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Alcee Hastings

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  • Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus off to a Discouraging Start in the New Year

    Madam Speaker, last month, I chaired a Helsinki Commission briefing with a delegation of leading political opposition figures and democratic activists from Belarus. The briefing was entitled, ``The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship'' and focused on the prospects for change in a country located in the heart of Europe that has Europe's worst track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Unfortunately, developments since the delegation's visit to Washington have been deeply discouraging and do not bode well for Belarus' democratic future. One of the young people who testified at the briefing, 19-year-old Zmitser Fedaruk, spoke eloquently of the dangers that young human rights activists face in Belarus. His words were prophetic, as a few days later, back in Belarus, he was beaten and knocked unconscious by riot policemen, then rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Just last week, the Minsk district prosecutor's office in Minsk refused to open an investigation into Zmitser's beating. A day earlier, my friend Anatoly Lebedka, one of Belarus' staunchest defenders of democratic rights, who also testified before the Commission, was roughed up by Belarusian police as well. It was far from the first time that this leader of the democratic opposition had been beaten up or repressed by the Lukashenka regime. On January 4, the Lukashenka regime banned Anatoly from travelling abroad in what was obviously a politically-motivated decision. Today, Anatoly is in jail serving a 15-day sentence, along with several dozen other pro-democracy and small business advocates who participated in a January 10 protest against restrictions on activities of small businesses. Some of the activists--mostly young people--received injuries during their arrest. Tatyana Tsishkevch, who was severely beaten during her arrest and presented her bloodstained jacket in court, received a 20-day sentence. Arsien Pakhomau, a freelance photo correspondent for ``Nasha Niva'' weekly--one of the very few remaining independent publications in Belarus--was also sentenced to 15 days' administrative arrest. On the day of the protest, a number of websites that cover social and economic affairs in Belarus, such as Charter '97 and Radio Liberty, were partially or fully blocked by the authorities. These most recent repressive actions follow the sentencing of opposition activist Artur Finkevich to 18 months in prison; the arbitrary use of judicial power to put out of business independent newspapers such as ``Novi Chas''; steps to liquidate the opposition Belarusian Communist Party; and the fining of Baptist pastor Yuri Kravchuk for unregistered religious activity. Belarus is the only country in Europe with compulsory registration before religious activity can take place. Unfortunately, the indications in just the first few weeks of this New Year are not encouraging. Lukashenka's presidential administration has recently rejected the opposition's proposal to hold talks on the upcoming 2008 parliamentary elections, refusing an offer by the Belarusian opposition to consider joint proposals on conducting parliamentary elections in accordance with democratic standards. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and as someone who has long been involved in the OSCE process to promote security, cooperation, democracy and human rights among the 56 OSCE countries, including Belarus, I am deeply disappointed in the Belarusian Government's continual flaunting of freely undertaken OSCE commitments. It is my strong hope that Mr. Lukashenka will cease the self-imposed isolation of his country--threatening, most recently, to expel U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart--and will give serious thought to the offers of cooperation that have come from the United States and the European Union if Belarus releases political prisoners and displays respect for basic democratic norms. In the meantime, the Lukashenka regime can be assured that my colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission are determined to stand by Anatoly Lebedka, Dzmitri Fedaruk and all those in Belarus--young and old--bravely struggling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region

    This hearing discussed the freedom of the media in the OSCE region, one of the most basic and essential rights recognized by the international community. It was held by Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He was join by Miklos Haraszti , the Rapresentative of Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). During the hearing, the witness provided a list of some of the gravest danger looming for media freedom in the OSCE region, such as violence against journalists and attack against Internet.    

  • Is It Torture Yet?

    Chairman Hastings and Co-Chairman Cardin discussed with others the issues of torture and banned treatment. This hearing examined whether or not the interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government qualified as torture.  Co-Chairman Cardin argued that while the Helsinki Commission challenges what other countries do, it is also in the Commission’s right to make sure the U.S. is living up to its commitments in the Helsinki Final Act.

