"How could I live with myself if I didn't write the truth?"
--Anna Politkovskaya, Murdered Russian journalist
During the past year, a number of countries in Europe and Eurasia continued to strengthen their democratic systems. For the first time since the 1995 Dayton Agreement, the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina fully administered their own elections in October. The parliamentary elections in Ukraine in March met international democratic standards and were the most open in the country's 15 years of independence. Unfortunately, democratic principles and human rights eroded in other countries. Russia implemented onerous NGO registration processes and restrictive legislation that had some adverse effects on NGO operations. Restrictions in freedom of expression and the harassment and intimidation of journalists in a number of countries in the region, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, and the Balkans, were significant setbacks to democratic progress. Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor remained serious concerns.
The United States gives high priority to helping democracy and human rights advocates in Europe and Eurasia succeed and consolidate their successes. The United States continued to engage governments of the region toward this end, often with other democratic allies and in multilateral forums, and employed a variety of tools to deliver tangible support to democracy and human rights efforts in 2006. These tools included training for officials, media, democratic parties, and NGO advocates; monitoring of elections and criminal justice proceedings; capacity building of civil society groups and government structures; and technical and legal assistance, grants, and exchanges.
The United States actively supported democratic institutions and processes through diplomatic engagement bilaterally and multilaterally with international partners, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union. As both a barometer of, and nourishment to, a country's democratic health, elections were an intensive focus of U.S. support during the past year. The United States promoted democratic political processes and the administration of fairly-contested elections by, for example, supporting political party development in Belarus, empowering voters' groups - including women activists and youth - in Serbia, and assisting international election monitoring efforts in Ukraine. In preparation for Armenia's elections in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. supported efforts to improve election systems, update voter lists, educate the public on voting and democratic principles, and strengthen political parties. The United States is providing similar support, through political party training, training for mass media representatives on covering political issues, and voter education initiatives, in support of free and fair elections in Russia for the Duma in December 2007 and for president in March 2008.
While elections are an important, visible sign of democracy in action, democracy has other essential components. Countries need an active civil society, where individuals feel empowered to peacefully exercise their rights of expression, association, and assembly, including participating in non-governmental organizations, unions, and other civil society organizations. Strong civic action is the best defense against a relapse into totalitarianism. Thus, the further erosion of civil society in Russia and Belarus during the past year was particularly concerning. U.S. officials persistently raised concerns about government undermining civil society in Russia, in particular the passage of a new and restrictive NGO law. The United States also provided technical assistance and grant support to Russian civil society groups, NGO resource centers, think tanks, labor unions, and watchdog organizations to sustain their active participation in society. In Belarus where civil society was under increasing threat, approximately 2,000 leaders from trade unions, NGOs, and independent media participated in over 1,300 U.S.-sponsored training sessions and seminars.
The press, as the watchdog of an informed and free civil society, is essential for government accountability. The United States remains committed to supporting robust independent media that offer diverse views and objective information for citizens. Unfortunately, much work remains to be done. Most worrisome were direct attacks on freedom of expression in Europe and Eurasia, including the murder of independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the temporary closure of independent media outlet ANS in Azerbaijan and physical attacks on journalists in several countries in the region. In Russia, U.S. programs worked to promote media independence by improving professional standards, business practices, and socially responsible journalism. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States helped engender a more favorable media climate through journalism training. In Turkey, where media restrictions remained a concern, the U.S. supported professional exchange programs for journalists designed to foster ethics and journalistic responsibility among younger reporters and to promote freedom of expression among editors and media gatekeepers.
Constitutional order, sound legal frameworks, and judicial independence constitute the foundation for a well-functioning society, but they are only as effective as the government's ability to appropriately apply these tools and safeguard against corruption and other abuses of power. While some countries in Europe and Eurasia have a long tradition of the rule of law, many lack experience with international judicial training best practices, the practice of public interest law, and effective court administration. As a result, they have difficulty implementing the rule of law and addressing human rights problems, such as corruption and trafficking in persons. The United States engaged in a variety of programs to help bring legal systems in Eastern Europe in closer alignment with international standards for legal structures that can adequately protect the human rights of all citizens. U.S. assistance in this arena included working with local partners in Ukraine and Azerbaijan to create legal advocacy centers and develop clinical legal education programs in Ukrainian law schools; developing an ethics code for legal practitioners in Armenia, which led to the administration of the first open and transparent administration of the bar exam; providing technical assistance in Georgia to establish a bar association and the bar's adoption of a code of professional ethics; and strengthening the rule of law and capacity of the police, prosecutors, and judges to try war crimes in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is to advance and protect the rights and liberties of all individuals as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States has partnered with governments in the region to implement programs that guarantee the rights of marginalized populations, including women, ethnic, religious, and other minorities, the disabled, and trafficking victims. In Georgia, the United States supported the upgrading of the main forensics lab and five regional evidence collection centers, which would promote evidence-based investigations and enhance human rights. To assist in efforts against trafficking, the United States worked with Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs to train police and prosecutors on methods to investigate and prosecute such cases. In Belarus, the U.S. sponsored a two-year economic empowerment program for approximately 1,000 at-risk women and trafficking victims in Belarus.
The United States is dedicated to working with our partners to help them build and strengthen their own sustainable institutions of democratic governance. The United States will continue to use bilateral diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, and international institutions to support human rights and democracy in Europe and Eurasia.
Promoting Access to Justice in Azerbaijan
The U.S.Government-funded American Bar Association-Rule of Law Initiative's Azerbaijan Legal Advocacy Center ("LAC") is enabling young Azerbaijani lawyers to gain practical legal experience while providing pro bono legal services to citizens.
In Azerbaijan, aspiring lawyers need at least three years of legal experience before they can sit for the bar examination and gain entrance into the Collegium of Advocates, Azerbaijan's equivalent of the defense bar. The overall lack of well-trained practicing advocates in Azerbaijan makes the fulfillment of this requirement highly urgent. The country desperately needs more practicing advocates, but there are not enough available to mentor and provide the internships to produce more advocates. The LAC addresses these challenges by providing young lawyers with the opportunity to work with experienced advocates and gain firsthand practical experience, while the public benefits from free legal services.
Since the opening of the LAC in June 2006, over 1500 Azerbaijani citizens have requested legal services on a wide variety of issues, including children's rights, the right to a fair trial, and labor law. The young lawyers, in consultation with experienced advocates, work to resolve these cases, including guaranteeing citizens the right to appeal a court decision. The LAC has also begun to submit individual petitions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR,) which helps to stimulate public discussion and debate on prevalent human rights issues and create an open space for reconsideration of discriminatory laws and practices in Azerbaijan.
In addition to strengthening the legal and advocacy skills of young attorneys, the LAC offers a series of monthly trainings on a variety of national and international legal topics. This combination of hands-on experience and intensive training has created a cadre of young lawyers working to strengthen legal institutions and promote respect for human rights and access to justice in Azerbaijan.
Armenia is a republic with a popularly elected president and a unicameral legislature. A constitutional referendum in 2005 and presidential and National Assembly elections in 2003 were seriously flawed and did not meet international standards. The government's human rights record remained poor, and serious problems remained. Citizens were not able freely to change their government; authorities beat pretrial detainees; the national security service and the national police force acted with impunity; authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention; prison conditions were cramped and unhealthy, although slowly improving; and authorities imposed restrictions on citizens' privacy, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. The judiciary, while still subject to political pressure and corruption, gained some independence from the entry into force of new constitutional revisions during the year. Journalists practiced self censorship, and the government and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse were problems, as were trafficking in persons, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and societal harassment of homosexuals. There were reports of forced labor.
The U.S. human rights strategy for the country focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, independent media, freedom of assembly, a vibrant civil society, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and adoption of concrete measures to combat trafficking. In anticipation of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively, U.S. assistance programs sought to improve electoral systems, procedures, and infrastructure. The country's five-year Millennium Challenge Compact is tied to its performance on these and other indicators related to good governance. It remains eligible for funding under the compact despite its regression in democratic governance indicators during the year; however, U.S. officials warned the government that continued funding is contingent upon its progress in that area.
The U.S. Government continued implementation of its three-year democracy promotion strategy, which focused on enhancing the capabilities of the election administration, including working to produce 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 of elections. U.S. grants funded production of a documentary about participatory democracy in one local village, as well as several public-awareness campaigns on voting procedures and the establishment of centers to teach young people about democratic governance.
During the year U.S. officials consistently emphasized the importance of media freedom and responsibility in contacts with high-level government officials, media directors, and journalists. The United States funded a program to develop professional and sustainable media outlets, decrease the media's heavy dependence on sponsorship from political and private interests, and encourage outlets to adjust their programming to respond to public concerns. Building on the successes of earlier efforts, the program supported training and technical assistance to help media outlets qualify for and repay loans provided by the United States. The program also established a television ratings system that would provide information critical to helping media outlets develop audience-based programming and increase advertising revenues. Under the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. Government sent eight print journalists and eight broadcast journalists to the United States to learn about the media's role in the U.S. midterm elections.
To help increase public access to independent sources of information, U.S. programs facilitated the technical and programmatic transfer of Internet Connectivity Centers, which had been installed in 2005, to the Ministry of Education. The centers connected the country's citizens and schoolchildren with one another as well as to the rest of the world. Through the centers, a nationwide network of schools and communities engaged in organized discussion forums, courses, and other learning activities, including curricula on principles of democracy, civic involvement, and community development. Two American Corners provided information about U.S. democratic institutions and facilitated cultural events, including an ongoing series of guest lectures by U.S. officials and exchange program alumni. Lecture topics included U.S. constitutional amendments, civil society and the state in America, American journalism and politics, grassroots political work in the United States, and the U.S. midterm elections.
U.S. officials promoted a vibrant civil society by encouraging the government, independent and opposition political parties, and civil society organizations to engage in constructive dialogue on governance issues. With substantial U.S. funding, local NGOs pursued initiatives to promote human rights, democratic development, and civil society. These efforts to strengthen civil society produced concrete results. A government-proposed bill on lobbying, originally introduced and tabled in the National Assembly in 2005, resurfaced and threatened to significantly curtail the ability of civil society groups to advocate reform; however, effective lobbying by local and international NGOs--many of which the United States supported--persuaded the National Assembly to table the bill again. Additional U.S. grants improved the technical skills of NGOs.
U.S. officials in the country 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 fight corruption, the United States provided grants that supported anticorruption workshops and publications and facilitated the publication of 12 investigative reports on corruption cases around the country. U.S. programs also helped support the new Chamber of Advocates, which began work in 2005 to establish a code of ethics for attorneys and in September held the first competitive and transparent bar exam in the country's history.
The United States conducted several training programs for judges and attorneys with the aim of bringing law enforcement and judicial practices into line with international standards. Specifically, U.S. officials conducted a seminar to familiarize members of the judicial branch with the European Convention on Human Rights and related case law and published 300 copies of the Manual on the Practice of the European Court of Human Rights for dissemination to defense lawyers and prosecutors. The U.S. Government also made a concentrated effort to improve criminal procedure laws in accordance with international standards by bringing experts to the United States to review draft legislation with local authorities. The United States also encouraged the president's office to enhance its anticorruption efforts. To fight a pervasive culture of corruption, every U.S. assistance program during the year included anticorruption components.
To promote respect for human rights, U.S. grants funded public-awareness campaigns and training workshops on domestic violence. U.S. officials in the country maintained close, collaborative relations with local human rights defenders and representatives of human rights NGOs.
