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Alcee Hastings

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  • Turkmenistan: Prospect for Change?

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections- the first such election since the regime changed. The hearing focused on whether the election might mark a turning point at all for Turkmenistan as well as whether Turkmenistan has made progress on Democratic reforms. Positive signs were reviewed, particularly on education, but also areas of concern, such as reports of Turkmen officials pressuring young men not to apply for study programs in the United States. The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners reviewed the reform process and the significant advancements since the death of longtime President, Berdimuhamedov. In regards to areas of further reform and advancement, the hearing addressed measures in which the U.S. and the OSCE should respond to better the human rights condition in Turkmenistan.

  • East or West? The Future of Democracy in Moldova

    Ambassador Clifford Bond, Senior State Department Advisor with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing that focused on the trajectory of democratic institutions in Moldova, as well as the issues that were facing Eastern Europe. What was perhaps foremost on attendees’ minds was Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia, which exposed the former U.S.S.R.’s expansionist goals and raised questions about Eastern Europe’s future and the potential for the European Bloc. Fortunately for Moldova, the country had made great progress as far as its elections, market freedoms, and negotiations to resolve the situation in Transdniestria were concerned, but Moldova remained a major source and transit country for sex trafficking.

  • The Role of OSCE Institutions in Advancing Human Rights and Democracy

    This hearing discussed the role of OSCE institutions in advancing human rights and democracy, highlighting the role of the United States. The United States was mentioned as a leading force of democracy promotion and protection of human rights. However, the witnesses mentioned certain issues like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition flights, and detention centers that suggest double-standards. The discussion centered on the importance of inclusive voice in government and the need to find a way to build pluralism into single-party developing democracies by establishing political parties that can be competitive, that can be critical of governments and that can bring new ideas and fresh faces into their government.

  • Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics

    This hearing, which Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was considered one of the most important hearings that the Helsinki Commission conducted in 2008 that dealt with Russia, Georgia, and the return of power politics Russian military involvement in Georgia represented a new chapter in U.S.-Russia relations, a chapter that, unsurprisingly, continues to have negative implications and ramifications. Obviously, the CSCE has strongly condemned Russia’s use of military force in Georgia, and there has been justified concern that, as Russia has gained more aggression internationally, they have also internally moved in the wrong direction as it relates to the liberties of the peoples within Russia. So, the goal of the hearing was to look for a way in which the U.S. could constructively engage Russia, a major international player, while simultaneously clarifying that Russia’s actions regarding Georgia have been intolerable.

  • Introduction of the Republic of Georgia Enhanced Trade Assistance, Economic Recovery, and Reconstruction Act of 2008

    Madam Speaker, today I rise to introduce the Republic of Georgia Enhanced Trade Assistance, Economic Recovery, and Reconstruction Act of 2008. This bill will provide urgently needed economic and reconstruction assistance to the people of Georgia following Russia's invasion of that sovereign and independent country last month.  Madam Speaker, the war between Russia and Georgia resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of men, women, and children from the conflict zone in South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia. There is credible evidence that at least some villages were hit because they were populated by ethnic Georgians. As we know, people can't work when they have nowhere to live and their basic needs are not being met. Additionally, the Russians clearly targeted critical components of Georgia's economic infrastructure for destruction, resulting in the disruption of domestic and regional commerce.  The dire circumstances in the aftermath of the invasion require timely action by the United States and the international community.  As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, the body charged by Congress with monitoring human rights throughout Europe and beyond, I am deeply concerned over developments in and around Georgia, a country I have visited on numerous occasions, most recently in January. It pains me that there is a need for the kind of legislation I am introducing today--an urgent measure to aid one OSCE country--Georgia--which is recovering from devastating damage done to its people, economy, infrastructure, and environment by another OSCE country--Russia.  The Helsinki principles were meant to preclude such armed conflict between participating states. Among them were the commitments to refrain from the threat of or use of force to resolve conflicts; and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states. In invading Georgia, Russia has violated these OSCE commitments and I am saddened to be compelled to condemn Russia's conduct.  Madam Speaker, it is apparent that Russia deliberately sought to cripple Georgia's economy, wreaking economic hardship and perhaps seeking to foment upheaval. In the process, Russia has sought to degrade key economic and commercial zones in the region, and I'm concerned that the most serious long-term damage could be the loss of confidence in Georgia as a reliable transit point for oil and gas pipelines--currently the only transit point for oil to Europe from central Asia and the Caucasus that does not go through Russia.  This legislation, while it cannot undo all of the damage done to Georgia's economy and infrastructure, will go far in helping Georgia, a strategic U.S. partner, begin to rebuild its economy and critical infrastructure while helping to create new trade, business, and economic opportunities among key countries in the region.  I welcome the administration's announcement of a package of U.S. emergency assistance to be provided to Georgia. My legislation seeks to complement these preliminary efforts with the aim of ensuring the kind of sustained assistance the people of Georgia will need in the coming months to rebuild their lives and country.  Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation and ensure its timely passage.

