Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this timely hearing on The Republic of Georgia: Democracy, Human Rights and Security. It is vital that throughout the world, as we focus on our war against terrorism, that we as a government and nation do not ignore human rights violations for reasons of expediency or cooperation. In a number of nations, governments believe that they can now, because of their cooperation on terrorism issues, violate fundamental rights with impunity.
Unfortunately, in Georgia, there are officials both there and in Russia who have used the war on terrorism as an excuse to violate the rights of the people. Corruption issues make it difficult to crack down on those responsible for the criminal activity.
One issue of particular concern is the attacks on religious minorities. In July of this year, six people were injured in an attack on the Liberty Institute, an organization that works to promote freedom of conscience for all people in Georgia. Reports reveal that the attack was not a random act of crime but was a deliberate attempt at intimidation. There are indications that the dominant religious group in the country desires that other religious groups have no room to operate or practice their faith. In addition, the government proposed draft legislation that some groups feared could severely limit their freedom of speech as well as their ability to practice the relief and social work aspect of their faith.
These concerns, and many others, must be addressed thoroughly, effectively, and appropriately by the government of Georgia.
I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses, particularly regarding their recommendations for how the U.S. government can best assist the people of Georgia as they seek to live in peace and freedom.