The ambassador and other U.S. officials frequently discussed religious freedom problems with government and religious leaders as part of the overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Government maintained close contact with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the country's national church; leaders of other religious and ecumenical groups in the country; and regional representatives of foreign-based religious groups, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baha'is, and raised their concerns with the government. U.S. officials took an active role in policy forums and NGO roundtables regarding religious freedom. In meetings with government officials, U.S. officials consistently raised the importance of the government establishing alternatives to military service for Jehovah's Witnesses who are conscientious objectors. An American Corner lecture in December addressed the topic of religion in the United States.
Combating human trafficking in the country remained a top priority, and U.S. diplomacy on this front produced concrete results. U.S. officials met frequently with high-level members of the government, resulting in the allocation of funds for the government's national action plan on trafficking and the restructuring of the prosecutor general's antitrafficking unit. One visiting U.S. official delivered an address at an international antitrafficking conference in Yerevan that was covered by national media. The United States also funded a program that provided a safe haven and medical, social, and legal services for trafficking victims, facilitated the repatriation of 10 trafficking victims, and supported a victim hotline. The United States funded two comprehensive antitrafficking studies and published their conclusions. In June the United States conducted an antitrafficking seminar for judges, prosecutors, investigators, and police. The United States also funded the distribution of an antitrafficking manual for the country's consular personnel stationed abroad, as well as a survey of the country's laws to uncover gaps in antitrafficking statutes. The United States also contributed significant funding to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's robust antitrafficking programs in the country.
Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government. The president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The government's human rights record remained poor. The public's right to peacefully change the national legislature was restricted in the November 2005 parliamentary elections, although there were some improvements in the period leading up to the elections and in the May 13 parliamentary election reruns that took place in 10 parliamentary constituencies. Torture and beating of persons in police custody resulted in three deaths during the year, and police officials acted with impunity. Prison conditions--despite improvements in infrastructure--were generally harsh and life threatening. Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of individuals considered by the government to be political opponents, and lengthy pretrial detention continued. The government continued to imprison persons for politically motivated reasons. Pervasive corruption in the judiciary and in law enforcement continued. Restrictions on media freedom, freedom of assembly, and political participation increased. The government promoted religious tolerance and generally respected religious freedom, although at times it restricted the activities of some groups. During the year the government took several important steps to combat human trafficking, including establishing a shelter for victims of trafficking, creating a new antitrafficking unit within the interior ministry, and removing antitrafficking responsibility from the ministry's organized crime unit.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy focused on five key sectors of democratic development: 1) strengthening the political process; 2) advancing the rule of law and the fight against corruption; 3) advocating respect for human rights; 4) protecting media freedom; and 5) creating an engaged, empowered, educated citizenry.
To promote democratic reform, U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of political parties, a range of human rights and democracy activists, and government officials. The assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, and several members of Congress visited during the year to reinforce U.S. support for democracy and human rights.
To encourage democratic political processes, including elections, the United States intensified its efforts through sustained high-level government intervention, public diplomacy outreach, and training programs. In the period preceding the May 13 parliamentary election reruns in 10 constituencies, the ambassador and visiting senior U.S. officials regularly engaged government officials on the need to conduct elections consistent with international standards, 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.
In the period leading up to the May elections, the United States funded 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, U.S. programs supported the development and broadcast of several public service announcements. In addition the United States sponsored the design and distribution of brochures encouraging public participation in the rerun elections as well as voter instruction guides. In an effort to strengthen public knowledge of democratic principles and values, U.S. programs funded the translation and publication of American books on democracy. Other U.S. projects included developing networks of domestic election observers as well as training political candidates on the basics of campaigning, local election officials on the mechanics of carrying out a democratic election process, and judges and lawyers on fair adjudication of the election code. A U.S.-sponsored exit poll that provided an independent estimate of the results in all 10 rerun races helped to corroborate credible allegations of fraud, and contributed to some corrective actions by election officials. U.S. officials in the country deployed an election observation mission. 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.
In the period preceding the October 6 partial municipal elections, U.S. officials in the country engaged national and local election officials on the importance of adhering to international electoral standards. They also fielded observer teams to monitor the elections. U.S. programs funded and trained domestic election observers. U.S. officials raised all known cases of fraud and irregularities with the Central Election Commission.
To underline the importance of media freedom, U.S. officials urged the state prosecutor to investigate and bring to justice individuals--including police officers--responsible for physical attacks on journalists. The United States publicly criticized the government's November 24 decision to suspend the broadcasts of a national television and radio network and urged the government to restore it to the air as soon as possible. U.S. funding supported the professional development of journalists and advocates for media rights. At the same time, U.S.-supported programs provided technical and programming assistance to several television stations and newspapers. Through an international visitors program focusing on journalism, five journalists and staff members from the two year-old public television station studied programming standards and best management practices at U.S. public television stations. Another visitors program offered young journalists the opportunity to study "new media" in the United States including the use of the Internet, blogs, and audio and video podcasts. U.S. programs brought specialists in media management and English for journalists to help develop the capacity of local media organizations and funded other professional media training for journalists. In the aftermath of the 2005 murder of prominent independent journalist Elmar Huseynov, U.S. officials encouraged the government to conduct an expeditious and impartial investigation into his death and provided technical law enforcement assistance to facilitate the investigation.
To support the development of civil society, the United States continued to provide technical assistance, grants, and exchange programs to support the activities of local NGOs, to encourage dialogue between the government and civil society, and to educate the government about democratic practices. U.S. grants helped NGOs develop community networks to strengthen participatory government on a national and local level. To improve democratic governance at a local level, the United States launched a major project aimed at involving citizens, the business community, civil society, and media in a collaborative dialogue with government officials in six regions to identify, address, and resolve local problems. The United States funded NGOs promoting the implementation of access to information laws, a project designed to support effective interaction between newly elected members of parliament and their constituents; several anticorruption projects in local schools; and a weekly radio program addressing corruption in law enforcement.
U.S. officials urged their counterparts to respect the right of freedom of assembly and to authorize peaceful demonstrations. To emphasize the importance of this freedom, U.S. officials in the country monitored police conduct at political rallies, publicly affirmed the need for full restoration of the right to freedom of assembly, and 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 citizens to organize and demonstrate peacefully against government policies. U.S. officials in the country monitored police conduct at the November 25 forced eviction of a leading opposition party and media outlets from their co-located office in central Baku. They supported efforts to enable the building's tenants to regain access to their property, obtain acceptable premises, and obtain financial compensation for property damaged during the eviction.
The United States promoted respect for the rule of law and human rights diplomatically and programmatically. U.S. officials monitored high- profile court proceedings, including the trial of three leaders of a youth group convicted of alleged coup plotting; eviction proceedings against an opposition party and several media outlets; the trial of a journalist convicted of alleged narcotics possession; and the trial of a kidnapping and extortion gang led by a former official. In addition the United States advocated respect for the rule of law and human rights during government investigations of individuals accused in 2005 of fomenting an alleged coup. U.S.-funded programs assisted citizens to gain access to justice and to protect their rights through legal advocacy. U.S. training programs worked to strengthen the professional development of judges and lawyers, to assist them in combating corruption, and to help officials develop the legal framework necessary to stop corrupt practices. To promote the creation of an independent judiciary, U.S. officials monitored exams given to those seeking to become new judges. 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 public.
The United States funded programs to increase the professionalism and skills of the judiciary, prosecutors, and the defense bar, placing special emphasis on developing the adversarial system between prosecutors and the defense. To strengthen the legal profession as a whole, the United States supported efforts to promote the role of women lawyers, to develop an independent bar association, and to eliminate corruption in the education system. U.S.-funded programs provided training and material to judges, prosecutors, and attorneys on the European Convention on Human Rights, fair trials, and ethics. To provide a legal basis for anticorruption efforts, the United States also provided technical assistance on the drafting of a new Conflicts of Interest Law and a new draft Code of Ethics for Civil Servants. U.S. funding also supported an anticorruption study-tour for government officials and NGOs. Finally, a U.S. program provided technical assistance to investigators and prosecutors to encourage evidence-based investigations, which could help decrease forced confessions.
To address human rights abuses by law enforcement officers, 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. The United States funded local NGO monitoring of detention and prison facilities in Baku and the regions as well as the provision of human rights training for police and detention officers. In addition U.S. officials visited prisons to focus attention on poor conditions.
Several U.S.-funded projects promoted the protection of women's rights, as well as those of children and workers. The United States supported 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. programs educated young people on basic human rights in an effort to create awareness of these issues among youth. 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. In meetings with government officials, U.S. officials regularly stressed the importance of respecting religious freedom. A U.S. project funded high school debates on the role and importance of religious tolerance in society. In November the ambassador delivered a widely received public address on religious freedom and tolerance. Throughout the year, U.S. officials in the country actively spread the message about religious tolerance and Islam in America. The ambassador hosted an Iftar dinner in October for the religious leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Christian, and Jewish communities.
To combat human trafficking, the United States promoted antitrafficking measures and effective preventive mechanisms in meetings with government officials and offered guidance on implementation of the national antitrafficking action plan. U.S. officials regularly engaged with the international community to coordinate antitrafficking efforts. To help trafficking victims, the United States funded training of volunteers to staff a shelter and victims' hot line.
Under its constitution, the Republic of Belarus has a directly elected president and a bicameral National Assembly. However, since his election in 1994 as president, Alexander Lukashenko has systematically undermined the country's democratic institutions and concentrated power in the executive branch through authoritarian means, flawed referenda, fraudulent elections, and arbitrary decrees. Presidential elections on March 19 that declared Lukashenko president for a third consecutive term failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. The government's human rights record remained very poor and worsened in some areas as the government continued to commit frequent and serious abuses.
Throughout the Presidential election campaign and in the months afterward, political opposition and civil society activists, including four domestic election observers and a former presidential candidate, were beaten, harassed, fined, or imprisoned. The government failed to account for past disappearances of opposition political figures and journalists. Prison conditions were extremely poor, and there were numerous reports of abuse of prisoners and detainees. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, and imprisonment of citizens for political reasons, criticizing officials, or participating in demonstrations were common. The outcomes of court trials were usually predetermined, and trials frequently were conducted behind closed doors and without the benefit of an independent judiciary or independent observers. The government further restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and religion. The government seized published materials from civil society activists and closed or limited the distribution of several independent newspapers. The few remaining independent publications often were fined, usually for alleged slander or for not following restrictive registration procedures. State security services used unreasonable and often brutal force to disperse peaceful protesters. NGOs were subjected to harassment, fines, prosecution, and closure. Religious leaders were fined or imprisoned for performing services and ceremonies, and churches were either closed, deregistered, or had their congregations evicted. Trafficking in persons remained a problem; however, some progress was made to combat it. There was official discrimination against Roma, ethnic and sexual minorities, and against persons who spoke Belarusian. Authorities harassed independent unions and their members by severely limiting the ability of workers to form and join independent trade unions and to organize and bargain collectively.
The U.S. strategy to promote human rights sought to exert pressure in the form of targeted sanctions on senior Belarus officials, while empowering political and civil society activists who remain committed to democratic principles and institutions in a repressive society with little exposure to democracy and the rule of law. Assistance priorities included: supporting democratic political processes, particularly with regard to the March 19 presidential elections and subsequent local elections; strengthening the NGO sector; increasing access to independent information through print, broadcast and electronic media; and building the legal defense capacity of human rights NGOs and university programs. U.S.-funded exchange programs were designed to familiarize students and professionals with, and expose them to, democratic, market-based systems. To combat trafficking in persons, the United States focused its assistance on prevention and victim protection by increasing trafficking awareness among vulnerable populations and addressing the underlying causes of trafficking, including poverty and unemployment through job skills and internship programs.
