed with 500 officers. To jump-start the new department's operations, the United States provided equipment and vehicles. The Embassy also made it possible for the new department to participate in the regional anti-TIP operations of the Bucharest Southeast European Cooperative Center for Combating Transnational Crime (known as the SECI Center). In addition, the Embassy successfully organized a press event, at which the Minister of Family, Youth and Sports, Ukrainian First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko, and several Ukrainian celebrities emphasized the need to de-stigmatize TIP victims. Assistance to the General Procuracy also focused on increasing its capacity to successfully combat serious crimes, including TIP.
The Government of Uzbekistan's human rights record, already poor, worsened considerably in 2005. An uprising in the city of Andijon started after a series of daily peaceful protests in support of 23 businessmen on trial for Islamic extremism between February and May. According to eyewitnesses the protests grew to between 500 to 1,000 participants. On the night of May 12-13, an unknown number of unidentified individuals seized weapons from a police garrison, stormed the city prison where the defendants were being held, released several hundred inmates, occupied the regional administration building, and took hostages. On May 13, a crowd of several thousand unarmed civilians gathered in front of the administration building. That evening, according to eyewitness accounts, government forces fired on the crowd, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children. The Government portrayed the events as an attempted coup by radical Islamic militants seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate. In the aftermath of the uprising, the Government took repressive action, harassing, beating, and jailing dozens of human rights activists, journalists, and others who spoke about the events to foreign media. The Government sentenced numerous people to prison and sought to extradite an unknown number of people for their alleged involvement in the Andijon tragedy. The majority of the trials were closed and all failed to meet international standards. Human rights groups maintain that the defendants' trial testimony, which fully supported the government's version of events, was coerced.
Uzbekistan's directly elected president, Islom Karimov, has led the Government since 1990. His current term in office expires in 2007. Past elections were neither free nor fair. The President dominates the Government, and the bicameral parliament has no independent authority. The judiciary was under government control, and trial verdicts were usually predetermined. In 2003, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that torture was systematic in prisons and other places of detention. The Government has taken few steps to address the Rapporteur's concerns, and prison conditions continued to be harsh. There were an estimated 5,000-5,500 political prisoners in the country as of 2004. There were no independent political parties, and the few opposition groups faced official harassment. The Government generally did not respect freedom of speech and the press, and self-censorshp was widely practiced. The Government exerted relentless pressure on local NGOs, ordering many to close "voluntarily." Unregistered religious activity was outlawed, and legal religious activity was tightly controlled. Trafficking in persons (TIP) to other countries for labor and sexual exploitation is an ongoing problem. In 2005, the Government initiated more investigations of trafficking cases, but due to weak legislation, few traffickers were jailed, and most of those convicted were amnestied. Anti-trafficking legislation has stalled.
In 2005, the United States pursued a multi-faceted strategy to promote democracy and human rights in Uzbekistan. Alongside vigorous diplomatic engagement with the Government to advance human rights and legal reform, the United States supported a broad range of civil society and human rights programs. The United States, in cooperation with other diplomatic missions, international organizations, and human rights groups, raised individual human rights cases with the Government. The United States consistently made public statements promoting democracy and human rights, denounced abuses, and pressed the Government to end harassment of U.S. implementing partners and local NGOs and eliminate restrictions on U.S. grants to local NGOs. The United States also provided diplomatic and programmatic support to democracy and human rights activists and disseminated relevant democracy and human rights materials to the Uzbek media, civil society, and the Government.
At the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, the United States vigorously lobbied for the successful passage of a resolution introduced by the European Union concerning the abuses in Uzbekistan. The resolution addressed the right to readily accessible, free, and fair trials with due process of those accused of involvement in the events of Andijon. It also addressed the lack of media independence, the lack of openness of the electoral process, abuses of refugees with respect to their right to go to third countries, and the mistreatment of religious minorities. At various OSCE meetings, U.S. officials decried human rights abuses and called on the Government to cease them and hold perpetrators accountable.
U.S. democracy and human rights efforts suffered serious setbacks in the wake of the Andijon crisis. The Government refused repeated calls by the United States and other governments and international organizations for an independent international investigation into Andijon. These calls for an independent investigation and the Government's concerns about "color revolutions" in the region likely prompted the Government to curtail engagement sharply. U.S. military forces were asked to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad airbase. Uzbek authorities initiated a crackdown on both domestic and U.S.-funded democracy, civil society, and human rights organizations. Many were closed or suspended. U.S. funding to local NGOs remained largely paralyzed, subject to approval or denial by a government-appointed banking commission. The Government forced the closure of all U.S.-sponsored American Corners and hampered the operation of U.S.-funded student exchange programs and other programs.