  • Hastings Lauds International Tracing Service on Ratifying Holocaust Archives Agreement

    WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), introduced a resolution expressing gratitude to all of the member states of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) for ratifying the May 2006 Agreement to amend the 1955 Bonn Accords granting open access to vast Holocaust and other World War II related archives located in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Chairman Hastings was joined by Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Mark S. Kirk (R-IL), in introducing the resolution. The opening of the archives is an historical moment that will allow public access to approximately 50 million records on the fates of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazi brutality. Digital copies of the millions of documents are already being transferred to receiving institutions that include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, and will be made available to survivors and scholars beginning in early 2008. “The opening of the Holocaust archives in Bad Arolsen is quite a momentous occasion. It saddens me to think that it has taken more than 62 years to open the largest remaining Holocaust archive in the world. Clearly, it should never have taken so long. “This has been a long path, which I have travelled with my friends and colleagues Robert Wexler, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mark Kirk and others, but nonetheless it brings me great joy to know that Holocaust survivors and researchers alike will be able to view these tremendously important documents and hopefully find closure on one of the darkest moments in history,” said Hastings.  

  • Ukraine’s Pre-Term Parliamentary Elections and Demonstrable Commitment to Democratic Standards Focus of Commission Initiatives

    By Orest Deychakiwsky and Ronald McNamara The Helsinki Commission undertook several initiatives this fall in connection with Ukraine’s September 30th pre-term parliamentary elections, including deploying staff to observe the elections, sponsoring a Congressional resolution on the elections, and convening a public briefing on their implications. The elections – the fifth national balloting in less than three years -- came on the heels of a political crisis that had engulfed Ukraine’s president, government and parliament for much of 2007. The elections to the 450-seat parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, were judged by the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) to have been conducted “mostly in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections and in an open and competitive environment.” The September elections were monitored by some 800 international observers under OSCE auspices, including Helsinki Commission staff members who observed the balloting in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk oblast and Kyiv’s Polilskiy District. Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgård, the Special Coordinator of the short-term election observers for the IEOM and Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, stated that these elections were conducted “in a positive and professional manner.” While there were shortcomings, notably with respect to the quality of voter lists and delays in processing vote counts in a few districts, OSCE observers assessed the voting as good or very good in 98 percent of the nearly 3,000 polling stations visited, and the vote count was assessed as good or very good in 94 percent of the IEOM reports. Commission staff observations were consistent with other international observer assessments. The voting process was calm, orderly, and, with very few exceptions, conducted in an efficient, professional and transparent manner. Members of precinct commissions representing various political parties and blocs, as well as the presence of party observers, helped to ensure the integrity of the voting process. The most significant shortcomings witnessed by staff stemmed from inaccuracies in the voters lists which led to inconsistencies regarding the treatment of voters, including the disenfranchisement of some at polling stations visited on election day. The elections – with 60% voter turnout -- saw Prime Minister Viktory Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions come in first with 34.3% of the votes. The most substantial gains over previous elections, however, were garnered by the electoral bloc of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko (YTB), with 30.7%. President Victor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) placed third with 14.15%. Two other parties passed the 3 percent threshold required to enter the new parliament – the Communist Party with 5.4% and Bloc of former Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn with 3.9 percent. The two electoral blocs associated with Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution -- YTB and NUNS -- have created a razor-thin majority coalition in the new Rada and on December 4, elected Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk as the new Chairman with a single vote to spare. On October 5, Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, together with 12 other House Members, including Commissioners Slaughter, Solis, Butterfield, Smith, Aderholt and Pitts, sponsored a resolution congratulating the Ukrainian people for the holding of free, fair, open and transparent parliamentary elections in a peaceful manner consistent with Ukraine’s democratic values and national interest and expressing continuing Congressional interest and support for Ukraine. The resolution, which has garnered bipartisan backing, expresses strong support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to build upon the democratic gains of the Orange Revolution. The resolution recognizes the link between the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law and the strengthening of Ukraine’s independence and integration with the West, and, importantly, serving as a positive role model for all too many post-Soviet countries caught in the vice of authoritarianism. In introducing the resolution, Chairman Hastings expressed the hope “that Ukraine’s political leaders will form a government reflecting the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed by the results of the elections” and “that the new parliament and government will focus on the constitutional framework, especially the question of separation of powers, in order to avoid the political uncertainty that we witnessed earlier this year.” On October 25, the Commission convened a public briefing: “The Ukrainian Elections: Implications for Ukraine’s Future Direction” with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oleh Shamshur, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Miller, and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute, who had both been present at the elections as international observers. In his assessment of the elections, Ambassador Shamshur noted that “for the second time in a row, Ukraine succeeded in avoiding most of the electoral pitfalls. Aside from minor deficiencies, there was no harassment of political opponents, no media oppression, no so-called creative counting or use of forged absentee ballots…Ukraine has once again confirmed its democratic credentials. That’s the irreversibility of the democratic change spurred by the Orange Revolution.” Ambassador Miller, who observed in Ukraine as a member of the National Democratic Institute’s international observation delegation, called the elections “relatively free and fair.” He expressed the “hopeful possibility” that the two democratic (Orange) coalition partners, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Victor Yushchenko, “will fulfill finally the promises they made with their hands on their hearts” during the 2004 Orange Revolution. Mr. Nix, while noting that IRI’s election observation mission found that the elections “broadly met international standards,” nevertheless urged the Ukrainian parliament and election officials “to address the quality of the voter lists to ensure their accuracy for the next national election.” He also called upon Ukraine’s leadership to take steps “to resolve the constitutional issues that were the very reason these elections were called.”