  • Iraqi Refugees: A Humanitarian Surge Is Needed for an ‘Invisible’ Humanitarian Crisis

    By Lale Mamaux, Communications Director and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel In August, staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) traveled to Damascus, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon and met with government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups regarding the Iraqi refugee crisis. While it is estimated that approximately 1 to 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria and 50,000 have fled to Lebanon, they are not living in camps, but instead are a mobile population scattered throughout Damascus and Beirut as well as in other urban areas. That fact has made this humanitarian crisis virtually ‘invisible’ to the international community, but not for those Iraqi refugees who remain stranded, jobless, and deprived of essential services with conditions worsening by the day. This deepening crisis threatens to further destabilize the entire region. As the years in exile drag on, Iraqi refugees are becoming more and more desperate and depressed. Those who fled with some resources have by now seen those assets depleted and are reliant on services provided by international organizations and NGOs working in the region. Syria and Jordan host the largest population of Iraqis and do not permit them to work, although many find jobs in the “informal” sector making them targets for exploitation and abuse. As a result, fewer children are enrolling in school as their parents send them out, instead, to find whatever work they can on the street. More women are prostituting themselves, desperate to provide for their children, and domestic violence and alcoholism among this population are on the rise. Syria The bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samara in 2006 led to a mass influx of Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria, where according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 30,000-60,000 Iraqis were crossing the border each month. In October 2007, the government closed its borders to virtually all Iraqis and imposed stringent visa restrictions – requiring Iraqis to apply for visas at the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. Since February 2008, Syrian immigration sources indicate that the flow of Iraqis has stabilized once again. According to UNHCR, it has registered over 216,000 Iraqis as refugees. Since January 2007, UNHCR has identified over 7,800 at-risk refugee children or adolescents from Iraq, 95 unaccompanied or separated children, and over 5,900 women at risk. Additionally, in 2008 it identified at least 300 survivors of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Many Iraqis arriving in Syria are moving into areas such as Masaken Barzeh, Saida Zainab, Jaramana, and Qudssya as well as to other urban localities outside of Damascus (in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, Lattakia, Tartous and Hassaka). Iraqis have placed enormous strains on Syria’s economy and infrastructure and caused an increase in the cost of living (i.e. rent, food, fuel, medical assistance). As Iraqis financial resources continue to diminish and desperation sets in, they face homelessness, child labor, early marriage, and survival sex. With many Iraqis too afraid to return to Iraq due primarily to the personal violence they have experienced, there is more pressure among aid organizations to cope with increasing needs. Education: The Syrian government under the direction of the Ministry of Education allows children from Arab countries living in Syria to attend school. Schools run by the government are free of charge. Currently, according to the government, there are approximately 55,000 Iraqi children enrolled in Syrian schools, a significantly smaller number than was expected. While the admission of Iraqi students is relatively low, it has nevertheless put a substantial strain on an already overburdened school system. The Ministry of Education estimates that there are now 60 students per class and they are working as quickly as possible to build larger schools in order to eliminate the need for children to attend classes in shifts. Basic education in Syria comprises grades 1-9 and school is mandatory until the age of 15. However, if a child has been absent from school for two years they are not permitted to enroll. Unfortunately, this is the case for many Iraqi children in Syria who have not attended school since they fled their homes. Other factors contributing to parents’ hesitancy to enroll their children in Syrian schools include fear of being located by authorities and deported, harassment of Iraqi children by other students, and the fact that many Iraqi families in Syria are quite mobile, moving frequently among neighborhoods. With so many Iraqi youth not in school, many NGOs have expressed grave concern about the future generation of Iraqis who will lack an education and who are hanging around on the streets with nothing to do. Clearly, these young people could be susceptible to influence by groups or individuals who may not have their best interests in mind. Responding to the influx of Iraqi children in school, UNHCR is working in coordination with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to encourage enrollment in school. In addition to providing school supplies and uniforms for Iraqi children, UNHCR and UNICEF are working with the Ministry of Education to train teachers and counselors to work with these traumatized children. For example, there are reports of some Iraqi students coming to school with knives and other weapons in their backpacks, and of their sometimes "acting out" in a violent manner -- symptoms of the trauma they experienced in Iraq and during their flight to safety. Unfortunately, these behaviors generate resentment and sometimes violent responses by other students. Currently, the Ministry of Education is only able to provide one counselor for every 250 students. Commission staff also attended a graduation ceremony at the Greek Orthodox Ministry in Damascus for 100 Iraqi children, grades 2-7 (ages 6-12). This was a graduation from a summer program where children participated in activities such as arts and crafts in an effort to express themselves and relieve some stress from the trauma they had faced in Iraq and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria. The graduation ceremony consisted of presentations from teachers and counselors as well as singing and skits performed by the students. Health Care: Commission staff met with the Syrian Assistant Minister of Health, who described the burdens on the health care system as a result of the influx of Iraqi refugees since 2003. The health care system is comprised of 1600 clinics and 