Democracy and human rights issues were the central themes of speeches, media interviews, and other public events, which U.S. officials in Belarus organized or in which they took part. The United States monitored the government's attacks on civil society and opposition political parties, and closely cooperated with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and European Union (EU) missions in the country to demonstrate solidarity for pro-democracy activists. U.S. officials also repeatedly raised the problem of Belarusian human rights at the OSCE, and cosponsored a UN resolution, which was adopted in December by the General Assembly. It expressed deep concern over the human rights situation in the country and urged the government to cease politically motivated prosecution and harassment of political opponents. Also in December the United States raised the plight of Belarusian political prisoners at the UN Security Council.
U.S. activities with regard to political processes were aimed at promoting institutional growth of democratic organizations and strengthening the political skills and outreach capabilities of pro-democracy party leaders and activists. U.S. assistance helped pro-democracy forces develop and implement a process for democratically selecting a single candidate and a consolidated platform for the March presidential elections. The coalition candidate attracted small, but credible support from voters and mounted a much stronger opposition effort than that of the opposition in the previous presidential election in 2001. U.S. activities also focused on facilitating local-level political party development, including establishment of common democratic platforms for the municipal elections of January 2007, and on training nonpartisan election observers.
During the year U.S. officials met often with election officials and government authorities to encourage them to adhere to democratic principles, to conduct free and fair elections, and to invite international observers to monitor elections. Following the presidential elections, the U.S. Government condemned the flawed outcome, stating that the election was characterized by the arbitrary abuse of state power, detentions, and a disregard for basic civil and political rights. In response, the U.S. Government imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel restrictions on key government officials and other persons responsible for human rights abuses and political repression.
Bolstering freedom of speech, access to information, and independent media remained a central component of the U.S. strategy. The U.S. Government sponsored 70 projects to strengthen media capacity to provide citizens with objective sources of information. For example, during the year European Radio for Belarus, an independent station based in Poland and funded in part by the United States, began broadcasting into Belarus. U.S. programs also helped independent print and electronic media outlets remain in operation in an environment hostile to free media, and provided financial support to independent media through a Media Development Fund. In addition, the U.S. provided financial and technical assistance to help make independent newspapers available via the Internet. The level of public trust in the independent media continued to remain high because of increased professionalism and objectivity, despite ongoing government efforts to close down all nongovernment print and electronic publications.
As in previous years, NGOs and civil society groups continued to rely on outside technical and financial assistance. The U.S. Democracy Commission small grants program continued to promote political and social activism by strengthening NGOs and civil society organizations. Approximately 2,000 leaders from trade unions, NGOs, and independent media participated in more than 1,300 U.S. Government-sponsored training sessions and seminars. During the first 10 months of the year, the United States funded 51 grants to support civil society projects within the country and 12 grants to link civic groups with counterparts in neighboring countries.
U.S.-sponsored professional and academic exchange programs provided support for 12 undergraduate and graduate students and four university faculty at U.S. universities within the framework of the Fulbright scholar program. At the same time, five American Fulbright fellows conducted research and lectured at universities in the country. Despite the government's efforts to hinder the U.S.-funded future leaders exchange program, 57 high school students visited the United States and attended a conference in Washington, DC during a three-week program in June and July. In an effort to break the country's increasing isolation and to promote mutual understanding, the U.S. Government provided three to five-week training programs in the United States for entrepreneurs, professionals, and NGO leaders under the auspices of the Community Connections program. U.S. officials in the country supported nine projects that encouraged networking among exchange program alumni to promote democratic advancement and economic reform, and also helped alumni to implement the teaching concepts they studied during their U.S. exchange programs. In addition, nine U.S. specialists visited the country under the auspices of a U.S. speaker program to give lectures and seminars on topics ranging from the rule of law to business entrepreneurship.
Although stymied by government interference and the forced closure of an independent, legal aid office in April, the U.S. Government continued to provide assistance for programs aimed at promoting the rule of law. Projects included hosting political and legal education and information events for different sectors of society and providing free legal assistance to persons whose rights were violated by the government. U.S.-sponsored NGO lawyers provided free legal consultations, prepared documents, and supported human rights activists, NGOs, and independent newspapers at court trials, particularly during the presidential election campaign. U.S.-supported NGOs also published human rights bulletins to inform the public about key legal issues on how to protect their rights, and reported on rights violations in their localities. The U.S. Democracy Commission small grants program funded more then 30 public seminars on legal issues regarding labor, housing, and elections. The U.S. Government also funded the travel of Belarusian law students to Washington, DC to participate in a prestigious international law competition and organized exchange programs for other students to attend legal education courses in the United States.
The U.S. ambassador and other U.S. officials, often in coordination with EU counterparts, regularly observed, or attempted to observe, the trials and sentencing of opposition figures and human rights activists, such as those of former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin, youth leader Dmitriy Dashkevich, and independent election observers of the NGO Partnership. All were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to 5 1/2 years. U.S. officials also attended trials of NGOs and religious groups that were targeted by the authorities for closure on politically motivated pretexts. To demonstrate solidarity with imprisoned political activists, U.S. officials in the country hosted several events for families of political prisoners. The United States issued statements urging the government to honor its OSCE commitments to observe human rights, and supported efforts by the organization to assist the government to meet those commitments. The United States continued to press the government to conduct an independent, transparent, and impartial investigation into the disappearances of several opposition activists and one journalist. To support women's rights and help create a wider network for women's groups, the United States continued its series of events focusing on women's issues in various aspects of civil society and invited a communication consultant as a guest speaker to meet with women's activists and conduct a series of workshops for female entrepreneurs. In addition, the U.S. Government sponsored the participation a prominent female activist in the Global Women's Summit in Egypt.
The United States closely monitored violations of international norms and urged the government to respect religious freedom. However, the government's Committee of Religious and Nationalities Affairs repeatedly ignored official requests for meetings to discuss religious freedom issues. U.S. officials met with representatives of a wide spectrum of religious groups to demonstrate U.S. support for religious freedom. The U.S. ambassador, together with EU ambassadors, visited the embattled New Life church during a hunger strike by church members to protest the government's forced sale of church property. The U.S. Government denounced incidents of anti-Semitism that occurred throughout the country and took action to help prevent future acts, including regularly following up on reports of desecrated Jewish memorial sites and cemeteries.
In response to violations of workers' rights, the U.S. Government maintained close contact with local independent labor leaders and with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to assess the government's efforts to meet the organization's recommendations to improve freedom of association and collective bargaining. The United States also continued to support ILO efforts to promote workers' rights and independent trade unions in Belarus. To help combat human trafficking, U.S. assistance helped to increase awareness among vulnerable groups and provided job skills training and an internship program for approximately 1,000 at-risk women and trafficking victims. The focus of the project addressed two of the underlying causes of trafficking, poverty and a lack of job opportunities. Of the 463 participants who completed internships, approximately 50 percent found permanent jobs. In addition, the U.S. Government hosted a film screening of a U.S.-produced investigative documentary on trafficking victims from Eastern Europe. The film was followed by a roundtable discussion with independent journalists and leading members of the antitrafficking community.
The independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two multiethnic constituent entities within the state, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, along with the Brcko District. As stipulated in the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the 1992-95 war, a state-level constitution provides for a federal democratic republic with a bicameral parliamentary assembly but assigns many governmental functions to the two entities. In October the country held self-administered national elections that international observers judged to be generally free and fair. The government's human rights record remained poor, although there were improvements in some areas. Serious problems that remained included: death from landmines; physical abuse by police; overcrowding and poor prison conditions; improper influence on the judiciary; harassment and intimidation of journalists; restrictions on religious minorities and attacks on religious structures; obstructionism toward minority returnees; government corruption; societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and persons with disabilities; ethnically-motivated violence; trafficking in persons; and limits on employment rights. Two of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia's most wanted war crimes suspects, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, also remained at large.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights in the country focused on promoting a robust civil society through media and NGO development, building the capacity of government institutions on both the state and entity level, strengthening the rule of law through judicial system improvements, combating discrimination against vulnerable groups, advocating for religious freedom, and assisting the government in combating trafficking in persons. The United States also focused on developing more competitive and inclusive political processes in which moderate political parties could compete more effectively, particularly with regard to the October national elections. Efforts to increase citizen participation in political decision-making and voter turnout were also priorities.
To promote democracy and the political process, senior U.S. officials continued to send a strong message on democratic reform and respect for human rights. For the first time since the end of the war, U.S. efforts brought representatives from the country's three constituent ethnic groups together to discuss changes to the Dayton Agreement. The discussion resulted in a number of proposed reforms intended to strengthen state structures to make the government more effective and efficient; the proposed reforms failed to win adoption in parliament by only a small margin but were instrumental in advancing a discourse on democratic reform in the country.
During the year the United States launched a civic advocacy partnership program to augment work by NGOs to strengthen the political process. The program focused its work on increasing political awareness and activism in the pre-election period, thereby generating greater voter turnout and a more informed electorate. During the pre-election period, the program supported the civic movement GROZD (Citizens Organized for Democracy), the largest network of its kind ever organized in the country, which included 480 NGOs and 3,000 volunteers in over 100 municipalities. The movement called for parties to adopt concrete political platforms rather than rely on campaign slogans. A total of 500,000 citizens signed GROZD's petition, and 36 political parties agreed to work on a platform if they were elected. Prior to the election, the U.S. Government also granted funds to several local NGOs to educate voters, encourage grassroots civic participation, and organize local election monitors to observe nearly 3,000 polling stations around the country during the vote.
The U.S. Government continued to assist in the development of an independent and professional media. Two U.S.-supported media projects provided training and technical assistance to journalists, editors, and owners of both print and electronic media. In an effort to raise journalism standards, the United States helped media partners ensure their survival in a tight, highly competitive market by professionalizing their business operations. In addition, U.S.-funded media assistance programs supported 650 investigative and in-depth reports by print, radio, and television partners through a 10-month project to increase citizen involvement and participation in the October general election. U.S. support for the creation of a national consortium of broadcasters and advertising agencies, the United Media Industry, demonstrated that rivals could become allies if they share economic interests. During the year publishers also met for the first time and agreed to form an association. Media partners received small grants to produce programs and articles that increased awareness of the contributions and challenges of women, minorities, and people with disabilities and that promoted tolerance and reconciliation.
U.S. programs provided local journalists training in reporting on specific issues, including war crimes, elections, and diversity. U.S. funds helped to develop an online resource for journalists reporting on war crimes. In the period preceding the general elections, the United States funded training for journalists on issues regarding election coverage. To help advance professional reporting standards, U.S. funds supported a program promoting free access to the media. The U.S. Government also provided funding to strengthen the capacities of local NGOs specializing in journalism training and to support journalistic reporting from diverse communities.
Development of the country's civil society and increased cooperation between NGOs and the government, particularly local governments, remained a U.S. priority. During the year a U.S.-funded civil society program assisted NGO coalitions in conducting advocacy campaigns on a variety of issues. The program helped depoliticize the primary school system in Tuzla Canton by introducing the direct election of school principals, revise state and entity-level laws to improve living conditions for persons with disabilities, secure the adoption of a law to protect the Prokosko Lake and Vranica mountain areas as natural monuments, and convince 32 local municipal councils to adopt procedures to increase citizen participation in the budget planning and implementation process.
The United States also promoted civil society through diverse educational and capacity-building initiatives. A U.S.-funded civic education project developed a democracy and human rights course taught in all secondary schools in the country. During the year the course was also taught at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences of the University of Sarajevo and at medresas (Muslim secondary schools) throughout the country. A 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, helping them gain valuable leadership skills and work experience. U.S. assistance was used to reform the way parliamentarians and their staff carry out lawmaking and oversight duties. U.S. grants assisted in building NGO capacity, developing communities, funding NGO Resource Centers, and promoting volunteerism to assist persons who were underserved by the government. U.S.-funded health projects focused on disease prevention, formation of a home-care medical team, and education and prevention programs related to women's health.