  • The Duma Elections, Politics, and Putin: Where is Russia Going?

    According to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe, the 2007 Russian Duma elections were not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe standards. As a result, President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party shares the Duma with a small coterie of Communist radical nationalists, who have loyally supported the President in the past, and a so-called opposition party that supports President Putin as well. Based on credible reports from numerous sources, including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, there can be little doubt that Russian authorities used a full range of so-called administrative resources—intimidation, confiscation of campaign literature and, at times, even physical abuse—to overwhelm the already weak and divided opposition. Helsinki Commissioners and witnesses of the briefing agreed that as a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act, Russia is obliged to bring its electoral policies and practices into conformity with it’s OSCE commitments. 

  • Post Analysis of the Russia Duma Elections

    This briefing focused on the December 2nd parliamentary elections, which saw President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party win an absolute majority of votes.  The lead up to the elections were fraught with many problems that led to significantly less election monitors, as well as authorities intimidating the opposition, and pressuring voters to support the de facto ruling party – United Russia. The range of so-called administrative resources—intimidation, confiscation of campaign literature and, at times, even physical abuse—to overwhelm the already weak and divided opposition was evaluated. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Sarah Mendelson, Director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Editor of the National Interest and a Senior Fellow of Strategic Studies at the Nixon Center; and Paul Goble, Longtime Specialist on the Former Soviet Union and Post-Soviet States for Various Government Agencies – addressed the political status of Russia, Putin’s ideological platform, and the policy dilemmas faced by the U.S. and European policymakers in light of this platform.

  • The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship?

    This briefing, on the prospects for democratic change in Belarus, a country located in the heart of Europe, but which had the unfortunate distinction of having one of the worst human rights and democracy records in the European part of the OSCE region, was held by Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He was join by a delgation of courageous leaders of Belarus' democratic opposition and leading human rights and democracy activists: Aliaksandr Milinkevich, Anatoliy Lebedko, Sergey Kalyakin, Anatoliy Levkovich, and Dmitriy Fedaruk. The witnesses were commended for their courage to testify at the briefing and applauded for their commitment to the struggle for democracy, freedom, and human rights, even under very trying circumstances.