70 hospitals, 5 of which offer services free of charge to Iraqi refugees. The Minister estimated that support for the health needs of the refugee community costs the Syrian government an estimated $150 million per year. The government is particularly concerned about communicable diseases and therefore has a mandatory vaccination program for all children. Despite substantial contributions from the European Union, UNHCR and UNICEF during the past two years to establish additional clinics and fund vaccinations, the minister estimated that only 5% of the health needs of Iraqi refugees are being met. Particularly critical are the strains put on services for kidney disease, including dialysis, and heart disease. The minister explained that these services were already quite limited for Syrian citizens. Since 2003, according to the minister, anyone needing heart surgery essentially has to “take a number and wait.” The minister indicated that with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) the government is also trying to address the increasing psycho-social needs of Iraqi refugees. Two hospitals, one in Damascus and one in Aleppo, are offering these services. Trafficking in Persons/Shelter: The Syrian government is undertaking initiatives to counter human trafficking and is in the process of establishing a shelter for victims of trafficking. Beginning in 2005, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began holding educational workshops and invited Syrian officials to attend. A governmental committee was formed in 2006 to address trafficking issues, however progress was slow. In 2007, private sector experts advised the committee on counter trafficking measures and, as a result of this public-private partnership, anti-trafficking legislation was drafted. The legislation was endorsed by the committee in late 2007 and was sent to Parliament in June of this year. In coordination with other partners, IOM began raising money for a trafficking shelter. The Netherlands contributed $30,000 Euros, and UNICEF gave $30,000 (USD). The Syrian government has allocated a space for the shelter, however it is in need of major renovations, which are currently under way. The shelter is expected to open in the next 3-4 months and will serve all populations, not just Iraqis. Iraqis, especially women who arrive in Syria as the head of household with no financial resources, are facing extreme circumstances. Since the Syrian government does not allow Iraqis to work, increasing numbers of refugees have resorted to child labor, survival sex, and offering their daughters for short-term or weekend marriages, commonly referred to as “pleasure marriages” to make ends meet. More women and children are facing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGVB) by their husbands’ or the male head of household. UNHCR, in coordination with partners UNICEF, IOM, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are working together to assist Iraqi women who have been physically or sexually abused and are in detention. UNHCR is also supporting several safe houses located in Damascus that help abused Iraqi women and children. The Good Shepherd Sisters: Commission staff also met with Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Damascus in order to learn first-hand of the critical work that she and her community have undertaken in support of Iraqi refugees. Sister Marie-Claude described the suffering of the Iraqi people that she sees every day, those who have fled under threat of violence and arrive in Syria in an already traumatized state. Because of the circumstances and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria most Iraqi refugees, including children, suffer from severe stress and depression. Focusing on the needs of children, the Good Shepherd Sisters, in concert with UNHCR and other organizations have provided summer camps outside of Damascus for refugee children to play and relax in a peaceful venue and escape the stresses of their daily lives. The sisters also provide extensive educational and recreational programs for adults and children throughout the year in a community center in Damascus, and have taken the lead in establishing a shelter for women and children and a hotline for abused women. Commission staff also visited the shelter and met with several of the women and children who reside there. Distribution of Food: Food distribution is conducted by the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR. Refugees in Syria receive their food and financial distribution every two months from either the Douma or Saida Zeinab distribution centers. The distribution schedule is communicated to refugees through short cell-phone messages, information posted on boards in the Douma Distribution center, or by postings on the food distribution website: http://unhcr.un.org.sy/food.htm WFP provides the following basic commodities in their food baskets: 12.5 kilos of rice, l litre of oil, and 2.5 kilos of lentils. UNHCR provides the following complementary items that coincide with the basic commodities provided by WFP: 1 kilo of sugar, 200 grams of tea, 1 kilo of pasta, ½ kilo of tomato paste, 1 kilo of bulgur wheat, and one box each of soap and washing detergents. In addition to food distribution UNHCR also provides a seasonal distribution of mattresses and blankets. Those Iraqis living outside of Damascus who have registered with UNHCR are able to call a hotline to find out dates and locations of food distribution. Stories of Iraqis in Syria: Commission staff met with Iraqi refugees serving as outreach coordinators for UNHCR to gain a better understanding of their hands-on work in the community. The coordinators have a direct line of communication into the Iraqi community in Syria, including with those who have not registered with UNHCR, and they serve as a trusted go between for UNHCR and the community. During the meeting the coordinators spoke of the dire circumstances facing Iraqi refugees in Syria and also shared their personal stories. One coordinator explained that her husband was killed in Iraq and that one of her sons was picked up by U.S. military personnel and another son was kidnapped by a militia group – both were tortured. Fearing for her life, she fled to Syria. Another coordinator told staff that three of her cousins were killed by U.S military personnel because they were accused, wrongly according to the woman, of being terrorists. In addition, staff participated in a resettlement interview with an Iraqi family at UNHCRs Registration and Distribution Center in Douma. The family had owned a jewelry store in Baghdad and fled Iraq after one son was kidnapped and beaten by his captors. After this incident, the family first fled to another neighborhood in Baghdad where they thought they would be