U.S. Government assistance strengthened the rule of law and judicial institutions in particular. With U.S. financial, technical, and political support, the country made significant strides in developing its capacity to investigate and try war crimes cases as well as cases involving official corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering. Intensive training programs for police, prosecutors, and judges increased skills in subjects such as crime scene investigation, chain of custody, and searches and seizures while providing a mechanism for open dialogue between law enforcement and the judiciary. U.S. funds supported the publication of a comprehensive reference on war crimes cases and convictions and provided prosecutors and judges the opportunity to travel to The Hague to interact with their counterparts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. U.S. assistance to help the government fight corruption paid dividends during the year, when the government convicted a former minister of justice and deputy interior minister of forgery and abuse of office for making fraudulent bank loans. Another politician who had been a member of the three-person presidency was also convicted for abuse of office. The government also obtained significant convictions in both indictments transferred to the country from the tribunal in The Hague and in war crimes indictments based upon Bosnian investigations.
Judicial reform received a further boost from the U.S.-funded justice sector development program, which assisted the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the oversight authority for the country's judicial system, on budgetary and appointment issues. The program also helped the state-level Ministry of Justice improve its ability to coordinate legal reform with entity-level institutions and NGOs. U.S.-funded programs helped to improve court administration practices and reform the system for providing legal counsel to indigent defendants. The successful "model court" project was extended to eleven additional courts in the country to reduce case backlogs and improve efficiency and responsiveness to the public. The U.S. Government also assisted a skills-based legal education reform program by providing two civil procedure legal clinics in law schools in Banja Luka and Bihac. U.S. programs also improved efficiency and accountability in local governments. A joint U.S.-Swedish governance accountability project continued improving the service and financial management profiles of 41 municipalities and their ability to respond effectively to citizens' needs. By year's end, 35 new municipal "one-stop shops" had been created throughout the country, enabling citizens and businesses to receive municipal permits more quickly, while simultaneously reducing corruption and discrimination against ethnic minorities.
The United States remained resolute in supporting efforts to address past human rights abuses in the country. Through U.S. funding, the International Commission on Missing Persons continued to collect blood samples to help identify persons reported missing during the 1992-95 conflict. By year's end the commission had collected over 64,746 samples representing 22,226 missing individuals and had generated DNA matches relevant to 8,549 missing individuals. The commission also assisted authorities in carrying out 294 exhumations of mass or illicit gravesites in 145 locations, leading to the recovery of 342 complete and 1,093 incomplete sets of human remains. The commission also trained staff for the newly operational state-level Missing Persons Institute and provided forensic information as evidence in war crimes proceedings. The United States also continued to support the development of the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery, where 2,442 of the estimated 7,800 victims of the Srebrenica massacre have been interred.
The United States actively supported initiatives to promote respect for the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and minority groups. One initiative provided funding to establish a centralized information center and registry of individuals officially categorized as "invalids," thereby widening a network of support and improving public awareness for the needs of persons with disabilities. During the year the United States continued to facilitate the return of refugees and persons displaced by the 1992-95 conflict, the majority of whom were from ethnic minorities. U.S. funding enabled the repair of vital local infrastructure, including the electrification of houses, and improved community-based government services in the areas to which these persons returned. The improvements were critical to helping returnees reestablish themselves as permanent residents in their communities. Working with the Bosnian Roma Council, the United States also funded a social research project to collect information on the social, economic, health, and education conditions of Romani citizens that would be used to help the government and NGOs modify regulations affecting Roma and improve their socio-economic status.
During the year state and entity-level authorities expanded antitrafficking efforts with U.S. assistance. Local NGOs continued to implement a U.S.-funded public awareness campaign targeting children and youth, victims of trafficking, potential consumers of sexual services, local authorities, and media professionals. The United States supported the national-level antitrafficking strike force with technical advice and training on the effective use of plea bargains. Prosecutors and police subsequently had several significant successes in trafficking cases. In October the government successfully prosecuted an individual for smuggling of persons, forgery, and aggravated theft. In November an appellate court affirmed a prior conviction for trafficking and money laundering and increased the sentence, imposing a fine and forfeiture of property. At year's end government prosecutors were pursuing a trafficking case in court against 10 defendants, seeking confiscation of a nightclub, a hotel, and real estate as part of the indictment. These cases were among the first examples of prosecutors confiscating property as an additional penalty for the crime of trafficking.
Georgia's constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a unicameral Parliament, and an independent judiciary. International observers determined that the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections represented significant progress over previous elections and brought the country closer to meeting international standards, although several irregularities were noted. The government's human rights record improved in some areas during the year, although serious problems remained. While the government took significant steps to address these problems, there were some reports of deaths due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers; cases of torture and mistreatment of detainees; increased abuse of prisoners; impunity; continued overuse of pretrial detention for less serious offenses; worsened conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities; and lack of access for average citizens to defense attorneys. Other areas of concern included reports of government pressure on the judiciary and the media. Despite a reduction in widespread corruption and reforms led by the president, corruption remained a concern. The government continued to implement an ambitious program of governance reform, including in democratic institution building and the justice system, and took significant steps in other important areas such as adopting and implementing laws on antitrafficking and domestic violence. De facto authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside the control of the central government; although ceasefires were in effect in both areas, incidents of violence occurred in both regions. Abkhaz de facto authorities restricted the rights of citizens to vote and failed to allow for the opening of a UN human rights office, the assignment of a UN civilian police force to the region, or the teaching of Georgian in predominantly ethnic Georgian regions.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy continued to focus on democratic elections and political processes; improved governance; fundamental freedoms; civil society; the rule of law, including an independent judiciary; human rights; and antitrafficking measures. U.S. officials, including the secretary of state and members of Congress, consistently encouraged the government to continue efforts to promote democracy and human rights. The United States continued to work at the highest levels through the United Nations Observer Mission to Georgia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and directly with the government to find a peaceful solution to the conflicts and promote human rights and democracy in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The U.S. Government continued to urge Russia to use its influence in the separatist regions to achieve these goals. The U.S. Government supported these efforts through expanded assistance activities in the separatist regions, including through exchange programs.
To promote democratic institutions and processes, the U.S. Government advocated sweeping local government reform legislation that drastically consolidated the number of local government units, increased the transparency of central government budget transfers to local governments, and decentralized property ownership. Through a U.S.-funded program, 14 cities held public hearings prior to producing and approving program budgets. As a result, citizen satisfaction with municipal services in those cities increased by 86 percent and fee collection rates doubled.
The October local elections represented the first nationwide elections since 2004; officials were elected to fill the new positions created by the local government reforms. Through diplomatic efforts and collaboration with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and civil society, the United States played a vital role in ensuring that these elections generally respected fundamental freedoms and reflected the will of the electorate. As the election approached, U.S. officials encouraged the legislature to enact reforms to the election code and the Central Election Commission to launch a nationwide door-to-door campaign and create a digital archive to verify the voters list, which had been a serious problem in previous elections. The United States supported the efforts of respected local NGOs to conduct pre-election monitoring, voter education programs, and develop voters' guides. U.S. officials appeared on television shows and traveled throughout the country to speak about the importance of voting. High-level U.S. officials visiting Tbilisi emphasized to the government that the conduct of the elections would be a litmus test of the country's democratic progress since the Rose Revolution. U.S.-funded programs included domestic observers in every precinct, a parallel vote tabulation effort in the five largest cities, and observation teams of U.S. officials in key precincts. Following the elections, the United States funded training of the newly elected local government officials in program budgeting, performance management, media relations, and economic development planning.
The United States provided the Parliament, the president, and the prime minister with assistance to promote improved governance. U.S. Government assistance to the Parliament supported transparency, leadership skills, and improved oversight of the executive branch. Assistance also facilitated dialogue among opposition party factions; as a result, the opposition decided to end a boycott of plenary sessions. Workshops and technical assistance improved parliamentary rules and procedures, increasing transparency and strengthening democratic processes. Roundtables on proposed legislation resulted in improvements, such as a new labor code to replace the Soviet-era law. To strengthen political pluralism, the United States funded programs and worked with political party leaders to promote political party development. The U.S. Government also provided assistance to women leaders to prepare them to run for elected office and positions within their political parties. Over 10 percent of the newly elected local government officials are women. To increase the transparency of the budget process, the U.S. assisted the government in preparing the first citizen's guide to the state budget.
The United States continued to encourage the government to respect media freedoms and seek opportunities for constructive cooperation with the media. With encouragement from the United States, the government postponed adoption of a code of conduct for broadcasters in order for additional stakeholders to comment and discuss the proposal. The United States sponsored a media development professional to train government spokespersons and graduate students. In addition, a U.S.-sponsored English language fellow conducted a series of language training workshops for journalists and advised Tbilisi State University journalism faculty on development of an English language teaching curriculum. The United States funded several media development programs, including an international visitors program visit for regional print journalists and government spokespersons. U.S. Democracy Commission grants supported projects aimed at improving independent journalism. A U.S.-funded working tour taught television journalists from the Autonomous Republic of Ajara about freedom of the press, market economics, small business development, and international journalism standards. U.S. travel grants also enabled journalists to work on antitrafficking and human rights issues. The United States continued to sponsor the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management at the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs.
The United States continued to promote a strong civil society through development grants to local NGOs. Such grants included assistance to establish youth clubs, educate first time voters, and support ecological clubs. Through Democracy Commission grants to local NGOs, the United States supported civic activism, multicultural awareness, ethnic integration, Georgian-language instruction, and conflict resolution.
U.S. Government officials in the country regularly met community leaders, civil society groups, and local government leaders in regions with large ethnic minorities including in Kvemo-Kartli, Samstkhe-Javakheti, and the Pankisi Gorge. To support development of civil society, the United States worked with NGOs in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli to organize capacity building seminars, social outreach programs, and networking opportunities with domestic and international NGOs. Civic education programs supported the development of innovative extracurricular teaching in civic values and responsibilities for youth. Through television, print interviews, and other public diplomacy opportunities throughout the country, the United States actively encouraged the government to include ethnic minorities in the country's political, economic, and social development.
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, including the establishment of the Georgian Bar Association and its adoption of a code of professional ethics. U.S. Government assistance led to the creation and implementation of a judicial qualification exam system and increased use of bail as a pretrial detention alternative. With U.S. encouragement, the government adopted reforms of the High Council of Justice to strengthen judicial independence and opened a training school for newly appointed judges. U.S. officials marked Human Rights Day by hosting a film festival for university students highlighting the role of the judiciary in protecting human rights. The United States supported the finalization of a new criminal procedure code that codified human rights protections. A landmark judicial conference brought together 30 prominent judges from across the region and 13 U.S. and international experts to discuss strengthening judicial independence in all three South Caucasus countries.
The United States continued to support the country's successful ongoing efforts in battling corruption, and torture and abuse of detainees by law enforcement officers through the provision of expertise and training at all levels of the law enforcement community on professional and ethical standards. The country received high marks from the World Bank and other observers as it continued its aggressive anticorruption campaign. With U.S. support, the government began construction of a new police academy facility with dormitory space to house officers in extended training from all regions of the country. The United States also supported the upgrading of the main forensics lab, as well as five regional evidence collection centers to analyze and preserve evidence and promote effective law enforcement that would respect human rights. Through the use of roundtables with judges, government officials, and law enforcement officers, U.S. assistance facilitated the adoption of the country's first-ever law against domestic violence.
