CSCE :: Statement :: The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?
United States of America
PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 106th CONGRESS, 2nd SESSION
Washington, Thursday, May 25, 2000
House of Representatives
THE PUTIN PATH: ARE HUMAN RIGHTS IN RETREAT?
Thursday, May 25, 2000
THE PUTIN PATH: ARE HUMAN RIGHTS IN RETREAT? HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH of New Jersey
(Mr. Speaker, two days ago, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe ,
which I am honored to chairman, held a hearing entitled `The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?' I was pleased to
be joined on the dais by my colleagues on the Commission, Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator
Tim Hutchinson, Ranking House Member Representative Steny Hoyer, and Representative Matt Salmon.
As part of the hearing, the Commission had also planned to feature a video-conference with Moscow-based Radio
Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky. As Members are aware, Mr. Babitsky was arrested by Russian authorities for
allegedly `participating in an armed formation,' as a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year. Subsequently,
as a civilian, Babitsky was `exchanged' to Chechen forces in return for certain captured Russian military personnel, and is
not permitted to leave Moscow. Unfortunately, technical problems precluded the possibility of the videoconference, but
Mr. Babitsky provided a written statement for the hearing record. Mr. Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly's prize for journalism, and as head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA, I hope that he will
be able to attend the award ceremony at the Assembly's annual meeting in Bucharest this July.
Tuesday's hearing was one of a series of hearings the Commission has held to examine human rights issues in the States
of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe . The mandate of the Commission is to monitor and
encourage compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki Accords and successive documents of the OSCE.
As I have noted on previous occasions, Russia is no longer the dictatorial, closed society that it was during the Soviet
period, and certainly there are countries around the world where human rights are in much more perilous straits. I have
yet to hear of a working church in Russia being destroyed by bulldozers and wrecking cranes, as was the case last
November in Turkmenistan. And we know that in China religious believers of many faiths are thrown in jail for simply
desiring to worship without government interference.
Indeed, under the administration of President Yeltsin, human rights activists were able to achieve significant gains in
making respect for human rights, if not a standard, at least a consideration in public policy. There is growing concern,
however, that Russia's development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected
President Vladimir Putin.
The testimony of Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of
NTV, summarized how their offices were the target of the infamous raid by government agents on May 11 last. Mr.
Malashenko described how the agents carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment, and subsequently
issued `contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications' for this raid. Moreover, he provided extensive information on
several other less-publicized examples of violence and intimidation toward media outlets and journalists throughout
General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, and a man of exceptional expertise in things
Soviet and Russian, noted that Russia is a `weak state' and suffers from a lack of institutions capable of providing the
level of civil society and economic development that we had hoped would follow after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
General Odom also suggested that the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, or think that much of
Russia's internal problems can be solved by `ventriloquism' from the West.
Professor Georgi Derluguian of Northwestern University asserted that President Putin is the product of the KGB
network that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. In order to seek a distraction from the Chechen quagmire,
suggested Professor Derluguian, Putin will most likely launch a massive anti-crime campaign. I would note that when Yuri
Andropov and his KGB began to assume power in the twilight of the Brezhnev regime, part of the crackdown on
political dissent at that time was under the guise of cracking down on corruption.
Ms. Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, testified that in Grozny, `the
graffiti on the walls reads `Welcome to Hell Part Two.' The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya into
a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters we, have spoken to told us they have never seen anything in their
careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.' Ms. Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including
the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home.
One of the brighter aspects of civil society under President Yeltsin was the expansion of NGO activity. However,
Professor Sarah Mendelson of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law at Tufts University noted that there is in
Russia today `an atmosphere that is hostile to civil rights activists, and in fact, anyone with opinions that differ from the
Kremlin's. While `the treatment of Andrei Babitsky in January and February was shocking and disturbing, and the FSB
raid on MediaMost in May was brazen,' she testified, this is `part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown
steadily worse over the last year and a half.'
In this connection, I would like to point out another proposal made by Professor Mendelson in her testimony. She
suggested that President Clinton, while in Moscow next month at the Summit with President Putin, should meet with
activists who are promoting human rights and democracy in Russia today. This gesture, she notes, `would send a signal
not only to those in Russia who care about democracy but to those in Russia who do not.' I believe this idea is right on
target. In fact, Mr. Hoyer and I have written to the President noting that this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the
signing of the Helsinki Accords. We have encouraged the President to meet with the surviving veterans of the Soviet-era
human rights struggle, and with their contemporary colleagues, in both Moscow and in Kyiv, where the President plans
to meet with President Kuchma following his Moscow visit.
I hope that President Clinton will take this advice, as I believe such a gesture would give new impetus to the struggle for
human rights and democracy in two pivotal nations of the international community.
In closing, I would call attention to a resolution to be introduced by our colleague Mr. Lantos and House International
Affairs Committee Chairman Ben Gilman, regarding the issue of free media in Russia. I am pleased to join as an original
cosponsor of this resolution, which among other provisions, calls upon the President, the Secretary of State, and other
officials and agencies of the United States Government to emphasize to Russian government officials our concern and
preoccupation that official pressures against the independent media are incompatible with democratic norms. I am
pleased to co-sponsor this resolution, I hope my colleagues will join us, and I hope that President Clinton will heed this
call when he meets with President Putin in Moscow next month.