  • William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has exercised unprecedented leadership in the global fight to combat trafficking in human beings, I rise in support of H.R. 3887, the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007.  From our earliest awareness of this cruel phenomenon which enslaves an estimated 27 million victims, the Commission has led in the effort to mobilize nations to implement effective measures to combat human trafficking. My fellow Commissioner and former Chairman of the Commission, Representative Chris Smith is among those who have led the effort to bring an end to this modern day form of slavery, authoring the trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations.  Today, the Commission continues its work to support efforts to combat this global crime within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Most recently, the Commission conducted an oversight hearing last October 11, to explore the progress made in combating human trafficking and the adequacy of resources dedicated to identifying victims of trafficking for forced labor, an area that we believe would benefit from additional resources and attention.  The reauthorization bill that we are taking action on today marks another important milestone in preventing the inhumane practice of human trafficking, protecting trafficking victims, and prosecuting the criminals that perpetrate these crimes.  In addition to bolstering the resources needed to continue various anti-trafficking programs, H.R. 3887, which I cosponsored, would strengthen mechanisms for fighting human trafficking overseas, through the provision of capacity building support to foreign governments to bolster investigative mechanisms and legal protective frameworks for immigrant populations and migrant workers. Importantly, the measure would also address the transnational nature of human trafficking by providing increased support and protection for refugees and internally displaced populations. This legislation also seeks to improve transparency and evaluation of trafficking programs, and would designate governments that remain on the special watch list for 2 consecutive years among those whose efforts to combat trafficking are inadequate.  This reauthorization bill will improve mechanisms to better identify and protect trafficking victims, while increasing accountability on the part of governments in their anti-trafficking efforts. It takes a comprehensive approach to a gross criminal exploitation, and I urge my colleagues to support the legislation.

  • Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act of 2007

    Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support H. Res. 3320, introduced by my friend and colleague, Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. This bill would authorize the United States to provide $5 million to assist in the development of the permanent collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  This past May, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland and, while there, met with Jerzy Halbersztadt, the director of the museum, and Ewa Wierzynska, the deputy director. The museum they are helping to establish is truly an historical undertaking and one that deserves the support of the United States.  Warsaw was once home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, and if we are to truly understand what was lost in the Holocaust, we must try to wrap our minds not only around the figure of 6 million, but around the 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life that preceded that tragedy. Poland is not only a place where Jews died, but a place where they lived and flourished. Moreover, it is estimated that 80 percent of all Jews and over nine million Americans trace some of their ancestry to the Polish Jewish community. This museum has the potential to touch the lives of our own citizens in deeply personal ways.  As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am heartened by the educational role this museum can play in fulfilling the goals that the OSCE participating States have undertaken in the field of combating anti-Semitism. I believe this museum will contribute to tolerance and mutual respect in Poland, will help counter the broader phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Europe, and will serve as an inspiration to the thousands of visitors who will come every year. The historical record of the Polish Jewish community must be preserved and shared with future generations.  Unfortunately, my own schedule did not permit me to return to Poland for the June 26 groundbreaking ceremony for the museum, which will be located in the heart of the pre-World War II Jewish district and next to the monument to the Jews who resisted the Nazis during the 1943 ghetto uprising. However, I did send a member of the Helsinki Commission staff, who witnessed firsthand the extraordinary turnout for this event. Among those present was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Meir Lau, whose parents were from Poland and who suggested that invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust, be among the first to visit the museum.  I don't know if the Iranian President will accept this invitation, but I have no doubt that many Americans will be among the 500,000 people who are expected to visit the museum on an annual basis. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this extraordinary museum, with an extraordinary mission.

  • Introducing Legislation to Honor Theodor Criveanu for Saving Romanian Jews During the Holocaust

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce legislation with my colleagues and friends Representatives Dan Burton, Chris Smith, andLinda Sanchez that will properly recognize the selfless efforts to save innocent lives during the Holocaust of Theodor Criveanu and all other righteous individuals.  Non-Jews who sacrificed their lives in an effort to save Jews from their fate at the Nazi's hands are known to the world as the ``Righteous Persons.'' The most renowned among these righteous persons is probably Oscar Schindler. Oscar Schindler should rightly be recognized as the altruistic and extraordinarily courageous non-Jew who saved more Jewish lives from the gas chambers than any other.  But many other brave individuals risked their lives by rescuing Jews during the Holocaust that have still yet to be recognized.  Thousands of these hero's stories have remain untold because the Nazis mercilessly ended their lives. For those that survived the Holocaust and for those that did not, I rise today to honor their heroism and their memory.  In 1963, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, initiated a worldwide project to grant the title of Righteous Among the Nations to individuals who were not Jewish and who risked their lives to rescue and protect Jews and others during the Holocaust. To date, more than 21,000 heroic individuals have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations.  Theodor Criveanu was one of such courageous righteous individuals.  When serving as a reserve officer in the Romanian military, he was assigned the task of presenting military authorities with a list of Jews who would be given work permits to work in the ghetto instead of being deported to Transnistria. Risking his life to defy Nazi orders, Mr. Criveanu secretly issued work permits in numbers that exceeded the work permit quota and to Jews who were not essential to the workforce, saving countless of innocent Jewish lives.  The brave efforts of Mr. Criveanu have not gone unnoticed. On August 8, 2007, Yad Vashem named Theodore Criveanu as Righteous Among the Nations, posthumously honoring him for his courageous work to block the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps.  Today I rise to honor these individuals for their bravery and humanity. Mr. Criveanu and other such individuals deserve to be remembered and revered by the United States Congress.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • Spain’s Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing, which Louise McIntosh Slaughter presided over, discussed Spain’s leadership of the OSCE, and took place shortly before the country hosted the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Madrid. The contents of the hearing included the OSCE’s unique role as far as the use of parliamentarians is concerned. The witness, Chair-in-Office H.E. Angel Moratinos, remarked on Spain’s support of the OSCE to find a lasting formula for stability in the Balkans. Other issues that Moratinos discussed were the human dimension, Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE, the role of ODIHR, and Spain’s prioritization of gender equality and freedom of the media and the fight against trafficking in human beings.