The separatist authorities in Abkhazia continued to prevent repatriation of approximately 234,000 internally displaced persons, and the de facto authorities of South Ossetia continued to obstruct repatriation of approximately 13,000 ethnic Georgians. The United States regularly worked with the government, international organizations, NGOs, and internally displaced persons to examine the potential for conflict mitigation and recovery assistance. The U.S. Government provided follow-on funding to further refine and expand on the housing voucher pilot program to move displaced families living in public-use facilities to safe, standard, and legal housing. As a testament to its success, the government included the housing voucher program as a component of its new national strategy on internally displaced persons. The U.S. also funded a local NGO to help implement the newly-passed restitution law for South Ossetia.
Despite a continued decrease in reports of violence against minority religious communities, several groups reported intimidation by fellow citizens, prompting continued U.S. Government engagement on behalf of religious freedom. With U.S. support, the prosecutor general's office regularly investigated and prosecuted claims of religious persecution. U.S. officials met with representatives of a wide spectrum of religious groups to discuss the effective protection of religious freedom and reiterated to the government the need for religious and ethnic minorities to play a role in the social and political development of the country.
In the fight against human trafficking, U.S. officials in the country met weekly with officials in the prosecutor general's office and other agencies to promote government efforts against trafficking. U.S. officials also met regularly with officials from the general prosecutor's office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to promote antitrafficking efforts and to train members of the special operations division in the ministry and officials from the prosecutor general's office on victim identification and the apprehension and investigation of traffickers. U.S. assistance supported the development of the Law on the Fight against Human Trade (Trafficking), which entered into force in June. U.S. assistance also helped to raise public awareness on trafficking issues through the creation of a variety of printed and visual materials with antitrafficking messages; to train representatives of the ombudsman's office, NGOs, judges, airport personnel, and other professionals on antitrafficking issues; to provide legal aid and to establish a shelter for trafficking victims; and to improve mechanisms for victim protection.
Moldova is a parliamentary republic with power divided among a president, a cabinet, a unicameral parliament, and the judiciary. In 1990 separatist elements supported by Russian military forces declared a "Transdniester Moldovan Republic," which lies east of the Dniester River along the border with Ukraine. This authoritarian, secessionist regime continues to control Transnistria today. Unless otherwise stated, all references that follow exclude the secessionist region. Parliamentary elections in March 2005 generally complied with most international standards for democratic elections. The following month parliament reelected Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin to serve a second term as president. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Security forces beat persons in custody, there was incommunicado detention, and prison conditions remained harsh. Other problems included harassment and intimidation of select political opposition figures by the authorities and widespread corruption throughout society and government, particularly in the law enforcement and judicial sectors. Security forces monitored political figures through unauthorized wiretaps. There was intimidation of journalists, and the government's attempts to privatize two municipal broadcasters, Antena-C and EURO-TV, sparked international criticism. Several religious groups continued to have problems obtaining official registration. Societal violence and discrimination against women, children, and Roma persisted. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem, although the government took steps to address some aspects of the problem.
The human rights record of the Transnistrian authorities remained poor. The right of citizens to change their government was restricted, and authorities interfered with the ability of residents to vote. On September 17, authorities conducted a referendum on the region's independence and future accession to Russia. Authorities claimed that a large majority of Transnistria's voters supported the proposal; however, the referendum was not monitored by independent observers. On December 10, elections for "president" of Transnistria returned the incumbent, Igor Smirnov, to power. However, the election was marked by problems, and as with previous elections in the separatist region, voting was not monitored by internationally recognized observers and results could not be independently verified. Transnistrian authorities continued to use torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention, and prison conditions remained harsh. They also harassed independent media and opposition lawmakers, restricted freedom of association and of religion, and discriminated against Romanian speakers and Romanian-language schools that used Latin-alphabet textbooks for teaching.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights in the country continued to focus on strengthening the rule of law, good governance, and independent media; encouraging an active civil society; curbing corruption; and combating trafficking in persons by enhancing the government's law enforcement and victim-protection efforts. The U.S. Government also worked closely with EU countries on programs to help improve the country's prospects for future EU membership. In addition, the U.S. Government cooperated with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in Transnistria. The U.S. Government also expanded its efforts to promote the growth of democratic civil society in the separatist region.
U.S. democracy assistance in Transnistria, although limited, continued to reach out to civil society activists who remain committed to democratic principles and encouraged interaction between the separatist region and the rest of the country. Programs included educational and professional exchanges and training, support for a legal aid clinic, and efforts to promote democratic institutions at the local level.
With regard to the Transnistrian conflict, the United States worked through the OSCE and directly with the government and other mediators to help resolve the situation in a manner that respects the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Moldova. At international fora, the U.S. Government continued to stress that separatist authorities in Tiraspol should agree to an exchange of military information, the monitoring of Transnistria's military-industrial enterprises, and an international assessment that would facilitate free and fair elections. In addition, the United States urged the authorities to resolve the plight of farmers who have been denied access to their fields and to rescind a decree that prohibits NGOs in the separatist region from receiving funding from external sources.
To promote democracy and the country's political process, the U.S. Government played a key role to ensure that elections in December for governor of the autonomous Gagauzia territory in the southern part of the country complied with international standards. During the election campaign, U.S. officials and their EU counterparts repeatedly urged the government to conduct fair elections and to allow equal campaign opportunities for all candidates. U.S.-sponsored assistance programs provided support and technical assistance to NGOs to support voter-education campaigns, to provide training for members of elections commissions, and to conduct media and election monitoring. U.S. officials met with Gagauz authorities, candidates, and election officials prior to, during, and after two rounds of voting on December 3 and 17. Both OSCE and Council of Europe observers stated that the elections were held in a calm and orderly manner and complied with most international standards. During the year U.S.-sponsored assistance programs in Gagauzia helped develop leadership and democratic initiatives at the grass-roots level by helping citizens build coalitions, local democratic party structures, and policy platforms.
U.S.-sponsored exchange visits for members of parliament gave them an opportunity to meet with their Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts to learn first-hand about building democratic institutions and how to integrate into European structures. In addition, the United States supported programs to assist parliament in developing information systems that allow legislators to research laws and to communicate more effectively with each other and with the public.
The U.S. Government promoted media freedom and freedom of speech through direct diplomatic efforts and through programs involving the country's media, including exchanges, grants, and training courses for journalists on freedom of the press, speech and professional journalistic standards. U.S. officials urged government authorities to ensure that reforms in the country's broadcast sector lead to tangible improvements, and to properly implement a new broadcast code that regulates the activity of private television and radio stations, the government-controlled public broadcaster Teleradio Moldova, and the Audiovisual Coordinating Council. The United States also called on parliament to ensure that the members of Teleradio Moldova's supervisory board be selected in a transparent manner that is based on merit and professional experience. U.S. officials urged municipal authorities involved in the privatization of two Chisinau public broadcasting stations, Radio Antena-C and Euro-TV, to ensure that the outlets continue to operate free of government pressure and influence.
During the year many independent media outlets received U.S. grants for projects to increase their independence and to promote pluralism in news reporting. For example, during the year U.S. media experts traveled to the country to work with the Independent Press Association on improving newspaper marketing and with several television stations on upgrading management skills. In addition, the U.S. Democracy Commission's small grants program helped support efforts to promote independent media, increase public access to libraries and data bases, and provide training in citizenship and community support.
In the autonomous Gagauzia region, U.S. grants helped to restore the operation of a local television station and to consolidate the partnership established between NGOs and local media. With regard to Transnistria, the U.S. ambassador hosted a roundtable for seven Transnistrian journalists, which was well received as an enhancement of the dialogue between the United States and residents of the separatist region. The U.S. Government supported an independent radio station in Ribnitsa, which broadcast programs on the development of civil society in partnership with NGOs in Transnistria, and provided a grant to an NGO from Tiraspol to train 16 young journalists on how to report social issues.
The U.S. Government directly supported NGOs and civil society through its Community Connections program, which brings residents of Eurasian countries to the United States. During the year 69 midlevel Moldovan professionals traveled to the United States for up to five weeks to observe best practices in the fields of health, education, and social assistance, and transparency in government.
The United States supported several efforts to promote the rule of law and combat corruption and engaged senior government officials on the need to seriously address corruption. In December U.S. and Moldovan officials signed a two-year agreement for a program designed to reduce persistent corruption in the judiciary, the health care system, and the tax, customs, and law enforcement agencies. The program, which will help reform and strengthen the government's primary anticorruption agency, the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption, builds on U.S. efforts begun in 2005. It will provide management expertise, technical assistance, and training to the center and to the prosecutor general's office with the goal of fighting corruption and increasing the effectiveness of general law enforcement and the government's antitrafficking efforts. The United States helped the government to adopt a so-called guillotine law, which eliminated 189 costly regulations, reduced opportunities for corruption, and made it easier to start and operate a business. The U.S. Government also issued 10 grants to NGOs to promote academic integrity in educational institutions by involving students and faculty members in the development, discussion, and implementation of honor codes.
During the year the United States continued to press its concerns for religious freedom in the country, in particular urging the government to register several religious organizations that had been denied registration by the State Service for Religions. In December the state service, responding to a high court ruling, registered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ending its six-year legal struggle to obtain government recognition. In January the U.S. ambassador hosted a religious liberty reception, to which he invited government officials and leaders of religious organizations active in country. At the reception, he encouraged minority religions to seek the rights enshrined in international human rights covenants and urged the government to continue its progress in registering religious organizations.
During the year the U.S. ambassador and other officials continued to emphasize the importance of combating trafficking in persons. A U.S. Government antitrafficking initiative endorsed by President Bush provided support to create a network of transitional living and educational facilities to reduce the risk that vulnerable young persons and former trafficking victims may fall prey to trafficking. The United States also funded several programs to address the economic roots of trafficking by improving access to counseling, job training, and legitimate employment opportunities. The U.S. Government continued to support the work of the Center for the Prevention of Trafficking in Women, which cooperated with the government to investigate trafficking cases, prosecute traffickers, establish data bases, and provide legal counseling and representation for trafficking victims.
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). President Vladimir Putin was re elected in 2004 in an election process the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election, particularly in equal access to the media by all candidates and secrecy of the ballot. However, the voting itself was relatively free of manipulation, and the outcome was generally understood to have represented the will of the people. The most notable human rights developments during the year were the killings of the Central Bank's pro-reform deputy chairman and of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, political pressure on the judiciary, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, continuing media restrictions and self-censorship, and government pressure on opposition political parties eroded the public accountability of government leaders.
Security forces were involved in additional significant human rights problems, including alleged government involvement in politically motivated abductions, disappearances, and unlawful killings in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus; hazing in the armed forces that resulted in severe injuries and deaths; torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment by security forces; harsh and frequently life-threatening prison conditions; corruption in law enforcement; and arbitrary arrest and detention. The executive branch allegedly influenced judicial decisions in certain high-profile cases. Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national networks. Media freedom declined due to restrictions as well as harassment, intimidation, and killing of journalists. Local authorities continued to limit freedom of assembly and restrict religious groups in some regions.
