(Washington) - Four Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have urged Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski to ensure prompt passage of a non-discriminatory property restitution law. In a meeting last year with congressional leaders, Kwasniewski assured Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) that a draft law on confiscated property would be ready at the beginning of 2003 and that it would not discriminate on the basis of citizenship.
“Having a fair and just property restitution law passed expeditiously would be enthusiastically welcomed,” the Commissioners wrote in a January 13 letter to Kwasniewski. “We are concerned, however, by reports suggesting that consideration of the draft may be delayed until after a referendum on European Union accession is held sometime later this summer.”
Signing the letter with Co-Chairman Smith were Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).
“Bearing in mind that more than a decade has already passed since the restoration of democracy in Poland, that numerous laws on confiscated private property have been drafted but never adopted, and that Holocaust survivors are passing away each year, we urge you to ensure that passage of this law does not face any further delays,” the letter reads. “Every single day matters.”
“We also hope that, as your government proceeds with the drafting process, officials will consult actively and widely with those most affected by property confiscations,” the Commissioners continue. “We believe that a successful outcome of this process requires strong public outreach and that, conversely, a process of limited consultations is likely to foster the frustration and anger of those who have already waited decades for some measure of justice.”
A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The United States advocates the return or compensation of such properties.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.