The United States acted quickly after the events in Andijon to reevaluate assistance programs to Uzbekistan and severely limited aid to the Government. In Fiscal Year 2005, prior to the Andijon events, budgeted aid to programs involving the Government was withheld because the Secretary of State could not determine that Uzbekistan made progress on commitments it had made to the United States in 2002, including on human rights. Following the Andijon events, and as required in the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, the United States decided to cut funds supporting programs with the Government, including military exchanges and security programs. The United States redirected these funds to support projects promoting democracy and human rights in Uzbekistan.
In September 2005, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs met with President Karimov and emphasized that the bilateral relationship with Uzbekistan must be balanced to include progress on democracy and human rights, including press and religious freedom. The Assistant Secretary of State also reiterated the firm U.S. desire for an independent investigation into Andijon. U.S. officials in Tashkent have consistently attended the Andijon-related trials that have been open to observers. The U.S. Embassy asked the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information on the four Uzbek refugee seekers returned in June 2005 by the Government of Kyrgyzstan and the nine Uzbek refugee seekers returned in late November by the Government of Kazakhstan and requested that the Government of Uzbekistan allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee for the Red Cross immediate access to them. In a March 1, 2006 statement to the OSCE's Permanent Council, the United States raised concerns about forcibly returned Uzbek refugee seekers.
Despite these obstacles, U.S. officials continued to engage with the Government where possible and to support education and other outreach programs. The United States monitored human rights abuses, maintained contact with human rights organizations, and supported those organizations with small grants. The Ambassador and visiting U.S. officials, including Senators John McCain, John Sununu, and Lindsey Graham, Representative Alcee Hastings, and the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs consistently delivered the message that respect for human rights is a crucial element of the bilateral relationship.
When authorities arrested political party representatives on politically motivated charges, U.S. officials monitored their condition to the extent possible and repeatedly appealed to the Government to cease using the law to restrict human rights. When the Government prosecuted opposition party members on charges of organizing an anti-government conspiracy in connection with the Andijon violence, U.S. officials coordinated with other diplomatic missions and human rights groups to monitor their cases and to press the Government to hold trials meeting international standards. Despite government pressure on opposition organizations, U.S.-funded organizations provided guidance to government and opposition political parties on grassroots organizing, press relations, and responsive, issue-based party platforms.
The United States supported freedom of the press through a variety of programs and activities. U.S.-funded NGOs trained and counseled journalists and media managers, funded informational programming at privately owned regional television stations, managed Internet access and training programs in several cities, and ran media resource centers in the Ferghana Valley. Despite vigorous U.S. support, the Government forced these NGOs to close in late 2005. Nonetheless, journalists continued to participate in U.S. exchange programs and training sessions that underscored the tenets of media freedom. The United States also sponsored television programs on such topics as the 2004 U.S. presidential election, environmental activism, and education.
In the face of relentless government pressure, the United States continued to support the development of civil society in Uzbekistan. A U.S.-supported network of seven NGO resource centers continued its work until government pressure forced most of the centers to close. At year's end, the centers were reorganizing in an effort to continue their work. U.S.-funded organizations continued to assist local human rights activists and organizations to develop protection strategies to assist each other in the face of increased harassment and hostility from the Government. In 2005, the Embassy's Democracy Commission awarded small grants to 51 NGOs for projects designed to develop civil society institutions. These grants supported valuable reporting and advocacy work in the regions. The United States also supported programs in rural communities that enabled citizens to take collective responsibility for management of natural resources at the local level, sewing the seeds of civic responsibility and accountability. A related civic advocacy support program helped NGOs and other civil society organizations become more involved in public policy issues, particularly those at the regional level.