There were also reports of societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities and incidents of anti-Semitism. Authorities restricted freedom of movement and exhibited negative attitudes toward, and sometimes harassed, NGOs involved in human rights monitoring. Also notable was the passage and entry into force of a new law on NGOs, which had some adverse effects on their operations. There was widespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against minorities and dark-skinned immigrants, including the outbreak of violence against Chechens in the northwest and the initiation of a government campaign to selectively harass and deport ethnic Georgians. Xenophobic, racial, and ethnic attacks, and hate crimes were on the rise. There were also instances of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and instances of forced labor were also reported.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in the country focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, a vibrant civil society, the rule of law, human rights, independent media, and antitrafficking measures. A range of senior U.S. officials, including the president, secretary of state, national security advisor, and under secretary of state for political affairs, raised human rights and democracy concerns with their Russian counterparts. Early in the year, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor visited Moscow to discuss the NGO law with civil society groups, members of the State Duma, and government officials. In April the under secretary of state for political affairs met with civil society leaders on the state of democracy in the country. In July within the framework of the G-8 Summit, President Bush hosted a roundtable of civil society and NGO leaders. Also in July senior U.S. officials participated in the "Other Russia" gathering for independent civil society; the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor and the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs attended and during the year also met with NGO and democratic opposition representatives in the U.S. and elsewhere. In October Secretary Rice and the ambassador met with editorial staff at the Novastal Gazeta newspaper to discuss the state of independent media in the country following the murder of Politkovskaya, one of its leading journalists.
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. With U.S. support, NGOs continued to monitor the work of deputies in regional legislatures, encouraging interaction between constituents and their elected officials and promoting good governance. Sixteen U.S.-supported coalitions of business associations united more than 170 associations nationwide; these groups won at least 30 legislative changes in various regions of the country. The ambassador met with the head of the Central Election Commission and with political party leaders, including opposition leaders, throughout the year to emphasize the need for transparent and fair elections.
U.S. political party institutes conducted polling to help political parties, civic organizations, and citizen groups understand and be more responsive to their constituents, foster greater citizen participation in the political process, and strengthen links among parties, citizen groups, and constituents. In May over 250 volunteers from a U.S.-supported NGO conducted activities in 31 regions to increase citizens' awareness of the electoral amendments made in 2005 and stimulate interest in elections. A major nonpartisan group observed regional elections in October; in one region, local monitors maintained a public hot line and provided information to the public about election laws against the abuse of public resources by candidates with ties to the government.
Media freedom in the country was a continuing concern during the year and was publicly raised by the secretary of state and the ambassador in October following the murder of Politkovskaya. The United States worked to strengthen journalism in the country, organizing international visitors leadership programs for journalists on public policy to advance the role for journalists in the policy dialogue. The United States also contributed to journalism education through a visitors program on broadcast news to coincide with the International Symposium on Online Journalism, as well as through the three-year Moscow State University-University of Missouri Columbia partnership in journalism and the Fulbright Summer Institute in Journalism. In addition, journalists across the country participated in the Open World visitor program. With U.S. funding, four media experts visited the country to address various aspects of journalism with Russian audiences.
The United States worked to strengthen regional broadcast media and to improve access to nongovernment information sources. More than 2,700 broadcast journalists participated in U.S.-supported training, conferences, and competitions on professional standards, socially responsible journalism, production best practices, and media business development. U.S. support helped create conditions for an independent association of newspaper publishers to advocate on behalf of its members and for the media lawyers' association to help protect the editorial freedom of news outlets from external pressure. In May a U.S.-supported NGO co-hosted a regional festival in Moscow to encourage socially responsible journalism.
U.S. officials raised concerns about and closely monitored the implementation of the controversial new NGO legislation that came into effect during the year and resulted in increased government scrutiny of many foreign and domestic NGOs. Senior U.S. officials, including the president and the ambassador, met with NGO and civil society representatives to underscore the importance of their work. In September the U.S. Government signed a three-year agreement with an NGO in the country to implement a legal support program to help NGOs meet the requirements of the new law and improve laws governing NGOs.
U.S.-funded NGO networks in Siberia and the Volga, Far East, and Southern regions continued competitive grant-making programs with governors. Forty-five local governments developed and implemented more transparent governance models under a U.S.-supported program, including community-based strategic planning, training for over 2,057 local officials and NGO leaders in public policy development, and adoption of more than a dozen policies and procedures that improved the economic environment in the regions. U.S. programs also 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. Grant programs supported 500 grassroots civic initiatives in Siberia, Samara, and the south of the country. Through U.S. programs, approximately 6,500 young persons voluntarily participated in more than 100 community service projects. During the past year more than 20 government bodies in Siberia introduced competitive grant procedures.
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. Nearly 120 government officials, political activists, NGO representatives, and business leaders involved in community development traveled to the United States as part of Open World's accountable governance visitor program. Two Democracy Commission grants were devoted to increasing rule-of-law and human rights awareness among youth, educators, and law enforcement officials. U.S. funding sponsored six judges as they spent a week observing federal and state court programs in San Diego to rehabilitate juveniles, drug users, and spouse abusers. In September five judges visited Oklahoma to examine the fundamentals of trial tactics and the role of prosecutors. Other U.S. programs continued to support legal clinics, defend the rights of women, labor, and migrants, and develop NGO advocacy skills related to legal rights.
The United States supported the continued implementation of the country's 2002 Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides for jury trials for certain categories of serious crimes, mandates the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence, sets stricter standards for pretrial detention, and requires judicial approval for wiretapping and searches of residences. The United States also provided trial advocacy training to prosecutors and defense lawyers. Judicial independence and reform programs led to the promulgation of self-defined standards of judicial ethical conduct and a commitment to publish the results of commercial court decisions. U.S. funding of one city's anticorruption coalition helped to foster public awareness of corruption. The coalition produced anticorruption television spots, hosted an annual week-long anticorruption festival, advised on loopholes in draft legislation, and publicly evaluated local officials on their activities.
The gravest violations of human rights continued to take place in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus. Senior U.S. officials expressed concern to government leaders about the conduct of Russian security services and the government of the Chechen Republic, which was linked to abductions and disappearances of civilians. In meetings with federal and local officials during a visit to the North Caucasus in December, the ambassador conveyed U.S. concerns and expressed U.S. willingness to assist in ways that promote respect for the rule of law. U.S. officials met frequently with human rights NGOs to discuss the situation in Chechnya and to show support for the work of those organizations. They traveled to Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia-Alania 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 and persons displaced by the conflict to ensure that those who returned to Chechnya did so voluntarily or had the alternative of staying in Ingushetia. The United States supported legal assistance to displaced persons through the UN and an NGO that assisted thousands of displaced persons in the North Caucasus. The United States funded international humanitarian assistance programs that addressed the needs of displaced persons in the North Caucasus and supported the strengthening of civil society in the region.
The United States continued to support a wide range of human rights activities. U.S. officials in the country attended the second All-Russia Human Rights Congress in December. In January a community organization working on a U.S.-supported project opened the first women's crisis center in the Far East city of Blagoveshchensk to provide counseling and support to victims of trafficking and domestic violence and training for psychologists and regional officials. The United States also continued working to promote the rights of the disabled and children. A U.S.-supported advocacy organization worked with 15 NGOs in the country to improve their advocacy efforts and improve the rights for the disabled. The United States supported seminars on the rights of persons with disabilities for thousands of government and educational officials, community leaders, media representatives, and lawyers. In November a U.S.-supported network of disability rights NGOs hosted its third international film festival, "Breaking Down Barriers," in Moscow, raising public awareness of the needs and lives of persons with disabilities.
Senior U.S. officials, including the ambassador, maintained an active dialogue with government officials, NGOs, and religious denominations 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 country officials at multiple levels to urge them to hold accountable those responsible and to condemn such attacks publicly. The ambassador publicly deplored the January attack on one of Moscow's synagogues. The U.S. Democracy Commission program gave grants to five NGOs working to improve interethnic and interreligious tolerance. The U.S. international visitor program sent religious and community leaders, scholars, journalists, and regional government officials to the United States for three weeks to study community activism in promoting a tolerant society. A U.S. speaker program in Vladivostock focused on various aspects of tolerance, including interfaith relations and multicultural themes. In April a U.S.-supported program facilitated dialogues in Ivanovo, Kostroma, and Moscow among religious leaders in an effort to increase interfaith communication and understanding and expose local university students to tolerance issues. In June the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom visited the country to discuss religious freedom with government officials, NGOs, and religious leaders.
U.S. support continued for a nationwide association of labor lawyers and advocates operating legal centers in eight cities that provided workers, trade unions, and their members with expert legal advice on labor contract issues. During the year the centers represented the interests of over 1,700 individuals and 35 unions in 713 court hearings; the hearings resulted in 243 decisions, two-thirds of which were in favor of labor. The lawyers also consulted with workers and trade unions on more than 5,400 occasions and prepared over 2,500 documents (complaints, appeals, etc.). The centers organized 34 seminars and roundtables that drew 343 participants.
To assist the country in combating trafficking in persons, the United States worked closely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to train police and prosecutors on methods to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases using a victim-centered approach and worked closely with a U.S. NGO to develop a trafficking investigation manual for policemen on the street. U.S. and local law enforcement agencies held two bilateral law enforcement conferences to promote closer cooperation in human trafficking cases, including the development of witness protection, victim assistance, and legislation to better address child trafficking and pornography. The United States, working closely with the human trafficking working group of the State Duma and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, sponsored referral mechanism conferences throughout the country to encourage closer cooperation between police and NGOs on trafficking cases; this resulted in the creation of formal written agreements between police and NGOs in two cities during the year.
U.S. officials also worked with the presidential administration and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to develop implementing regulations for the country's new witness protection program. During the year the program protected over 500 witnesses, including a small number of trafficking victims. The United States supported antitrafficking NGOs throughout the country that provided assistance to victims and trained police on trafficking issues. The U.S. Government partially funded a number of such NGOs through small grants programs and incorporated them into training programs for police and local government officials. During the year more than 4,000 people participated in antitrafficking street fairs as part of the U.S.-funded "PATH to success!" program. These large-scale activities helped raise public awareness about trafficking and the associated risks. In October more than 60 teachers participated in a U.S.-sponsored event at a Khabarovsk conference on preventing trafficking by developing positive values among youths.
The Republic of Serbia is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Boris Tadic was elected president in June 2004 elections that observers deemed essentially in line with international standards. In a referendum on October 29 and 30, voters approved a new constitution. According to the election commission, turnout was nearly 55 percent, and 53 percent of voters supported the new constitution, although some human rights groups disputed the results. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and continued efforts to address human rights violations; however, numerous problems persisted. The following human rights problems were reported: widespread corruption in the police and the judiciary; impunity; inefficient and lengthy trials; government failure to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in apprehending war crimes suspects; government failure to initiate new domestic investigations and prosecutions of war crimes from the 1990s; harassment of journalists, human rights workers and others critical of the government; arbitrary arrest and selective enforcement of the law for political purposes; limitations on freedom of speech and religion, including a problematic new law on religion; societal intolerance and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities; the presence of large numbers of internally displaced persons; violence against women and children; and trafficking in persons.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals in the country included encouraging full participation in free and fair national elections and greater protection of human rights. During the year the United States promoted democracy and human rights by supporting democratic institutions and practices, encouraging transparency and accountability in government, endorsing respect for the rule of law, and seeking justice for perpetrators of war crimes and organized crime.
During the year the United States helped fund training for and directly engaged political party leaders, thereby building the capacity of democratic parties to serve and represent citizens, formulate and implement reform agendas, move toward an issue-based political dialogue, and mount fair and transparent election campaigns. U.S. programs worked with women activists and youth, helped strengthen the role of parliamentary committees and party caucuses, and trained organizations on polling strategies. The United States also provided technical assistance and training to build the capacity, accountability, and transparency of municipal governments. U.S. officials 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. During the year the United States supported the production of reports on topics such as the Kosovo status talks, integration with the European Union, unemployment, job opportunities, and starting new businesses. U.S. assistance enabled the production of a film series entitled "A View from the Other Side," which examined the lives of families in Serbia and Kosovo. Approximately 250 journalists participated in U.S.-sponsored media training programs in the country, and the United States hosted teams of journalists for training, internships, and non-degree study. U.S. assistance also helped train ethnic minority media professionals in news production and electronic media.