  • The Ukrainian Elections: Implications for Ukraine’s Future Direction

    This briefing focused on Ukraine’s September 30 elections that stemmed from a longstanding political dispute between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, which resulted in a political crisis earlier in the year. While the elections were generally free and fair, Ukraine must still form a new government, consolidate democratic institutions and strengthen the rule of law, which will enhance Ukraine’s aspirations for full integration with the West.  Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including H.E. Oleh Shamshur, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States; William Miller, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; and Stephen Nix, Director of the Eurasian Division of the International Republican Institute – discussed democratic aspects of the elections and further developments for the future of Ukraine’s political processes.

  • Parliamentary Perspective of Challenges Facing Today’s Europe

    Mr. Göran Lennmaker, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly testified about the current challenges facing the OSCE region and the work the OSCE PA is doing to address them.  He highlighted the work that the OSCE had done on the Nagorno-Karabakh and praised the cooperative efforts of Russia, France and United States. Mr. Lennmaker highlighted the need for increased engagement with Central Asia and supported the idea of Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE in the next year.

  • Kazakhstan’s Bid to Chair The OSCE: A Fundamental Right or a Foolhardy Ambition?

    At this hearing, commissioners and witnesses examined the implications of the prospect of Kazakhstan at the helm of the OSCE, specifically as far as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are concerned. This role would affect Kazakhstan and the OSCE, and it would also have implications for Central Asia and Russia as well. However, to be a serious contender for chair of the OSCE, Kazakhstan would have to demonstrate meaningful progress concerning human rights.

  • Torture Policies Undercut U.S. Leadership on Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law

