Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Alexandra Arriaga
Director of Government Relations - Amnesty International USA


Opening Remarks

Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this important hearing.

Amnesty International is concerned by the prevalence of anti-Semitism today and the disturbing wave of incidents occurring in Europe in recent months. Amnesty International strongly condemns all anti-Semitic acts and firmly opposes the recent wave of attacks in Europe. These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity. Not only is the victim harmed, but also the community, which becomes the target of fear, intimidation, and other forms of harassment. These attacks demonstrate the depths of intolerance against religious, racial, cultural and national differences and the dangers intolerance breeds. Amnesty International unconditionally opposes anti-Semitism, and all such racist and threatening acts.

Mr. Chairman, I will focus my remarks on general trends and possible contributing factors, comment on government responses, and offer policy recommendations.

Amnesty International

Throughout the last forty years, Amnesty International has monitored human rights violations around the world and witnessed the persistence of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Since its founding in 1961, Amnesty International has worked on religious freedom and religious persecution issues and has called for the unconditional release of any person imprisoned for freedom of conscience, including religion. The first Amnesty International conference was a Conference on Religious Persecution, held in Paris in 1961, and the first of the organization’s investigative missions was in 1961 to Czechoslovakia to document and protest the imprisonment of Archbishop Beran and to gather information about the conditions of other religious prisoners.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Amnesty International took up cases of persecution against Jews and other religious minorities. Amnesty International was especially active in spotlighting the cases of Jewish Refuseniks, speaking out against their harassment, intimidation, and beatings; opposing the house searches, and intimidation in synagogues; and calling for their immediate release from psychiatric hospitals and labor camps. Amnesty International persistently raised these cases with officials and helped bring public attention to the climate of persecution and discrimination against Jews and other targeted minorities.

Today, Amnesty International continues to advocate for the rights of individuals who face harassment and persecution because of their faith or identity. We currently are working on behalf of the attacks on Jews in Russia, Jehovah's witnesses in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Baptists in Turkmenistan, Copts in Egypt, Baha’is in Iran, minority Shiites in Saudi Arabia, Christians and Tibetans in China, Muslims in Uzbekistan, Catholics in Vietnam, too name just a few examples. And throughout its history, Amnesty International has had occasion to condemn anti-Semitic acts against Jews or Jewish property the world over. But there is more we need to do.

This year, the organization has set a course to redouble its efforts to collect information on recent attacks, document incidents, monitor the progress by officials investigating the cases, and take further action as needed to ensure victims are protected and perpetrators are brought to justice. We are also launching two campaigns in the months ahead: one on human rights in Russia and another on identity-based discrimination. Both will focus attention on anti-Semitism and, we hope, will help bring governments to account for their actions to prevent and prosecute such acts. They will also include educational materials to help human rights activists oppose such incidents.

Trends and Contributing Factors

Amnesty International condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms. In recent months, we are deeply saddened by the alarming rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide. The attacks include threatening hate mail, death threats, verbal and physical abuse against Jews, arson and other forms of destruction of synagogues, and desecration of cemeteries and other religious sites. Amnesty International strongly condemns the wave of attacks, and calls on governments to redouble their efforts to combat racism in all its forms and to bring to justice all suspected perpetrators of hate crimes.

It is impossible and I would not want even to attempt to address the reasoning behind such abusive attacks, but it may be worthwhile to consider factors that might be contributing to the escalation of incidents at this time.

Heightened Tensions in the Middle East

There were numerous anti-Semitic incidents throughout the last year. There was a notable increase, however, beginning this year in March as tensions and violence increased in the Middle East. Since the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hundreds of attacks have taken place worldwide. These attacks are wrong. They are anti-Semitic attacks against innocent men, women, and children. They are racist, discriminatory, and hateful attacks that cannot be justified under any circumstances.