safe. However, shortly after the move their home was raided by militia who gave them three days to leave or be killed. The family then fled to Syria. The father made his way to Sweden, while the mother was left to care for her four children in Syria. During the interview it was revealed that the family has now been in Syria for two years, their savings are almost completely diminished and the mother is working as a seamstress to try to make ends meet. The youngest child suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a gun was pointed at him during the raid on their home in Baghdad. Only one of the four children has attended school in the past two years and only for several months because she was severely bullied and harassed by the other children. LEBANON Lebanon, a small country of 4 million people, has opened its doors to 50,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom came after the 2006 bombings in Samara. Roughly 51 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon are Shi’a Muslims, 19 percent are Chaldean Catholics, and 12 percent Sunni Muslims. UNHCR has registered over 10,400 Iraqis since June 2008. In 2007, UNHCR resettled 450 Iraqis to the United States, Sweden, Canada, Australia and other countries. They expect to resettle 1500 refugees in 2008. Iraqi refugees in Lebanon face many challenges, however it is a better economic environment than in other host countries. Unlike Jordan and Syria, Iraqis in Lebanon can work if they obtain a work permit. The educational needs among Iraqi children in Lebanon are quite dire as 42 percent have not completed elementary school, 40 percent of Iraqi children between the ages of 6 and 17 are not enrolled in school due to the high cost of tuition and the need to help provide for their families. It is estimated that, in 2007, only 1,200 Iraqi children were enrolled in school. Health care needs among Iraqis remain constant and medical care cannot be easily accessed in Lebanon due to its exorbitant cost. NGOs and other charitable organizations are able to provide coverage for only 24 percent of serious medical cases. As Commission staff found during a visit to Jordan and Turkey last March, many Iraqis in Lebanon are experiencing psycho-social issues due to the stress of their displacement and the unstable environment they encounter in their host countries. This stress has contributed to a rise in domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse among the refugee population. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are a vulnerable group as well with an estimated 200,000 in the country, approximately 100,000 who arrived illegally. These domestic workers are primarily women from Southeast Asia and Africa – Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Ethiopia, and Madagascar – and are brought to Lebanon by employment agencies working in those countries. These agencies frequently promise “fee paid” employment in a secretarial capacity or in sales. The agencies typically charge the employer $1,500 to bring the domestic worker to Lebanon. Upon arrival, many employers take the women’s passports; force them to work long hours, frequently without pay; and often abuse them. Unhappy about how their people are being treated, the Philippine and Ethiopian Embassies have placed restrictions on employment in Lebanon for their citizens. Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center: Established in 1994, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) has as its mission “to strengthen and protect the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Lebanon.” To date, the Center has assisted more than 100,000 individuals through services such as social and legal counselling and assistance; humanitarian, medical and emergency assistance; orientation seminars for migrants; temporary shelter and safe houses; summer camps and other recreational activities; vocational training and reintegration programs, as well as advocacy efforts with the public and relevant government agencies. In the early 1990s, CLMC worked exclusively with migrant populations, primarily Sudanese. Iraqis began to arrive in 1997, primarily from the Shiite and Christian communities, seeking work and resettlement in Europe or Australia. In 2003, the number of Iraqis entering Lebanon increased substantially and many sought assistance from CLMC. With funding from the U.S. government, CLMC began a program to provide medical support to the refugees, many of whom were suffering with cancer and chronic diseases and had no access to public medical facilities in Lebanon. CLMC negotiated with public hospitals and clinics to establish a treatment program for the refugees. They were also able to arrange reduced-cost treatment with some private hospitals, particularly for those afflicted with cancer and heart disease. CLMC also provides a wide array of educational programs for children and adults. Most Iraqi children are unable to attend school in Lebanon due to the language barrier. Many also frequently “act out” aggressively due to the psychological trauma caused by their circumstances. CLMC provides informal classes and vocational training for children, as well as summer camps where counsellors work with the kids in a relaxed atmosphere to address their unique psychological needs. CLMC undertakes assistance programs for women as well. To date, they have held 160 seminars to train outreach workers for the migrant worker and refugee communities and as a result now have 800 women working in locations nation-wide. The Center has established a shelter for abused women and one for victims of trafficking (described below). In coordination with UNHCR, CLMC provides legal assistance to the refugee and migrant worker community. They currently retain two full-time and ten part-time attorneys and have successfully prosecuted a substantial number of abuse cases on behalf of those who have sought shelter with CLMC. In addition, as described below, Caritas, working with UNHCR and other NGOs, successfully negotiated an amnesty for detained Iraqi refugees, giving them the opportunity to seek employment and regularize there status. Detention Facility Visit: Commission staff visited a detention facility operated by the General Directorate of General Security (General Security) – the governmental authority in Lebanon responsible for the legal status of foreigners in the country. The facility holds those Iraqi refugees and migrant workers who entered the country illegally and are without documentation. It is located under a freeway in downtown Beirut and was constructed from a parking garage. The conditions in the facility are deplorable, yet are much improved from several months earlier, due in large part to the work of NGOs, such as the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC), in