    Mr. Hastings of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I would like to draw the attention of my colleagues to two events last week that, taken together, illustrate the damaging effect that this administration's policies have had on America's credibility as a global leader on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  First of all, on Friday, the 56 OSCE participating States concluded their annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland. This meeting is Europe's largest regional human rights forum where governments and nongovernmental organizations gather to take stock of how countries are implementing the commitments they have undertaken in the Helsinki process relating to human rights and democracy. As such, this meeting provides an important opportunity for the United States to raise and express concern about serious instances of noncompliance and negative trends in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.  Separately, on Thursday of last week--just as the Warsaw meeting was drawing to a close--the New York Times ran an article revealing the existence of two classified legal memos authorizing the use of interrogation techniques that, to many reasonable minds, rise to the level of torture, or at least cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment--both categories of treatment prohibited under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. These memos have already been dubbed by some as "torture memo 2.0'' and "torture memo 3.0,'' and were reportedly authored by Steven G. Bradbury, who has headed the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel since 2005.  Madam Speaker, 3 years ago the world was shocked--and the United States was shamed--by pictures showing detainees standing on boxes with hoods over their heads and electrical wires attached to their fingers. But perhaps even more shocking and more shameful was the surfacing of the so-called "torture memo,'' adopted by the Department of Justice in 2002 and leaked to the public in 2004. The very existence of such a memo was rightly and widely understood to mean that abuses did not just occur by rogue elements or as an aberration, but stemmed from a government policy to effectively authorize the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The 2002 memo was so scandalous that shortly after it was leaked, it was disavowed by the Department of Justice itself.  For many people, the existence of "torture memo 2.0'' and "torture memo 3.0'' will not come as a surprise but rather as a confirmation of what they suspected to be the case. Certainly, when one looks at the statements issued by the President when he signed into law the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, there was every indication that he considered himself in no way bound by those laws as passed by Congress.  There are, of course, enormous implications for the United States when the President considers himself beyond the reach of the Congress and outside the scope of the Constitution. The President's policies on torture have seriously undercut American credibility on the very issues this administration purports to hold dear--human rights and democracy promotion.  Can you imagine being at a meeting--like the one that has just concluded in Warsaw--where the United States is supposed to express its concern about a whole range of human rights issues, including the issue of protecting human rights while combating terrorism, when this latest revelation about this administration's torture policies hits the front pages?  Regrettably, American credibility as an advocate for human rights and democracy has continued in free fall in the face of this latest revelation and attendant implausible denials. Beyond the victims of abuse themselves, U.S. interests are being seriously undermined, including the campaign to win hearts and minds around the globe. Not surprisingly, the administration's dissembling denials cannot repair the damage that has been done. It will take considerable time to restore the good name of our country--time, and concrete action by this body, In such circumstances, actions speak louder than words, and two steps must be taken to help restore America's tarnished reputation, help clear out the thicket of legal cases created by the President's disastrous policies, and position the United States to build more effective alliances in our counterterrorism operations. First, I urge my colleagues to restore habeas corpus--and the sooner, the better. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was a travesty of justice, but perhaps no part of that legislation departed so sharply from our legal heritage as the decision to deny individuals the most basic right recognized since the Magna Carta: the right to challenge their detention. If we are to convince the world that we do not routinely torture terrorism suspects, providing these detainees one of the most basic legal safeguards is a good place to start.  Second, we must close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay--a measure I called for at a hearing on Guantanamo I chaired in June. To this end, the United States should release or transfer detainees elsewhere and, for those whom we believe we must hold and try, detainees should be transferred to the United States. Terror suspects can be tried by our Federal courts; they might be tried by military commissions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice; I'd even consider the establishment of special domestic terror courts, as in Spain. But it is time for the President to listen to his own senior officials, including Secretaries Gates and Rice, and close the GTMO camp. Madam Speaker, while these two steps are not the only ones necessary to fully restore America's credibility and respect for the values we proclaim abroad, they would represent an important start. It is time for this great country to resume its rightful leadership role on human rights, democracy and rule of law, but first, it will need to lead by example.

  • Introduction of Resolution Congratulating the Ukrainian People on the September 30, 2007, Parliamentary Elections

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I rise to introduce a resolution congratulating the Ukrainian people for the holding of free, fair and transparent  parliamentary elections on September 30, 2007. These elections were held in a peaceful manner consistent with Ukraine's democratic values, and in keeping with that nation's commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. While there were some shortcomings, these elections stand in contrast to the vast majority of elections that have taken place in the countries of the former Soviet Union over the course of the last 15 years. Tone Tingsgaard, the Special Coordinator of the short-term election observers for the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) and Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, stated that these elections were conducted ``in a positive and professional manner.'' The OSCE-led IEOM's preliminary statement concluded that the elections confirmed an open and competitive environment for the conduct of the election process and that freedom of assembly and expression were respected. IEOM observers assessed the voting process as good or very good in 98 percent of the nearly 3,000 polling stations visited, notwithstanding some shortcomings, notably with respect to the quality of voter lists, and the vote count was assessed as good or very good in 94 percent of the IEOM reports. These pre-term elections did not come about easily, coming on the heels of a political crisis that engulfed Ukraine's president, prime minister, and parliament for several months earlier this year. These  political disputes were rooted in weak constitutional delineations of the powers of the president and prime minister. After weeks of tense standoff, however, agreement was reached on May 27 stipulating new parliamentary elections for September 30. Now that the elections have concluded, it is my hope that Ukraine's political leaders will form a government reflecting the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed by the results of the elections; a government that advances political stability and democratic development. It is my hope, too, that the new parliament and government will focus on the constitutional framework, especially the question of separation of powers, in order to avoid the  political uncertainty that we witnessed earlier this year. Ukraine also needs to further undertake the hard work of strengthening the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, and fighting corruption.  Madam Speaker, the conduct of these elections is a testament to the Ukrainian people's determined path towards the consolidation of democracy as Ukraine advances its integration with the Euro-Atlantic  community. As such, Ukraine serves as a model for the post-Soviet countries, all too many of which have unfortunately retreated to heavy- handed authoritarianism. This House can pride itself on having been a staunch supporter of freedom, human rights and democracy in Ukraine for many years--even before the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991. As this resolution underscores, it is important to continue our efforts to the further development of a democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law, a free market economy, and consolidation of Ukraine's security and sovereignty. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution.

