Mr. Chairman, I greatly appreciate this opportunity to represent the administration today to discuss with you and your colleagues our policies in Georgia to promote democracy, protect human rights and enhance that nation's security.
We view these three goals as inter-related. For this reason I would like to begin my testimony with a brief discussion of Georgia's security situation, because it has a bearing on its ability to carry out political and economic reforms.
In a much publicized September 11 statement, President Putin asserted what he claimed was Russia's international right to take unilateral military action against Chechen fighters and other terrorists in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge if Georgia did not carry out more active measures against these fighters. He followed his statement with a letter to President Bush, which he copied to the United Nations and world leaders.
The U.S. government immediately responded through public statements and high-level diplomatic channels, stating our unequivocal opposition to any unilateral, military action by Russia inside Georgia. We repeated our strong support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our belief that security problems in the Pankisi Gorge should be addressed by the Georgians themselves.
We believe that this Russian pressure is due, for the most part, to the presence of armed Chechens and international terrorists on Georgian territory, Georgia's efforts to avoid entanglement in the Chechen War, and perhaps because of Russia's displeasure with Georgia's commitment to the East-West energy transportation corridor. Further, we should not discount the fact that some in Russia viscerally dislike Shevardnadze. Since July 29, there have been five instances of Russian cross-border aerial bombardment of Georgia. During the most recent attack on August 23, which was witnessed by OSCE border monitors and which we confirmed through our own means, Russian bombs claimed the life of a Georgian civilian and wounded seven others.
We have strongly urged Georgia to regain control of the Pankisi Gorge where we also believe there are third-country terrorists who have links to al-Qa'ida. They threaten Georgia's security and political stability, as well as Russia's stability. We understand the Russians' concern, but believe this is a problem for the Georgians to resolve. Thus, the United States is attempting to help Georgia address its internal security problems through assistance and cooperative programs, including the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP). The latter is intended to help the Government of Georgia eliminate terrorists, secure its borders, reassert central control over its territory and deny the use of it to foreign militants and international terrorists.
GTEP is a four-phase effort, designed to help the Georgians establish a National Crisis Action Center, to field an operational headquarters, and to train and equip specific units. The GTEP is on track. Headquarters and staff training began in late May with 120 students receiving classroom instruction. In early June, additional staff training for the Land Forces Command (LFC) began and ended with a successful command-post exercise.
Earlier this month, U.S. trainers began the program's third phase in which they are conducting unit-level tactical military training of Ministry of Defense and other security forces. As noted earlier, the intent of the program is to strengthen Georgia's ability to fight terrorism, control its borders and increase internal security. Georgia is already attempting to do this. In recent weeks, it has deployed Interior Ministry troops into the Pankisi Gorge to establish check-points and root out Chechen fighters and criminal and international terrorist elements. These efforts signal Georgia’s commitment to restoring Georgian authority in the Pankisi Gorge, and dealing seriously with international terrorists linked to al-Qa'ida. Moscow, however, has dismissed these efforts as "cosmetic," and asserted its right to unilateral military action or joint Russian-Georgian military operations in Georgian territory. We believe Georgia's action represents a serious effort to reassert control in the Pankisi Gorge.
The United States is encouraging Georgia and Russia to work together to promote regional security within their respective territories and to find negotiated, political solutions to their many disagreements. These latter include Russia's periodic cutting off of Georgia's winter gas supply, Russia's stalling of negotiations on political settlement in the break-away Georgian region of Abkhazia, and its delaying of negotiations to meet CFE Istanbul commitments for the withdrawal of Russian military forces still on Georgian territory.
Resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, which has used armed conflict as a means of seeking independence from Georgia, is of particular importance to us. We are working with the United Nations-sponsored Friends of Georgia group to move forward on the Abkhazia peace process. We continue to press Russia to persuade the Abkhaz leadership to accept the Boden Paper -- a proposal supported by all the Friends and by the Security Council -- as a basis for political negotiations.