coordination with General Security. The air-intake vents, only recently installed through the efforts of Caritas, circulate air into the underground facility. Unfortunately, due to the center’s location under the freeway, the air is filled with exhaust from automobiles traveling above. Inside, fans are placed throughout to further circulate the air into the cells where detainees are held. There is no sunlight, lighting is very dim and temperatures are extremely hot in the summer and cold during the winter. The facility contains 13 cells with roughly 40 individuals housed in each cell. Detainees sit on the floor of the cell on mattresses which also serve as their beds. They are allowed to leave their cells, but not the detention facility, on very rare occasions – such as laundry detail or to receive medical treatment – and never leave the facility until their release. There is a bathroom and a separate shower in each cell which are enclosed; however there is virtually no privacy. Women are housed together according to their nationality and men are housed alphabetically. The average length of stay can range from one month to over a year, depending on the length of time it takes to arrange deportation or voluntary departure. CLMC has played an instrumental role in helping to improve the dire conditions of the facility. Prior to their intervention, detainees had no bathrooms, showers or mattresses to sleep on. Furthermore, they were unable to have their clothes washed and were living in utter filth. Working closely with General Security, CLMC now has several full-time staff working 24-hours a day in the facility with detainees. Additionally, CLMC was able to put bathrooms and showers in each cell, provide mattresses for each detainee, purchase a washer and dryer to clean the detainees’ clothes and bedding , and provide 3 hot meals per week. Human Rights Watch released a report in November 2007 entitled, ‘Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon,’ showing the conditions that Iraqi refugees face in Lebanon if they are without documentation. In response to the report and pressure from other NGOs, General Security agreed in 2008 to release all Iraqis detained for illegal entry and allowed them to go through the existing regularization process once released. UNHCR, in coordination with its implementing partner Caritas Lebanon, supported this directive by assisting refugees with the initial regularization fee of $600, as well as providing legal advice and counseling. After being released, Iraqis have 3 months to regularize their status which requires them to find an employer who will sponsor them for a work permit. The government has recently extended this period to 6 months with the overall number of arrests declining. This decision benefits not only Iraqi refugees, but all foreigners including refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities who have entered Lebanon illegally. Visits with Iraqi families: Commission staff had the opportunity to visit Iraqi families in their homes in eastern Beirut. The families shared their tragic stories with staff and the circumstances in which they are living in Lebanon. While all expressed relief to be safe from the violence in Iraq, they are faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the future and a severe lack of resources. Their compelling stories follow: CASE A: Hana has 4 children. She is the head of her family since her husband was kidnapped in Iraq. The family came to Lebanon legally in December 2007. Hana’s eldest son was in his first year of medical school in Iraq when he received many threats. One day, while walking home from work, her son and his friends were attacked and her son was shot in the arm, his friend was shot in the face. Hana's son was able to make it to the family home; however, they had no medicine with which to treat his wounds. Hana's husband went to the pharmacy for medicine and was kidnapped, never to be heard from again. The family searched relentlessly for him in hospitals and police stations to no avail. With no news, a family member urged them to leave the country immediately for fear of another attempt on the life of the son. Hana's son is currently incapacitated because of his injured arm, however he was able to receive reconstructive surgery in February. Only one family member is currently able to work and the income is insufficient to meet their needs. However, during the visit Hana informed Commission staff that the family had just been notified by UNHCR that their case was approved for resettlement to the United States. CASE B: Rita, mother of 2 boys, is the head of the family since her husband was kidnapped in 2006 while she was pregnant. She came to Lebanon legally with her unmarried brother in June 2008. Her husband was a driver for the U.S. military. He received threatening letters, but never took them seriously. Rita’s mother had fled to Lebanon before her daughter after her own husband was murdered. Rita’s brother was traumatized by his father’s death and suffers from psychiatric complications. The family has no financial resources. Just two days prior to the meeting with Commission staff Rita had found a job in a textile factory working from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CASE C: Rana is a widow and the mother of 3 children. She came to Lebanon legally in May 2008. Her husband was a driver for the Christian Archbishopric in Iraq and was murdered in February 2008. Rana is severely traumatized. She is unable to care for herself and her children or to provide for them financially. Rana’s mother, who lives with her, suffers from cancer; she will be leaving soon for the United States. Rana hopes that she and her children can also be resettled to the U.S. with her mother. Caritas Shelter for Victims of Trafficking: In 2003, Caritas began implementing a program funded by the U.S. Department of State (G/TIP) for victims of trafficking. The program involves extensive cooperation with the General Security agency in Lebanon. According to Caritas, women migrant workers who are victims of trafficking have access to a safe house where they are able to escape their situation and consider future options, receive medical care, basic needs assistance, trauma counseling, legal aid, and counseling for future options in a supportive environment, and possible return to their country of origin or to a safe work situation in Lebanon. A 2005 survey conducted by Caritas/IPSOS found that 55 percent of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon face physical abuse, 39 percent are verbally abused and 17 percent are sexually abused. During the visit, staff met with a woman who had been brought to Lebanon to work for a wealthy family and faced unimaginable torture and abuse. As she recounted her story, she trembled with fear of the horror that she lived for five months before escaping. Upon arriving in Lebanon, her passport was taken, she was forced to work long hours without pay and was typically fed very little food. She was locked inside the house when the family for whom she was working was not at home. In addition to facing the aforementioned abuse, family members would take turns holding her down on the floor and burning her bare skin (body and face) with a hot iron. After enduring this severe trauma and torture for months, she escaped one day when the family was not home by jumping from a second story window. She has been living in the Caritas shelter since her escape. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC): ICMC is the U.S. State Department's representative for processing refugees in Lebanon and works closely with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in the conduct of screening interviews for those Iraqi refugees and others who seek resettlement to the United States. Just prior to the Commission staff visit, a DHS “circuit ride” of interview staff had been in residence at the Embassy compound conducting security interviews under very difficult circumstances – for both DHS and embassy staff. Security concerns require that all interviews must take place on the Embassy compound. Due to substantial space limitations and to ensure privacy for those being interviewed, Embassy and DHS personnel are required to operate in shifts, some lasting late into the night, in order to accommodate all applicants who travell to the Embassy each day. Under these trying circumstances, DHS personnel were nevertheless able to interview 920 applicants in a four week period. ICMC staff expressed gratitude not only for the DHS staff's fortitude under this grueling schedule, but also for their professionalism and compassion in dealing with those being interviewed. In order to alleviate these conditions, State and DHS should explore the possibility of permanently assigning one or two DHS interviewers to Embassy Beirut and providing additional housing and work space to accommodate their activities. Cultural Orientation: ICMC and the United States Refugee Program (USRP) conduct an intensive two day cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees who will be resettled to the United States. The cultural orientation is designed to provide Iraqis with a better understanding of what to expect once they arrive in the U.S. The following topics are covered in the ICMC-USRP cultural orientation training program: Cultural differences. The departure process and airport regulations. The nature of the IOM travel loan and the obligation to pay it back after arrival to the U.S. The responsibilities of the Resettlement Agency and the refugee during the first ninety days after the refugee’s arrival in the United States. Information on a refugee’s legal status until the acquisition of citizenship, including rights and restrictions of each status. Information on housing and transportation in the United States. The importance of learning and obeying the laws of the United States at federal and state level and the consequences of violating U.S. law. Information on the child and adult education system in the United States and the importance of learning English. The importance of finding and holding a job and understanding work values in the United States. Information on the health care system in the United States. Information on money management. Commission staff participated in an afternoon session during the first day of orientation for a group of Iraqis who had been approved for resettlement to the U.S. During the session participants raised the following questions: I have an international driver’s license; will that work in the United States? If both parents must work, who will watch the kids? Can I work right away when I get to the United States? Staff asked the group how they felt about relocating to the United States, (e.g. nervous, happy or fearful). Those who replied generally expressed apprehension. One gentleman said he won’t know until he’s “on the plane.” CONGRESS In July, Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings introduced the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act (H.R. 6496), comprehensive legislation that addresses this worsening situation. H.R. 6496 has been endorsed by more than 25 NGOs and religious organizations and does the following: Authorizes $700 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2009 through 2011 for the relief of Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; Increases direct accountable bilateral assistance, as appropriate under U.S. law, and funding for international organizations and non-governmental organizations working in the region; Authorizes $500 million to increase humanitarian aid and infrastructure support for Jordan; and Urges increased cooperation between the United States Government and the international community to address this crisis. CONCLUSION Iraqi refugees in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region continue to suffer daily and are faced with unimaginable circumstances. While the American public does not see pictures of ‘refugee camps’ set up in host countries, there are millions of Iraqis struggling to survive each and every day. On the ground, desperation has set in and only worsened this humanitarian crisis. The politics of the war must be put aside by Congress and a ‘humanitarian surge’ must be implemented. This means the provision of substantially increased bi-lateral aid, as appropriate under U.S. law, to countries hosting Iraqi refugees and increased funding to international organizations and NGOs working in the region. A U.S. contribution of at least fifty percent of the amount requested for all UN appeals for funding to assist Iraqi refugees, and IDPs, would show U.S. leadership in addressing this crisis, and hopefully encourage increased contributions by other countries as well. The process for resettling Iraqi refugees to the United States must also be expedited. This is particularly critical for those Iraqis whose lives have been threatened because of their work for the United States. The United States should also show leadership in encouraging the international community to focus on this humanitarian crisis, recognize it for the potential security threat it poses, and take steps to alleviate the suffering Iraqi refugees. If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then all one must do is look into the face of an Iraqi refugee who has had a family member murdered, kidnapped, or tortured, and their own life threatened, to know that the United States must respond – security in the region and the future of the Middle East depend upon it.