  • Introducing the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act of 2007

    Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce a vital piece of legislation to raise awareness of the impending humanitarian crisis and security breakdown as a result of the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries, and the growing internally displaced population in Iraq. Our legislation addresses this issue by increasing directed accountable assistance to these populations and their host countries, increasing border security, facilitating the resettlement of Iraqis at risk and broadening domestic relocation assistance. Madam Speaker, whether you agree or disagree with U.S. policy in Iraq, one thing is crystal clear, we have a humanitarian crisis manifesting in the region that cannot be ignored. Let's examine the facts. Iraqis are now the third-largest displaced population in the world and the fastest-growing refugee population globally. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, estimates that there are some 2.2 million Iraqis displaced internally and at least another 2 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Many of these Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons lack adequate food, shelter and other basic services. Further, the massive flow of refugees into neighboring countries is straining the social, economic, and security fabric of the host nations and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East region. My own efforts to address this looming calamity began in August when I wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice highlighting the need for the United States to address this devastating situation with strong financial support, either through bilateral assistance or funding for international organizations that are working directly with the refugee and internally displaced populations. In response to my letter, on September 7, 2007, I, along with Helsinki Commission Cochairman Senator BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD) and Helsinki Commissioner Congressman JOSEPH R. PITTS (R-PA), received a briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, PRM, Ellen Sauerbrey, who had recently returned from the region. It was clear from our discussion that while the United States has been working to address this grave situation, not nearly enough is being done. The United States has a moral obligation to make a serious commitment to help Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations while meeting our commitment to resettle Iraqi refugees referred by the UNHCR. It is precisely for these reasons that I decided to take swift action and address this worsening crisis with comprehensive legislation.  Among the legislation's highlights are an authorization of $700 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2008 through 2010 for the relief of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, an increase of direct accountable bilateral assistance and/or funding for international aid organizations and nongovernmental organizations working in the host countries and an authorization of $500 million to increase border security in Jordan. Additionally, this legislation facilitates the resettlement of Iraqis employed by our government, American companies, and nongovernmental organizations into the United States, broadens domestic relocation assistance to include housing credits, cultural counseling, meetings with social workers, advice on how to work with the schools and employment systems, and requires the Department of State to create a program in the U.S. for English as a second language, vocational, computer training, employment services and some counseling for all Iraqi nationals immigrating to the United States under a Special Immigrant Visa. Finally this legislation urges increased cooperation between the United States Government and the international community to address this crisis. In passing this legislation, Congress can reaffirm its commitment to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. Our attention to this crisis could not be more important at this time for the sake of the new Iraq and Middle East regional stability. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution and ask for its expeditious consideration.

  • Human Rights Defenders in Russia

    Commission Chairman Hon. Alcee L. Hastings hosted a briefing that focused on the efforts by Russian NGOs, human rights activists and legal experts to halt the retreat in the area of human rights and civil liberties that has taken place in Russia under the current government. Participants at the briefing included Ms. Karinna Moskalenko, a prominent Russian human rights attorney and head of the Russian Affiliate, Center of Assistance to International Protection; Mr. Neil Hicks, Director, Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First; and Ms. Maureen Greenwood-Basken, Advocacy Director for Europe and Central Asia, Amnesty International USA. They spoke of their personal experiences dealing with this issue and acknowledge that although it is difficult, activists must keep pushing back to retain their political freedoms. 

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