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PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 106th CONGRESS, 2nd SESSION

Vol. 146 Washington, Thursday, May 25, 2000 No. 67

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 Russia. 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.




Countries

Russian Federation

Issues

Freedom of Speech and Expression
Freedom of the Media
Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion or Belief
Rule of Law/Independence of Judiciary


   
 

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