The United States continued programs to promote the rule of law. In an effort to improve legal literacy in the population at large, legal resource centers in Ferghana and Samarkand conducted education and training programs for young lawyers. Other programs, such as summer courses and moot court competitions, emphasize legal education among high school and university students. In January the Embassy, in conjunction with the OSCE and international legal experts, launched a yearlong practical skills training program for prosecutors. Training promoted ethical standards for prosecutors, as well as effective interviewing techniques without abuse of human rights. Nine Uzbek criminal justice officials visited counterparts in Washington and Puerto Rico as part of an exchange program aimed at addressing torture in pretrial detention as well as restrictions of freedom of expression due to national security concerns. In May the Embassy, in cooperation with the UN Development Program, the OSCE Center in Tashkent, and international legal experts, organized an international conference on habeas corpus, at which more than 60 senior Uzbek officials discussed with their international counterparts the issues involved with judicial oversight of arrest and pretrial detention. The United States also worked with the Uzbek military on rule of law issues. During the year, the United States sponsored 15 Uzbek military officers to take part in training programs at the Marshall Center in Germany, at which human rights and civilian control of the military are featured aspects of the curriculum.
Combating torture, which is still frequently alleged in pretrial investigation, remained at the top of the U.S. human rights agenda. There was one death in custody during the year in which torture was suspected. In May, just before the Andijon events, the United States initiated a project to foster dialogue between civil society actors and the law enforcement agencies responsible for many human rights abuses. The program maintains working relations with law enforcement agencies, despite government harassment and hostility toward international organizations and civil society. U.S. law enforcement experts consulted on the issue of shifting arrest authority from the prosecutors to the courts. The program also trained and supported human rights activists, lawyers, doctors, educators, and others attempting to engage the Government in a dialogue on human rights issues.
In its efforts to combat torture, the United States devoted considerable attention to conditions in pretrial detention, where the most serious abuse seemed to occur. U.S. funding supported a network of public defender centers, which provided high-quality pro bono legal advice to indigent defendants in criminal cases. While the legal system still produced convictions in almost all cases, the public defender centers were successful in reducing abuse during pretrial detention and winning reduced sentences for those convicted. A U.S.-supported law firm continued to provide a venue for young lawyers to work with more experienced advocates to protect clients' rights. International NGO partners and the OSCE have been active partners in programs designed by the Embassy to promote respect for detainees' rights. Central themes included access to defense counsel and habeas corpus.
The United States was actively engaged in highlighting respect for religious tolerance and pluralism through exchanges, contact with madrassahs, and distribution of appropriate materials. The United States advocated religious freedom by maintaining contact with imams, priests, educators, journalists, and independent religious leaders and actively monitoring the state of religious freedom in Uzbekistan. The Ambassador and U.S. officials regularly raise issues of religious freedom with their Uzbek counterparts, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Muslim Board, and the Committee on Religious Affairs. The consistent message of U.S. officials was that religious tolerance and political security are complementary, not mutually exclusive, goals. Several U.S.-funded exchange and educational programs were specifically designed to promote religious tolerance and religious freedom. An ongoing three-year University Partnership Program organized exchanges of experts and professors from five Uzbek universities and institutes. The project seeks to develop school curricula that promote religious tolerance. The United States sponsored Uzbek participation in the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy's annual conference in Washington as well as the International Summer School on Religion in Public Life in Jerusalem.
U.S. anti-trafficking efforts were hampered by the deterioration in U.S.-Uzbek relations. Nevertheless, the United States, in cooperation with the Uzbek Government and local and international NGOs, conducted several public awareness campaigns on human trafficking. With U.S. funding, a nationwide NGO network provided counseling and information on TIP through public hotlines, as well as seminars and discussions in schools, colleges, universities, and neighborhood committees. Official television aired documentaries aimed at raising public awareness, and anti-trafficking messages appeared regularly in newspapers and radio and television broadcasts. U.S.-funded training programs for law enforcement officers and prosecutors focused on techniques for combating trafficking rings. A U.S.-funded shelter provided medical, psychological, legal, and educational assistance to repatriated TIP victims. In February, the International Organization for Migration, with U.S. funding, organized the first roundtable discussion on human trafficking for Uzbek law enforcement and consular officers. Officials from the most common destination countries for Uzbek trafficking victims also attended. The meeting helped to establish effective mechanisms for returning and providing assistance to TIP victims. Three Uzbek military officers participated in a U.S.-sponsored training program on human trafficking. The Embassy hosted regular meetings with Uzbek officials to discuss TIP and, with the OSCE, encouraged the Government to form an interagency working group to coordinate its own anti-trafficking efforts.