We are especially concerned that legitimate criticism and debate about Middle East policy, in some instances, has degenerated into racist epithets and anti-Semitic attacks. I would like to offer as an illustration an incident that took place recently in the United States. The Washington Post on Sunday (May 19, 2002) carried an article by William Booth about heightened tension on college campuses where peaceful demonstrations have turned into hateful, racist, and intolerant attacks. At San Francisco State University, pro-Israel demonstrators were met by pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators and the event degenerated; both sides reportedly exchanged insults and epithets. University President Robert Corrigan is quoted as saying that “a small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators . . . abandoned themselves to intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat.” According to students, the counter-demonstrators “were screaming that Hitler should have finished the job” and “they called us . . . terrorists.”

Criticism of specific Israeli actions and policies must not become the basis for violent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. This devastating incident is not isolated and clearly illustrates a case in which what might have been legitimate views in opposition to Israeli policy transformed into hateful statements against Jews. This is anti-Semitism.

Taken to the next step, such hatred is extremely dangerous. Take for example the attack in Antwerp, Belgium during Passover this spring, in which a mob of an estimated 700 people staged a demonstration on De Keyserlei, a broad avenue leading toward the old Jewish district of the city. The mob shouted, “Sharon is Hitler” and “Stop the Palestinian genocide.” Police erected a barricade to protect the Jewish neighborhood. Several demonstrators slipped through and attacked a 17-year old religious girl in a wheelchair, threw Molotov cocktails at property, and ransacked a kosher bakery. Police arrested 80 rioters before restoring order; reportedly, they are currently investigating these attacks.

It is a travesty that such incidents are occurring the around the world. Last month in Tunisia, for example, a driver rammed a truck bomb into an ancient synagogue on the island of Djerba. The bomber killed 17 people, most of them German and French tourists. The victims of this attack were targeted simply because they were in a synagogue, an identifiably “Jewish” place. Amnesty International has condemned these acts and called on officials to hold accountable those who carried out these crimes.

Such crimes have no place in the legitimate discussion over what is happening in the Middle East today. The perpetrators carried out anti-Semitic acts against individuals solely because they were perceived to be Jews or associated with Jews. We deplore such racist attacks.

Historical Context of Anti-Semitism

The recent resurgence in anti-Semitism must also be considered in the context of Europe’s history. Economic and political dislocations across Europe have led to blaming scapegoats for problems, including wrongfully blaming Jews and other minorities as scapegoats. For instance, the ancient "blood libel" accusation has been revived in Russia, in which Jews are alleged to kill Christian children for sacrificial purposes. There has also been a revival of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book known to have been concocted by the tsarist secret police under Tzar Nicolas II about one hundred years ago. (It describes alleged plans for a world Jewish conspiracy including control over the media.) And fueling the Holocaust was Hitler's ideology that viewed Jews as an inferior race. Today, the language used to express racism often takes the form of derogatory and insulting language describing Jews.

The State Department Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2001 states that in Russia, for example, “anti-Semitic themes continue to figure prominently in some local publications around the country, unchallenged by local authorities. However, traditionally anti-Semitic publications with large distribution, such as the newspaper Zavtra, while still pursuing such anti-Semitic themes as the portrayal of Russian oligarchs as exclusively Jewish, appear to be more careful than in the past about using crude anti-Semitic language.”

Anti-Semitism remains among the most common expressions of ethnic and religious intolerance and xenophobia today, particularly in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, but in many other regions as well. European leaders have a special obligation to protect the continent’s remaining Jewish communities, six decades after the Holocaust. Recent attacks are taking place within an atmosphere of inflamed and ugly rhetoric.

In England, Oxford University Professor Tom Paulin told the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly on-line edition that he had “nothing but hatred” for “Brooklyn-born Jewish settlers,” who “should be shot.” It is deplorable that the Italian newspaper La Stampa recently depicted a baby Jesus looking up from the manger at an Israeli tank, saying “Don’t tell me they want to kill me again.” Such a cartoon echoes centuries of anti-Semitic libel. Such comparisons can only serve to inflame public opinion and incite acts of violence.