  • U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Kazakhstan for OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session

    By Robert Hand, Policy Advisor Eleven Members of the U.S. Congress represented the United States at the Seventeenth Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), hosted by the Parliament of Kazakhstan from June 29 to July 3. This year’s Annual Session brought 227 parliamentarians from 50 of the 56 OSCE States together in Astana to discuss a variety of issues of importance. The designated theme for this year’s gathering was “Transparency in the OSCE.” The U.S. Delegation was led by Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Helsinki Commission Chairman. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, served as the deputy head of delegation. Other Helsinki Commissioners who also participated include Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). They were joined by Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Diane Watson (D-CA), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU) and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI). OSCE PA Operations Reviewed Prior to the Annual Session, the Standing Committee, which is the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations representing the OSCE participating States and the elected officers, met to review OSCE PA work from the past year and to pass a budget for the next. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lennmarker, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Raidel, and from the Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The Standing Committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2008/2009, which provides for increased expenditures of just under seven percent to cover inflation and a small increase in secretariat staff. The Standing Committee also heard reports from the Special Representatives of the OSCE PA on a variety of issues of concern. Chairman Hastings presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, which included a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, a briefing on the plight of Iraqi refugees and a congressional visit to Israel in May, marking the country’s 60th anniversary. Similarly, Rep. Solis spoke in her capacity as the Special Representative on Migration, highlighting recent Commission hearings on women migrants and on regional impacts and opportunities for migrants. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, was unable to be present in Astana and asked that his written report be circulated to delegations. It highlights visits to Bosnia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine as well as a recent Commission hearing on combating the sexual exploitation of children. Senator Cardin attended the Standing Committee in his capacity as an OSCE PA Vice President. As Head of the U.S. Delegation at the Standing Committee, Chairman Hastings welcomed the decision of the Assembly to hold an event in Washington on the upcoming U.S. elections immediately following a September meeting of the OSCE PA in Toronto, Canada. U.S. Delegation Active on Issues With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Lennmarker opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, noting the importance of holding its first Annual Session in the Central Asian region. The delegates were, in turn, welcomed by Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who noted the importance of parliamentary diplomacy in democracy-building and further humanitarian and legal norms. The two Speakers of the Kazakhstan Parliament, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the Senate and Aslan Mussin of the Mazhilis, also addressed the delegates. OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France reviewed the work of the OSCE and took questions from the parliamentarians. Members of the U.S. Delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered a draft resolution as well as 18 supplementary items circulated by delegates prior to the opening of the Astana meeting. One additional supplementary item was considered during the opening plenary. Five of the supplementary items were resolutions proposed by members of the U.S. Delegation: Encouraging Transparency in the Extractive Industries, by Co-Chairman Cardin; Recognizing the Economic, Civic and Social Contributions of Mirgrants, by Rep. Solis; Strengthening Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings and Addressing the Special Needs of Child Victims by Rep. Smith (and, in his absence, Rep. Wamp); Urging Adoption of the Paris Club Commitment Regarding Vulture Funds by Rep. Moore; and Expressing Concern Over the Security Environment in Georgia by Chairman Hastings. All were adopted with few if any amendments. The Georgia resolution, while timely, was also controversial. Parliamentarians from Russia strongly opposed the resolution on Georgia, as did some European parliamentarians, but Chairman Hastings remained firm. He pointed to the moderately worded text and noted past willingness of U.S. delegates to consider and support as warranted resolutions critical of U.S. policies. Recent Russian action in the Caucasus was of sufficient concern to a majority of the delegates present that the resolution was ultimately adopted. U.S. delegates were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary items by others, including a Canadian resolution on Afghanistan, a Ukrainian resolution on Holodomor (Ukrainian Famine-Genocide), and a Belgian resolution on Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children. In addition, the U.S. Delegation introduced 20 amendments to various resolutions, covering issues from pollinator decline to religious freedom. Virtually all of them were adopted, and by dividing its work almost every member of the U.S. Delegation managed at least one resolution or amendment in committee. Rep. Gwen Moore was especially active, with her own supplementary item and numerous amendments, including those calling for international action to reduce maternal mortality, which will serve as a basis for a resolution at next year’s Annual Session. Belgian Senator Anne-Marie Lizin presented a report in committee on her latest activity as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo Bay. Rep. Butterfield responded for the U.S. Delegation, expressing appreciation for her work and describing the latest Supreme Court, congressional and non-governmental efforts dealing with this stain on the U.S. human rights record. Rep. Solis served as Acting Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions during the Annual Session, and she was subsequently elected to be the committee chair for the coming year. Rep. Solis is the first female Member of the U.S. Congress to hold a leadership position in the OSCE PA. The OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues, Tone Tingsgaard (Sweden), hosted a working lunch to discuss gender issues during which she presented her thoughts for future action in the OSCE PA on these issues. The U.S. Delegation was well represented at this event. Declaration Adopted, Leadership Elected The final Astana Declaration was adopted by the participants at the Assembly’s closing plenary and reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. Delegation. In line with the theme for the session, it calls for greater transparency in numerous fields, such as political or historical archives and the use of private military contractors, as well as within the OSCE itself. The declaration also calls for concrete steps to address global climate change, improve waste management and prepare for potential nuclear accidents and natural disasters. The full text of the Astana Declaration can be found here on the OSCE PA website. Mr. Joao Soares, a parliamentarian from Portugal, was elected to serve as OSCE PA President for the coming year. Soares brings to the office extensive experience, having been a member of the Portuguese parliament from 1987 to 1990 and again since 2002, formerly a member of the European Parliament and of the Bureau of the European Parliament, and the mayor of Lisbon from 1995 to 2002. The delegates at the Annual Session also re-elected Pia Christmas-Moeller of Denmark as a Vice president of the Assembly along with three new Vice Presidents: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan; Wolfgang Grossruck of Austria and Oleh Bilorus of Ukraine. The Eighteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held in July 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania Needed Focus on Kazakh Hosts While the Delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns with our Kazakhstani hosts. The U.S. Delegation had meetings with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Prime Minister Karim Masimov and Secretary of State Kanat Saudabayev as well as with prominent Kazakh human rights activists and opposition leaders. Members of the delegation also visited Beit Rachel, the largest synagogue in Central Asia, and met with the chief rabbi and the deputy imam from the Islamic community to discuss inter-faith tolerance and protection of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, especially for religious minorities. The U.S. delegation held a press conference in Astana, during which Members conveyed their willingness to work with Kazakhstan throughout its OSCE chairmanship in 2010. They strongly urged, however, greater progress regarding human rights and political reforms in keeping with the commitments Kazakhstan made at the Madrid OSCE Ministerial in November 2007, where the decision on the 2010 chairmanship was made. Ongoing OSCE PA Activity The Parliamentary Assembly does not surface once every July but remains continually active throughout the year. A Fall Meeting will be held in September in Toronto, Canada, which will include a special focus on Mediterranean issues and on trade, security and migration. President Emeritus Lennmarker, who has been selected by President Soares to serve as a OSCE PA Special Representative for Georgia, will address the delegates about his first-hand observations about the conflict in that country. In February 2009, the Assembly will have its annual Winter Meeting in Vienna, Austria, to review OSCE work and debate selected topics of common concern. The OSCE PA leadership also meets in the Spring in Copenhagen and in conjunction with the annual OSCE Ministerial, held in the country currently chairing the organization. In between, the OSCE PA continues to play a leading role in election observation in the OSCE region and participates in numerous OSCE meetings, especially through its representation in Vienna, as well as in inter-parliamentary seminars and conferences throughout the year.  