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 war crimes, domestic violence, minorities, government transparency, and corruption. One U.S. program supported the development of civil society in preparation for the October constitutional referendum and elections scheduled for January 2007.
The United States assisted in building respect for the rule of law and domestic capacity to try war crimes in the country through training programs to improve the professional capacity of the police, prosecutors, and judges who oversee war crimes cases. 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 also provided training and technical assistance to magistrates, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to promote a more independent, transparent, and efficient judicial system. The United States continued training programs and study tours in the U.S. aimed at preventing money laundering and corruption and strengthening witness protection programs. Visitor exchanges during the year 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 helped law schools establish courses on legal ethics and provided technical assistance to the country's commercial courts.
The United States pressed the 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 interethnic dialogue and funded exchange visits focused on managing diversity in a multiethnic society and minority political participation. U.S. officials also met with government representatives to urge changes in a new religion law that favored some religious groups over others.
During the year the United States trained and equipped police, prosecutors, and judges to help them combat trafficking more effectively. In September a reintegration center for trafficking victims, partially funded through U.S. assistance, was opened. Another U.S. program trained roughly half of the country's magistrates on dealing with domestic violence and trafficking in persons. The United States also funded public awareness campaigns and supported the establishment of a family violence hotline.
Kosovo has a population of approximately 2.2 million and is administered by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999; government services are largely provided to the population by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government. International and domestic observers determined that the 2004 Kosovo Assembly elections generally reflected the will of the voters, although less than five percent of Kosovo Serbs participated. The UN mission and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government generally respected the human rights of Kosovo's residents; however, there were problems in some areas, particularly relating to minority populations. The most serious of these were cases of politically and ethnically motivated killings; death and injuries from unexploded ordnance or landmines, many left over from the 1998-99 conflict; lengthy pretrial detention and lack of judicial due process; corruption and government interference in the judiciary; societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church; lack of progress in returning internally displaced persons to their homes; official corruption; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons, particularly girls and women for sexual exploitation; societal violence, abuse, and discrimination against minority communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; abuse of homosexuals; and child labor in the informal sector.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights in Kosovo focused on aiding Kosovo's transition to a stable, democratic society on a path to Euro-Atlantic integration. During a period of rapid institutional transformation, and as some competencies for justice and rule of law were transferred from the UN mission to Kosovo authorities, the United States worked to strengthen transparency, institutional accountability, understanding of and respect for the rule of law and the rights of minorities and obligations of all citizens. The U.S. Government worked closely with the international community, including the UN, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NGOs, and local government officials, to foster democratic and accountable institutions in Kosovo. In coordination with local and international agencies, the U.S. Government assisted the UN mission in monitoring, protecting, and promoting human rights.
The U.S.-sponsored local government and municipal infrastructure and support initiatives provided training and technical assistance to municipalities to promote their financial self-sustainability, transparency, and accountability and to enhance good governance and effective citizen participation. The United States worked to create the conditions that would facilitate the return of internally displaced persons and refugees who fled Kosovo during the 1998-99 conflict and the 2004 riots. At the request of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, the United States provided advisors to the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance on macroeconomic policy, budgeting, legislative drafting, organization, management, and public relations.
The United States also promoted democracy in Kosovo by providing political support and technical assistance to help local governments pass and implement legislation and encourage a constructive opposition in the Kosovo Assembly. As a result of continued U.S. encouragement, political parties used polling and constituent research data to make timely policy and strategic decisions and better represent constituents' views. To encourage greater participation by Kosovo Serbs, the majority of whom boycotted participation in local institutions, the United States supported minority political parties and encouraged them to play a more effective representational role in Kosovo's political life. Several Assembly committees received expert advice and staff support in an ongoing 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 and discussed how to protect the rights of opposition and minority parties and ensure achievement of public policy objectives.
The United States promoted media freedom by providing training to print and broadcast media on professional journalism and assistance that enhanced the media's ability to cover often complex matters of public interest. During the year the United States further reduced its direct subsidy to the media, while providing assistance for business planning, increasing the use of audience research and targeting, and encouraging professional and trade associations to represent both media interests and the public at large. The Kosovo Terrestrial Transmission Network, a project funded and constructed by the United States, was transformed into a commercial network, enabling it to maintain independence while attracting investment necessary for it to continue providing Kosovo-wide television and radio services. With U.S. Government technical guidance, the Kosovo Assembly passed legislation that established an Independent Media Commission with a mandate to maintain broadcasting that represents diverse views and opinions, improve public media accountability, and support the new regulatory body governing the licensing and operation of broadcast media. The United States supported efforts by the Association of Independent Broadcasters of Kosovo and the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo to make libel and defamation civil rather than criminal offenses and to change customs restrictions on the importation of media equipment and content.
Recognizing that the development of civil society will influence Kosovo's democratic development, the United States assisted civil society by helping to bring together networks of like-minded organizations and by supporting training, management, and grant-making efforts to help civil society organizations define their future roles in Kosovo.
Strengthening the rule of law remained a key U.S. priority for ensuring a stable, democratic future with efficient and transparent legal structures. The U.S. Government initiated and funded a project to publish quarterly issues of all Supreme Court decisions, thereby promoting transparency and accountability. Working with the UN mission and the European Union, the United States also assisted in designing and funding an initiative to vet judges and prosecutors to raise the quality and professionalism of the justice sector. The United States placed a legal advisor at the newly established Special Prosecutor's Office to mentor and train prosecutors handling serious crime cases, including human trafficking and organized crime. Other U.S.-led projects to improve the quality of the criminal justice system included initiatives to strengthen witness protection and introduce plea bargaining. The United States and European countries assisted the creation of the organizational and legal framework for an independent judiciary through the Kosovo Judicial Council, a professional body which appoints judges, exercises disciplinary action and administers the courts. The United States also supported efforts to pass legislation that would align the local legal system with international standards. U.S. assistance extended as well to institutions such as the Chamber of Advocates, the Public Prosecutors Association, and the University of Pristina Law School in the form of continuing legal education and professional development for lawyers, the establishment of a legal clinic, and the construction of a student courtroom at the law school. Working with the European Agency for Reconstruction, the United States provided recommendations on court administration, which were adopted by the UN mission's Department of Justice, to support the establishment of the new justice ministry as local authorities assumed more responsibilities from the UN mission.
In collaboration with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States played a significant role in developing the capacity of the Kosovo Police Service. The effort led to the training of 8,300 officers and the development of a range of police training programs. The joint project also created a functioning local institution, the Center for Public Safety Education and Development, which was charged with public safety education and developing professional standards for police.
The United States actively encouraged the creation of an open and safe climate for the return of persons who fled Kosovo following the 1998-99 conflict and the 2004 interethnic riots. U.S. officials publicly urged the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government to continue the Red Cross-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to help resolve the fate of an estimated 2,200 persons missing since 1999. The United States provided funds to identify new gravesites and exhume and identify remains. The United States continued to emphasize its commitment to a multiethnic Kosovo through robust conflict mitigation programs. Economic and social infrastructure projects strengthened cooperation among municipal leaders and minority communities. U.S.-funded projects in 16 communities instructed over 700 local leaders and police officers how to prevent and manage conflict. Support to NGOs enhanced interethnic dialogue and built a constituency for policies promoting reconciliation. During the year the United States provided advocacy and funding for the UN mission's efforts to relocate hundreds of displaced Roma in northern Kosovo away from lead-contaminated camps and provide treatment for children suffering from lead poisoning. The United States provided much-needed computer equipment, books, and English-language instruction in the Kosovo Serb-majority municipality of Gracanica, three miles from Pristina. Two "American corners" established during the year-one in Gracanica and one in the Kosovo Serb-majority area of northern Mitrovica-provided a platform for community outreach, including speakers, exhibits, and English language classes and resources.
The United States actively promoted the rights of women and persons with disabilities by contributing to women's regional business initiatives, awareness campaigns for disability issues, and the first women's center in Kosovo Serb-majority areas of northern Kosovo. The U.S. Government also awarded 22 small grants for projects ranging from weekly interethnic radio call-in shows to women's career training and rights awareness networks and student government training camps. A U.S.-funded program sent local television crews to the United States to participate in the production of documentaries on get-out-the-vote programs and minority-group experience in filmmaking.
U.S. officials continued to urge dialogue between members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government. U.S. officials met frequently with the heads of major religious communities, hosted an Iftar dinner for the Islamic community, and attended Serbian Orthodox holiday services. U.S. officials encouraged the UN mission and the local government to continue reconstruction on religious buildings damaged during violence in previous years against the Kosovo Serb community. U.S. officials met frequently with the heads of the major religious communities as well as with mayors of Kosovo's municipalities to urge local communities to protect Orthodox religious sites in their territories and to prevent criminal acts against them. The United States provided funds to upgrade the storage, inventory, and exhibition of Kosovo's most important collection of historic and cultural artifacts, and monitored the expenditure of U.S. funds in the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's large-scale effort to preserve Kosovo's significant cultural monuments. In May U.S. officials participated in the interreligious conference organized by the Serb Orthodox Church held at the Pec/Peja Patriarchate. U.S. officials continued efforts to protect religious sites and to ensure that they receive appropriate consideration and recognition after Kosovo's future political status is resolved.
The United States advocated increased UN mission and local government attention to curbing human trafficking in Kosovo through support of governance structures and NGOs. The United States sponsored an expert to improve the quality of media coverage of the trafficking problem, assisted in developing an antitrafficking strategy for Kosovo, organized public awareness campaigns, improved the quality of services for victims, and provided surveillance equipment for the UN mission's antitrafficking unit that aided in several arrests.
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. During the year the government faced the major challenges of increasing the legal accountability of government security forces, reducing restrictions on free speech, and modernizing societal attitudes with respect to practices such as "honor killings" of women. Although reform of the criminal code helped to reduce torture and improve due process for defendants, the government struggled to fully implement the new laws. The number of arrests and prosecutions of security forces for committing extrajudicial killings was low compared with the number of incidents, and convictions remained rare. Members of the security forces occasionally tortured, beat, and otherwise abused persons. Prison conditions remained poor, with problems of overcrowding and insufficient staff training. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to attorneys as required by law. The executive branch at times undermined the independence of the judiciary, and the overly close relationship of judges and prosecutors continued to limit the right to a fair trial. Excessively long trials were also a problem. The government restricted freedom of expression through the application of constitutional provisions and numerous laws, including articles of the Penal Code that prohibit insults to the government, the state, "Turkish identity," or the institution and symbols of the republic. Non-Muslim religious groups and Alevis continued to face restrictions on practicing their religion openly, owning property, and training leaders. Violence against women, including rape, continued to be a widespread problem. Child marriage was a problem. Police corruption at all levels contributed to trafficking in women and children to and within the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
The United States promoted human rights and democracy through programs that addressed a broad range of 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, most of whom are Kurds. To implement this strategic vision, U.S. officials in the country met routinely with representatives of the country's political, religious, social, cultural, and ethnic groups to discuss human rights conditions and development of relations between these groups and the government. U.S. officials also met regularly with members of the legislative and executive branches as well as with the judiciary to encourage continued broad reforms, including those needed for the country 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 U.S.-sponsored international visitors programs played an important role in achieving U.S. strategic objectives by providing opportunities for professionals in all fields to be introduced to the United States and their American counterparts. During the year, 25 Turks participated in projects specifically related to human rights and democracy, including programs on local government, human rights in U.S. foreign policy, NGOs and civic activism, judicial reform, and trafficking in persons. Projects for the year included the exchange of Turkish and American delegations of the American Council of Young Political Leaders. Through the U.S.-sponsored television cooperation program, journalists from one of the country's major national television station filmed documentaries for national broadcast on subjects that included transparency and governance, multiculturalism, and interaction between civil society groups and local and national government.