It is difficult to get precise figures on this topic because of a lack of monitoring and an apparently justifiable lack of public trust in the willingness and ability of law enforcement to combat hate-based crimes and activities.

Neo-Nazi Skinheads

Recently, Europe has also seen a resurgence in violence by neo-Nazi skinheads. For too long skinheads have carried out violence and threats, and for too long their racist and anti-Semitic acts have been excused by local officials as “hooliganism” or “youthful pranks,” despite the fear and suffering they inflict on their victims. This has been the case especially in Russia.

Skinhead violence occurs year round and generally without a serious criminal investigation or condemnation by authorities. Sadly, April 20 – to most of us not a noteworthy date – has become a rallying point for skinheads as they mark the anniversary of Hitler’s birth. This year, many local police took seriously the threat of skinhead violence on April 20 and are likely to have prevented some anti-Semitic and racist violence throughout Europe. Nonetheless, skinheads on April 20 succeeded in carrying out vandalism, inciting hatred, and screaming insults and threats. It is important to note, however, that skinheads were also responsible for violence leading up to and following the date when officials may not have been on such a heightened alert.

Recently, the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) issued a report on skinhead violence in Russia. The report concludes that local government authorities, through inaction, have made it possible for skinheads to organize and carry out violence without consequence for so long now, that it has reached a point “where it is almost beyond control.”

Law Enforcement Inaction and Continued Impunity

Police and other law enforcement officials routinely subject racial and ethnic minorities to harassment and intimidation and often respond with indifference to racial attacks. The irresponsible and disinterested attitude of many law enforcement officials is an underlying challenge to combating anti-Semitism and helps sustain the problem and create a climate of impunity for the perpetrators.

We heard earlier about the seven attacks of severe vandalism of the synagogue in Tyumen, Russia, which were carried out by skinheads last year. And the reports that the local skinhead chapter reportedly boasted about the attacks on its website, made reference to the "pleasant sound of breaking glass," and threatened next time to use Molotov cocktails. Sadly, police have not detained any suspects, claiming that the culprits must be caught in the act before they can be arrested. (UCSJ report)

We also heard reports by the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding a Jewish center in Tomsk, Russia. Three days before the ceremony commemorating the opening, the building was defaced with swastikas and graffiti of “Yids get out of Russia!” and “Russia for Russians!” We are told that, although a policewoman arrived on the scene, she refused to record the incident as a crime, arguing that nobody was hurt and therefore the police would not search for the culprits, and that local press and officials ignored the incident.

In the Czech Republic, the State Department’s 2001 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom reports that “police were criticized on several occasions….for failing to intervene against neo-Nazis shouting anti-Semitic slogans at concerts and rallies.” The same State Department Report summarizes incidents in Romania where Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in six localities. Only in one instance was a perpetrator identified.

The Anti-Defamation League points to “a policy of non-enforcement of the law against evident manifestations of anti-Semitism . . . including an obvious reluctance of prosecutors to enforce the existing legislation.”

Amnesty International has collected numerous accounts of racist acts in which the victims frequently complain that law enforcement officials are reluctant to register attacks as racist or fail to understand the serious implications of racially motivated violence.

Federal authorities allow city and regional authorities to ignore federal laws governing freedom of movement and religion, and frequently discriminate against minorities. Amnesty International believes that authorities must instead demonstrate a vigorous response to racism and ensure prosecution of offenders, to end the tide of attacks against minorities.

Government Responses

Several Presidents and Prime Ministers throughout Europe have made official statements condemning anti-Semitic and other racist acts. But words alone are not enough.

