VIENNA/BRUSSELS: The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRFW, IHF cooperating organization) are concerned by the Tuesday (8 May) judgment by the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan against the Society for Krishna Consciousness regarding ownership of 116 acres of land in the Karasai district, near Almaty, which is home to this Hare Krishna community.
We fear that the judgment may lead to further human rights abuses against the community.
Since November 2006, at least fourteen of the 60 houses in the community have been demolished on court orders and at the request of the local authorities, leaving dozens of people homeless and causing anguish among the community members about their future.
"The orders to destroy homes of Hare Krishna members have followed unfair trials and other practices by authorities that strongly suggest discrimination on religious grounds," said Aaron Rhodes, the IHF's executive director.
The latest developments are the culmination of harassment against the Hare Krishna community that started in 2004.
Since November 2004, the community has tried on three occasions to submit applications and documentation to local authorities for the privatization of the land they cultivate and the homes of their members. At least twice the local authorities have reacted by filing cases in court against community members and serving them with orders for the confiscation of property, evictions and for the demolition of their houses and by deploying bulldozers on the spot.
Last time, eviction notices were served only hours before the bulldozers' arrival, or not at all. The affected families have had limited access to legal remedies to challenge the orders, and they have not been allocated alternate housing. These events give rise to serious suspicions that the Hare Krishna community has been excluded from the privatization process on grounds of religious affiliation.
Even though religious motives have been officially denied, they have reportedly been cited in private discussions with community members, and local authorities have resorted to spreading defamatory misinformation about the community.
Twenty-seven community members have faced various charges arising from ownership issues and legalization of their property as a consequence of their attempts to become part of the standard privatization process.
Judicial proceedings against them have been characterized by violations of the principle of equality before law; lack of independence of courts; proceedings in the absence of the defendant; the failure to inform defendants of court decisions; and the limited right of appeal.
The dispute also involves accusations that the Hare Krishna community has forged documents with the aim of proving their ownership of the land and that the community no longer exists legally; claims that authorities have been unable to document properly.
Accusations that community members have conducted religious rites illegally suggest non-respect of international standards for freedom of religion. Moreover, the government recently published false information alleging that an agreement on the dispute had been reached with a representative of the Hare Krishna community during a meeting in Vienna in March.
In addition, forced evictions of families violates internationally guaranteed human rights, including the right to housing; and the right to non-interference with privacy, family and home.
Furthermore, General Comment No. 7 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires that states explore "all feasible alternatives" prior to carrying out any forced evictions.
According to the Comment, eviction is always the last resort, and if it needs to be used, those affected must be consulted and given adequate and reasonable notice prior tithe scheduled date of eviction. Evictions should never result in rendering individuals homeless or vulnerable to other human rights violations. None of these standards were followed in the case of the Hare Krishna community.
A commission was set up in late 2006 in the Ministry of Justice to resolve the dispute, but it failed to adequately deal with the issue, especially with its legal components.
At the time of writing, another thirteen community houses are under the threat of being demolished and the Supreme Court ruling makes it possible for the authorities to confiscate the 116 acres of land at any moment.
The IHF and HRWF urge the Kazakh authorities to strictly abide by the international human rights standards the country has committed itself to and to take all available measures to solve the case of the Hare Krishna community in a peaceful, fair and unbiased manner. This includes retrials that respect all due process standards in all cases against Hare Krishna members that deal with property, eviction and privatization issues.
In addition, the Kazakh authorities should halt any further demolitions of houses in the Hare Krishna community, and refrain from confiscations, pending retrials, as well as of any acts of harassment against its members, and allow them to freely practice their religion.
The government should also ensure that responsible authorities deal with privatization issues in an unbiased and non-discriminatory manner, applying the same regulations to all applicants, as provided by law.
For more information:
Aaron Rhodes, IHF executive director, tel. +43-1-408 8822 or +43-676-6356612 (mobile)
Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, tel. +32-2-34 56145
Henriette Schroeder, IHF press officer, +43-1-408 88 22 41 or +43-676- 72548 29
See original statement: IHF
See also: http://www.kazakhkrishna.com/en-news/260.html
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