Despite its security problems, Georgia is a potential leader in political and economic reform in the region. It has created a strong framework of legal reform and institutional structures. Georgia’s laws are among the region's most compliant with Council of Europe (COE) and World Trade Organization (WTO) norms. With our assistance and encouragement, Georgia has made significant progress in passing democratic reform-oriented legislation, although its implementation has been slower than we have wished. Corruption continues to be a primary obstacle to economic reforms and development. Georgia also still has serious human rights problems, especially police misconduct, torture and pre-trial detention, and harassment of non-traditional religious groups.
More positively, despite these ongoing problems, Georgia has a free press. We are concerned, however, that the murder of independent journalist Sinaya has not yet been solved. Also, it is essential that next year’s parliamentary elections meet OSCE standards, and we are discussing with Georgian officials how to ensure a free and fair election.
Georgia's tradition of religious tolerance has been severely challenged by an increasing number of attacks by Georgian Orthodox extremists against human rights advocates as well as against Protestants and non-traditional religious groups, especially Jehovah's Witnesses. Mr. Chairman, we are deeply concerned about these acts. In public statements and in the State Department's annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, we have deplored such attacks. The Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary Armitage, and our Ambassador in Tbilisi are forcefully pressing the Government of Georgia to take effective measures to punish those who perpetrate such acts and to promote respect for human rights and freedom of religion. We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.
Let me say in this latter regard, that we have devoted a large portion of our FREEDOM Support Act budget for Georgia, which totals $89.6 million in FY-02, to fund activities that directly promote the building of democratic institutions and practices in Georgia. For example, the Departments of State and Justice are sponsoring anti-crime training and a technical assistance program that funds a Justice Department Legal Advisor in Tbilisi. Through this office, the Department of Justice has carried out training for Georgian prosecutors, investigators, judges, members of parliament, and policy makers on various law enforcement and related subjects, including transnational crime,
money laundering, public corruption, criminal procedures, excessive force/human rights violations and interrogation techniques. Through the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative, the U.S. Government has provided significant resources to support human rights through legal clinics and legal service organizations.
We are carrying out programs this year in Georgia for activities that combat the trafficking of persons, a growing problem throughout this region. Other initiatives promote leadership programs that seek to empower Georgian women in areas such as civic activism, community development, public health and education. As part of its democratic reform efforts, the U.S. Agency for International Development supported the drafting of Georgia's first Unified Electoral Code, which was signed into law in August 2001. This code was first implemented during recent parliamentary by-elections. As a result, international observers and domestic monitors alike noted improved election administration.
The United States is also providing local government officials with training in financial management, constituent outreach, service delivery and budget training skills to maximize the limited resources available to local governments in Georgia. We are also focussing programs that have as their goal creating a strong, active citizenry that is able to hold government officials accountable for government services. Our Democracy Commission program has provided small grants to help establish neighborhood committees of residents to monitor and ensure transparency in government. Other FREEDOM Support Act grants underwrite the development of independent print and broadcast media throughout Georgia.
Through our educational and other exchange programs we send every year a growing number of talented young Georgians to the United States. We see this as a crucial investment in the creation of a new generation of western-trained Georgians who will be the future leaders of their country.
The United States is helping Georgia integrate into a wider community of nations based on a commitment to democratization, the rule of law, market economies and an adherence to the Helsinki final acts and other OSCE documents of which Georgia is a signatory.
As I have noted during this presentation, Georgia has serious security problems and also must improve its record in areas including human rights, religious tolerance, and economic and political reform. That is our message of tough love, and we send that message because our bilateral relationship is a strong and close one. Sustaining these relations requires continued progress in all these areas. We have particularly appreciated Georgia's support as a partner of the United States and other coalition members in the global war against terrorism.
We certainly recognize the challenges ahead as we work to help Georgia through the process of political and economic reform and development. But Georgia's importance to the West cannot be overstated. Georgia is a fulcrum for east-west energy pipelines, which will include significant U.S. private-sector involvement. Standing as it does at the historic crossroads among regional powers including Russia, Iran and Turkey, a stable and democratic Georgia will have geo-strategic importance for our international relations far into the future.
Mr. Chairman, I would be happy to answer any questions that you and other members of the Commission have.