Russia’s President Putin has publicly condemned racially motivated violence and anti-Semitism and urged tolerance for a multiethnic Russia. The Russian government has also implemented an interagency program to “combat extremism and promote religious and ethnic tolerance,” but the implementation of this plan, according to the State Department, has been “sporadic.”
In France, where there has been a particularly serious wave of attacks, police recorded 395 anti-Semitic incidents between March 29 and April 17, of which 63 percent involved anti-Semitic graffiti. Between January 1 and April 2, there were 34 "serious anti-Semitic actions" recorded, referring to attacks on Jewish persons or property, including synagogues and cemeteries. In March and April, several synagogues, in Lyon, Montpellier, Garges-les-Gonesses (Val d'Oise) and Strasbourg were vandalized, while the synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground. In Paris, a crowd threw stones at a vehicle transporting pupils of a Jewish school, and the vehicle's windows were broken. We are told that authorities are now investigating these attacks, but many still fear for their safety and have little faith that the investigations will result in prosecution of the offenders.

In England, a synagogue in Finsbury Park, London, was desecrated on April 27th. Vandals sprayed swastikas, smashed windows, scattered prayer books and religious articles, sprayed the ark with green paint, even defecated at the building’s entrance. Authorities publicly condemned the act and police are investigating this case, but, to our knowledge, no suspects have been apprehended.

In Belgium, synagogues in Brussels and Antwerp were firebombed in April; the facade of a synagogue in Charleroi, southwest Belgium, was sprayed with bullets. A Jewish bookshop and delicatessen in Brussels were destroyed by fire. Officials opened criminal investigations into these incidents, as well as into a physical assault on the Chief Rabbi of Brussels in December 2001. Authorities have also issued public statements condemning the attacks, opposing all forms of anti-Semitism, and specifying that the situation in the Middle East should not serve, under any circumstance, as a pretext for acts of violence and intolerance against a community.

Last month, the European Union pledged to continue to make “efforts against all forms of intolerance which take as their pretext the conflicts and act of violence in the Middle East and are aimed at persons of the Muslim, Jewish or any other faith. At a time of acute international tension, especially in the Middle East, it is vital to preserve the spirit of harmony, entente and intercultural respect within our societies.” More recently, Javier Solana, Foreign Policy Chief for the European Union, conveyed his belief that Europe is a tolerant place and dismissed concerns of the White House and others about the wave of incidents in Europe. Solano said, “Europe will continue to be a place where almost all citizens continue defending values of tolerance and comprehension which are absolutely incompatible with anti-Semitism.” (Reuters)

More must be done to ensure governments redouble their efforts to combat anti-Semitism and racism, and to bring to justice suspected perpetrators of hate crimes.

International Standards

Several international instruments address government responsibility for protecting against human rights violations associated with anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

Among the relevant agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to hold parties accountable on this issue, especially relevant is the OSCE Copenhagen Concluding Document – 1990. It states: (40) “The participating States clearly and unequivocally condemn totalitarianism, racial and ethnic hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination against anyone as well as persecution on religious and ideological grounds . . .” and “declare their firm intention to intensify the efforts to combat these phenomena in all their forms.

More recently, the Ministerial Council Decision No. 5 - (MC(9).DEC/5) 2001 called on OSCE institutions to pay increased attention to manifestations of aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and violent extremism, to countering intolerance and discrimination on the ground of racial or ethnic origin, religious, political or other opinion and to fostering respect for rule of law, democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion or belief.” It also tasked the Permanent Council “to consider developing further measures in this regard.”

In addition United Nations instruments that hold governments accountable on this issues include: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Declaration on the Elimination of All for of Racial Discrimination, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

The American Jewish Committee has conducted important historical research into the history of anti-Semitism and the international response. The AJC documents how the United Nations declarations on racial discrimination and on religious intolerance were drafted initially in response to outbreaks of anti-Semitic incidents in 1959-60. The incidents compelled the sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and the Commission on Human Rights to condemn anti-Semitism specifically in a resolution adopted March 16, 1960: “noting with deep concern the manifestations of anti-Semitism and other forms of racial prejudice and religious intolerance of a similarl nature . . . which might be once again the forerunner of other heinous acts endangering the future . . .” the resolution “condemns thee manifestations as violations of the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular as a violation f the human rights of the groups against which they are directed, and as a threat to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples.”

The United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination obliges States not only to end discrimination by government officials, but also to protect people against racial discrimination and violence at the hands of private individuals, groups or institutions.