International visitors programs played an important role in U.S. programs to promote the political process in the country. In February six mayors from diverse communities throughout the country traveled to the United States. During the visit, the group looked at local governance in large and small communities throughout the United States. Upon their return, the group commented frequently on the accountability provisions of American governmental systems. Several of the mayors adopted similar provisions in their own municipalities after the program. A U.S.-funded project brought a delegation of Turkish high school students to the United States in January for a three-week visit that examined democratic governance and respect for human rights in the United States.
To promote media freedom, the United States supported professional exchange programs for journalists designed to foster ethics and journalistic responsibility among younger reporters and to promote freedom of expression for editors and media gatekeepers. A wide range of persons from both the secular and Islamist press attended these programs. U.S. officials in the country also hosted a speaker from National Public Radio during a visit to discuss accountability in the press.
The United States continued to promote legal reforms in the country. With U.S. Government support, the government hosted the chairman of the American Bar Association, who spoke to judges and lawyers in the country about developments in the American legal system. In addition, the prosecutor responsible for felony cases in most of western regions of the country visited the United States on an international visitors program grant. After attending criminal trials and talking to judges, prosecutors, and groups concerned with the practice of law, he returned to the country with new ideas about prisoners' rights. A judge from the Intellectual Property Rights Court also traveled to the United States on the same program and returned with positive views on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. In addition the U.S. Government sponsored a bilateral legal exchange project that promoted the discussion of issues dealing with freedom of expression, police conduct, and trial alternatives in the criminal justice system through the exchange of visits by U.S. and Turkish legal professionals. U.S. officials stationed in the country hosted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg at a dinner for law students and professors from Istanbul's pre-eminent law schools, during which Justice Ginsberg spoke about rule of law and the relationship of the judiciary to the executive branch.
Throughout the year the United States sponsored speakers who focused on human rights and democracy. In March the chair of Georgetown University's Government Department, spoke to over 400 persons about the problem of balancing freedom and security in democratic societies. In January a visiting professor from the University of Virginia spoke about freedom of religion in Istanbul. A professor from the University of Tennessee spoke about the role of religion in democracy in Ankara as well.
The United States also provided official speakers to address local audiences on human rights issues through a U.S.-sponsored speakers program. Official speakers engaged audiences at local universities and social clubs throughout the country on topics ranging from freedom of expression and democracy to human rights in the context of terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo, Cuba. For example, in Istanbul, U.S. speakers addressed a "democracy summer camp" organized by a local university, while in Izmir an official speaker described U.S. Government policies to one of the country's Model UN teams. In these engagements, speakers drew upon U.S. Government publications, including Human Rights and You: A Reader and publications on the history and workings of American democracy.
The United States also stressed the need to allow free religious expression for persons of all faiths, including Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baha'i, none of whom have legal standing in the country. The United States continued to urge high-level 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. U.S. officials engaged government officials regularly in a dialogue on religious freedom.
With the help of a U.S. grant, the International Organization for Migration continued work with government authorities to implement a comprehensive mechanism for protecting trafficking victims and enhance the country's capacity to combat trafficking; a third of the grant was used for protecting and providing direct assistance to trafficking victims. U.S. funds allowed the International Organization for Migration to continue training the Jandarma (police) and judiciary in high-trafficking areas of the country and to work on international law enforcement cooperation initiatives to facilitate prosecution of traffickers. The United States also funded a major international public awareness campaign, including television and print media advertisements for a toll-free 24-hour victim hotline that assisted the rescue of more than 50 victims during its first six months of operation.
Ukraine is a republic with a mixed presidential and parliamentary system, governed by a directly elected president and the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Parliamentary elections were held on March 26. According to international observers, fundamental civil and political rights were respected during the campaign, enabling voters to freely express their opinions. International observers noted that the conduct of the election was in line with international standards for democratic elections, making this the most free and fair in the country's history. Despite improvements, a number of serious human rights problems remained, including torture in pretrial detention facilities, violent hazing of conscripts, societal violence against Jews, anti-Semitic publications, incidents of the return of refugees to a country where they feared persecution, serious corruption in all branches of government, and trends of violence and discrimination against women, children, and minorities. The government at all levels generally sought to protect freedom of religion; however, some minority and nontraditional religions experienced difficulties in registration and in buying and leasing property. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government harassment, and there were few restrictions on media freedom or freedoms of assembly and association. Authorities increased investigations of suspected human traffickers but were still grappling with how to strengthen the country's prosecution capabilities.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy focused on supporting democratic reform. 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 anti-Semitism and trafficking in persons were also important goals. The ambassador and senior U.S. officials met frequently with senior government officials, including the president and prime minister, to stress the importance of continuing democratic reform and highlight that membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization hinges on respect for democracy and human rights. This message was regularly reinforced in Washington and in Kyiv by the secretary of state, the under secretary of state for global affairs, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and others.
To support free and fair parliamentary and local elections, U.S. assistance programs focused on public monitoring of the electoral process, voter education, nonpartisan training for political parties and local government officials, domestic and international election monitoring, and election administration issues. The U.S.-funded Election Administration Support Project improved the legal and regulatory election framework and successfully supported the Central Election Commission in updating and improving voter lists. The project also provided training for 175,000 election officials and produced instructional guides and videos distributed to more than 33,000 election commissioners prior to parliamentary and local elections held in March. U.S. grants to local NGOs also significantly increased civic oversight of the vote and helped increase voter awareness of election issues. With U.S. support, a Dnipropetrovsk-based NGO, in cooperation with local governments, conducted voter education and get-out-the-vote campaigns in 14 cities and produced an information brochure for first-time voters. The United States also supported training for print and broadcast journalists on election coverage, public service announcements, and watchdog groups.
To promote effective, transparent, and participatory local and municipal government, U.S. programs enhanced local government capacity to improve service delivery, further develop autonomous and transparent financial planning and management strategies, and provide forums for an informed citizenry to actively participate in local decision-making. Through such U.S.-funded programs, dozens of cities improved delivery of municipal services, instituted competitive bidding for procurement of equipment and services, and adopted financial analysis models as a planning tool. There were 252 cities actively using task forces or advisory boards with citizen participation to work on city development plans.
U.S. media assistance programs continued to improve the legal and regulatory framework for media, support legal aid for media outlets, help independent outlets improve their financial sustainability, provide training in investigative journalism, and promote socially responsible media. In the lead-up to the March elections, a U.S.-funded media project assisted in the development of and lobbying for changes to the election law. These changes included dropping limitations on the coverage of election news and improvement of legal protections for media.
The civil society sector continued to grow and show gains in sustainability. U.S.-funded activities helped NGOs to advocate for and secure better laws, such as further simplification of NGO registration procedures. Equally important, NGOs that received U.S. assistance successfully prevented implementation of laws that could have restricted NGO and citizen rights. For example, NGOs pushed successfully to cancel a decree to monitor the Internet. With U.S. grant support, an Uzhgorod-based NGO amended the forestry code to give citizens public control over the rights to manage and own forestry land, and a Donetsk-region NGO successfully introduced changes to legislation obligating the Ministry of Education to offer street children equal access to an elementary education. A Luhansk-based NGO addressed problems with communal services, published a brochure with strategies for handling various issues, and established a hot line serving 500 people per year. The United States also successfully assisted in boosting the development of local philanthropy by way of promoting public-private partnerships.
The United States facilitated efforts to strengthen the rule of law, increase judicial independence, and combat corruption. These efforts sought to capitalize on the government's commitment to reform and bring the country both into compliance with its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and move it closer to the government's long-term objective of joining the European Union. Working with partner organizations, the United States created legal advocacy centers specializing in human rights; trained judges on new legislation and application of international conventions to ensure the quality of legal services, established regional judicial associations; developed student legal clinics, designed election advocacy and education programs, and implemented a wide range of public legal literacy initiatives. The program assisted more than 30 law schools in developing clinical legal education programs by sponsoring numerous conferences and roundtables and offering training and exchange programs for students and clinic directors. The program awarded small operational grants to 17 legal clinics and produced three clinical legal education textbooks. Other anticorruption programs supported public hearings on corruption, a major public information campaign against corruption, the government's initiative to establish a public complaint program, training for journalists in investigative reporting, grants to NGOs engaged in anticorruption advocacy and watchdog efforts, and a pilot testing program for university entrance exams.
U.S. technical and advisory assistance supported the drafting of a concept paper for comprehensive reform of the criminal justice and law enforcement system along European lines. To promote development of transparency and balance in the system, the U.S. Government continued to support the drafting of a Council of Europe-compliant Criminal Procedure Code. In the same vein, the United States launched a pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of respecting the basic human rights of detainees through a fair and transparent pretrial detention system. To help offset the influence of Soviet-era practices on the prosecutor's office, U.S. officials developed programs to strengthen the advocacy skills of defense attorneys with the long-term goal of helping the defense attorney community establish its own continuing professional education program.
A new U.S.-funded program to combat corruption and strengthen rule of law advanced judicial reform through rapid-response technical assistance, support for the drafting and implementation of improved laws and regulations, training for new judges and court staff, and support in improving the budget process in the legal system. For example, the program cooperated with the National Commission for Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law to develop a comprehensive "judicial reform concept" and draft laws on the judiciary and the status of judges. A number of these proposals were successfully incorporated into the Concept Paper on the Judicial Reform, Concept Paper on Anticorruption, and in draft anticorruption bills. The president approved both concept papers and submitted a package of bills on judiciary reform and fighting against corruption to the parliament.
Through public diplomacy and small grant support to local NGOs, the United States worked to monitor and curb human rights abuses such as torture and to encourage respect for the rights of women, children, minorities, and people with disabilities. The United States supported the second annual National Human Rights Forum, organized by a national human rights NGO, which brought 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 human rights organizations was presented at the forum. The Democracy Commission Small Grants Program provided 22 grants to human rights NGOs to conduct 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; the NGO also proposed a list of amendments to current national laws on access to public facilities by people with disabilities. With U.S. support, a Kyiv-based NGO 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. A national NGO used U.S. funding to bring victims of domestic violence together with government, law enforcement, and social services personnel to discuss ways to improve the implementation of domestic violence legislation.
The ambassador and other officials demonstrated the U.S. Government's concern for religious freedom by maintaining a dialogue with government and religious leaders and staying in close contact with clerics and lay leaders in religious communities. Throughout the year, the United States tracked developments in religious freedom and cultural heritage preservation court cases involving anti-Semitism, including the Sambir and Volodymyr-Volynsky Jewish cemetery cases, and followed closely the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Dnipropetrovsk and cases involving discrimination against Tatars in Crimea. The United States raised concerns about religious freedom and anti-Semitism with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the office of the prosecutor general, the office of prime minister, and the presidential secretariat. The special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, the ambassador, and other senior U.S. officials also raised concerns directly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the anti-Semitic teachings and publications of the Inter-Regional Academy of Personnel Management (known by its Ukrainian acronym, MAUP.) On February 27, the ambassador hosted an interfaith dialogue lunch that brought together leading clergymen, the head of the department for religious affairs, two prominent members of parliament, and a leading journalist to discuss progress and challenges in promoting religious tolerance.
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 that maintained continuing contact with union representatives, regularly reported on workers' rights issues, and funded technical assistance programs to promote basic rights of workers. Combating trafficking in persons and assisting trafficking victims were also priorities. The U.S. Government conducted training programs on combating labor exploitation for the Ministry of Interior's new antitrafficking department. The United States also facilitated the development of interior ministry-to-interior ministry exchanges with neighboring countries that were primary destination points for local trafficking victims.