(Washington, DC) – The House of Representatives has passed H.Con.Res. 190, which expresses the sense of the House that the “Russian Federation should fully protect the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards.”
“I am very pleased that the House of Representatives has forcibly spoken about the problems and limitations facing religious communities throughout the Russian Federation,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) who sponsored the measure. “I want to reiterate the call of the resolution and urge Russian authorities to fully protect the religious liberties of all faith communities, whether registered or unregistered, as well as ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate all acts of violence.”
Conditions have deteriorated for minority religions at the regional and local level in some areas of Russia, and the restrictive law on freedom of conscience and religion continues to disadvantage many minority religious groups considered “non-traditional.” Reports of violent acts against minority religious communities, sometimes committed by the police and rarely investigated, continue to sporadically but consistently arise. The U.S. Helsinki Commission highlighted these problems at an April 14, 2005 hearing entitled “Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia
“The Russian Government heard loud and clear from the House of Representatives that more must be done to protect religious freedom and support Helsinki commitments,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “I hope Russian officials will actively protect the rights of all believers, regardless of faith or creed, especially those communities indigenous to Russia and not well known in America.”
The House resolution passed 411-1 on Wednesday afternoon. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has introduced a companion resolution in the Senate, S.Con.Res. 46.
The resolution notes that “over the past 2 years there have been an estimated ten arson attacks on unregistered Protestant churches, with little or no effective response by law enforcement officials to bring the perpetrators to justice.” The resolution calls upon the U.S. Government to urge Russia to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities and to “continue to raise [with Russian officials] concerns” over violations of religious freedom, “especially indigenous denominations not well known in the United States.”
“Over the past two years we have witnessed an increase in acts of violence against unregistered and minority religious communities, as well as the troubling introduction of draft amendments to the religion law,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). “As this resolution makes clear, Russian authorities at all levels must do more to ensure that everyone can enjoy their religious freedoms without fear of violence or harassment.”
“Throughout the vast Russian Federation there are many faithful public servants who do respect religious freedoms,” said Commissioner Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC). “I hope this resolution will encourage them to redouble their efforts, but also make clear the importance of religious freedom in Russia to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.