Additional mechanisms adopted by European countries to combat racial discrimination include the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Social Charter, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) whose mandate is to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance at a pan-European level.

Clearly, governments have a mandate and obligation to implement measures that prevent anti-Semitism and other forms of acts of racist and religious intolerance, and to ensure prosecution against those who commit such hatefully motivated crimes.

Policy Recommendations

National Plans of Action

· Amnesty International urges European authorities and community leaders to vigorously and publicly condemn anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms.

· Amnesty International calls on European authorities to adopt a national strategy and plan of action to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, as recommended by the OSCE and other international bodies.

· The national strategy and plan should include specific measures to prevent manifestations of anti-Semitism and racism in the administration of justice.

· The design of such a strategy and plan should include meaningful consultations with representatives of affected groups, relevant NGOs and experts working on the issue of racism and the administration of justice, as well as relevant officials.

· The strategy and plan contain measurable goals and monitoring mechanisms.

Individual and Community Security

· Local authorities should provide adequate protection to Jewish and other minority groups, including Jewish public buildings.

· Governments should provide a set of guarantees for religious and ethnic minorities, investigation and prosecution of hate-based crimes, and support in protecting and returning religious property.

· Governments should effectively monitor incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of persecution and discrimination, and should implement and monitor effectiveness of legal frameworks to protect an individual’s right to freedom of religion, association, and belief.

Law Enforcement and Preventing Impunity

· Human rights and race-awareness training should be a fundamental part of the training of all law enforcement, judicial and immigration officials from the point of recruitment onwards.

· Central, autonomous and local governments must ensure that police officers are trained in the effective prevention and response to anti-Semitic and racial violence and discrimination carried out by private individuals, groups, or institutions.

· National governments should urge thorough investigations into hate-based crimes and should support efforts by local officials to bring to justice those responsible for such abuses.· All allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and other race-related abuses by individuals or by agents of the state should be subject to prompt, thorough, effective and impartial investigations. Complainants should receive protection against any form of intimidation.

· Any officials who have consistently failed to launch serious criminal investigations into such human rights abuses should be held accountable and removed from their positions of responsibility pending the outcome of disciplinary and/or judicial proceedings against them. Investigation procedures should be prompt and transparent. Complainants should have full access to the information they need to prosecute a case and be kept informed of the progress of the investigations.

· Governmental monitoring agencies, such as Ombudsman's offices, should maintain and publish regular and comprehensive data on anti-Semitic and race-related complaints. This data should include data on complaints against public officials. It should also provide information on how the complaints were handled, so as to identify patterns of violations and recommend appropriate remedial action. Police and Civil Guard departments should provide information on internal disciplinary processes and publish regular statistical data on the type and outcome of complaints and disciplinary action. Clear guidelines must require officers to report abuses, and officers with chain-of-command control should be held responsible for strictly enforcing guidelines and penalties for failing to report, or covering up abuses.

Implementation of international standards

· European countries should implement in full the International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and other international human rights treaties prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, or other forms of identity.

· European countries should ensure full implementation of the recommendations made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, regarding the prompt and thorough investigation of allegations of anti-Semitic and other racist attacks; effective compliance with safeguards against such ill-treatment; measures to address the particular risks of Jewish communities and other minorities; and the need to tackle underlying economic and social causes of racism and racist ill-treatment.

United States Initiatives Related to the Bush-Putin Summit

· As the US Congress considers the lifting of Jackson Vanik, it should also consider leveraging the potential change in policy to seek improved policies on the part of the Russian government regarding human rights, including addressing anti-Semitism and other issues of religious, racial and ethnic discrimination.

· Although President Putin has made strong public statements against such human rights abuses, the interagency program Putin established to “combat extremism and promote religious and ethnic tolerance” is largely ineffective, and local authorities generally fail to launch serious criminal investigations into such racist attacks. President Bush must urge the Russian government to take measures to effectively prosecute offenders.