  • Condemning July 27, 2008 Bombings in Istanbul, Turkey

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the former President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the bombings that shook the Gungoren neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday.  This was the deadliest attack to take place in Istanbul in five years, which killed 17 men, women and children and wounded more than one hundred others. I express my most sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones and to the individuals injured in this terrorist attack.  Madam Speaker, I stand with the Turkish government and the people of Turkey in condemning these cowardly acts and hope to see those responsible brought to justice very soon.  The United States and Turkey have shared a historic partnership for the past fifty-plus years and it is during these difficult times that we must stand together.  Madam Speaker, the United States remains committed to working with Turkey in fighting terrorism in Turkey, in the United States, and around the world. I urge my colleagues to stand with me in condemning these heinous attacks.

  • Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel

    Madam Speaker, last week the Helsinki Commission, which I Chair, held a briefing at which representatives from Physicians for Human Rights presented the findings of their recently published report, ``Broken Laws, Broken Lives.'' In it, they documented the medical evidence of torture by U.S. personnel in 11 specific cases. I believe this briefing was the first opportunity on Capitol Hill for the public to hear specifically about the medical consequences of the administration's detention policies and to consider some of the ethical questions related to the medical treatment of detainees, including forced feeding and the possible role of medical professionals during interrogations.  We were fortunate to have with us as panelists Leonard Rubenstein, J.D., President of Physicians for Human Rights; Dr. Allen Keller, Advisor to Physicians for Human Rights and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture; and Dr. Scott Allen, also an Advisor to Physicians for Human Rights.  For many years, members of the Helsinki Commission have been actively engaged on issues related to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Over the years, we have raised concern about the nearly constant reports of torture and abuse in Chechnya. We have pressed Turkey to provide detainees with prompt access to lawyers and medical personnel, because we know that when people are held incommunicado, they are more likely to experience torture. We have expressed alarm regarding the number of people who walk into Uzbekistan jails on their own two feet--and who have been returned to their families in boxes.  Last week, it was my sad duty to hear representatives from Physicians for Human Rights describe the torture and ill-treatment some detainees have experienced at the hands of U.S. personnel. As I noted then, I certainly expected to hear about the medical and psychological impact of this torture on the individuals whose cases were investigated by Physicians for Human Rights. But, coincidently, there was a different kind of impact on display last week, when the U.S. also opened its first war crimes trial since World War II.  In the trial of Salim Hamdan, alleged to be Osama bin Laden's driver, the military judge overseeing the case found it necessary to exclude from evidence several statements of the defendant because they were obtained under what the military judge deemed ``highly coercive'' conditions. Another one of the government's efforts to bring a defendant before a military tribunal had already been put indefinitely on hold, reportedly because the evidence in the case cannot be disentangled from the impermissible methods that were used to extract it. In other words, the use of abusive interrogation methods has undermined the government's ability to prosecute people suspected of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.  Let me repeat: the ill-conceived policy of ``enhanced interrogations'' has undermined our country's ability to prosecute people for the most serious crimes committed against this nation.  As it happened, on the day of our briefing last week, the ACLU released three new ``torture memos'' it had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Although highly redacted--indeed, one of them has ten pages that are entirely blacked out--these documents nevertheless provide some additional insight into the development of the policies that set the stage for what Major General Antonio Taguba, in his preface for the Physicians for Human Rights report, called ``a systematic regime of torture.'' (You may recall that General Taguba led the U.S. Army's official investigations into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.)  Here's just one bit of information we now have from a memo prepared by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel on August 1, 2002 and released last week. This memo, prepared for the CIA, advises that the crime of torture, as defined by U.S. statute, requires a showing of specific intent to cause severe pain or suffering. That specific intent, in turn, will be negated if a defendant acts with a good faith belief that his actions will not cause severe pain or suffering. That good faith belief can be demonstrated by showing that an official acted in reliance on the advice of experts. And guess what? The Office of Legal Counsel is a bunch of experts. And they go on to say that the objective of the interrogation techniques under discussion--we don't know precisely what they are because they're blacked out--is not to cause severe physical pain. Just like magic, you have your expert advice, which gives you your good-faith belief, which negates the specific intent required under the statute which criminalizes torture. So you guys can go ahead and waterboard and God knows what else because the Office of Legal Counsel has told you that it does not cause severe pain or suffering, so you have legal license to ignore your own eyes and ears, which tell you that waterboarding will break a person in minutes.  Madam Speaker, the report by Physicians for Human Rights makes several recommendations that deserve study and consideration. But in light of the release of these most recent torture memos, I would like to highlight today one particular recommendation of the report: ``The U.S. Department of Justice should publicly release all legal opinions and other memoranda concerning standards regarding interrogation and detention policy and practices.''  The Department of Justice is the arbiter of what is the law of the land for this country. And I think the American people have a right to know if their government has sought to redefine ``torture'' as ``not torture.'' Accordingly, I urge the Attorney General to release the full texts of all the memos relating to interrogation and detention policies and practices.

  • The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Kazakhstan

    Madam Speaker, I hereby submit, for the record, the text of my report to you on the activities of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, held in early July in Astana, Kazakhstan. I want to thank you for allowing me to serve as the head of this delegation, and to express my gratitude to our colleague in the other chamber, Senator Ben Cardin, for serving as the deputy head of the delegation.  I will refrain from repeating here the details of our trip, which can be found in the report, but I would like to make three brief points.  First, I want to praise the work of my ten colleagues who participated on the delegation, namely Mr. Aderholt, Mr. McIntyre, Ms. Solis and Mr. Butterfield who serve with me on the Helsinki Commission, as well as Mr. Wamp, Ms. Loretta Sanchez, Ms. Watson, Ms. Bordallo and Ms. Moore. All were active at the meeting, either speaking or introducing resolutions on issues of concern or making amendments to the initiatives of other delegations. Our colleague Hilda Solis deserves special praise for seeking and being elected to chair a committee in the OSCE PA this coming year, as does Gwen Moore for her many initiatives that kept her busy.  Second, I want to stress to all my colleagues how useful engagement in world affairs is, and the degree to which it advances U.S. interests by being out there, ready to discuss, to debate and ultimately to cooperate in making this a better world. In the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe, or the OSCE as it is often known, there is a strong parliamentary dimension that allows us to engage our allies and friends in Europe and Canada, and including the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. We discuss everything from human rights and democracy, to energy and the environment, to regional security and terrorism. I invite my colleagues to consider joining me for next year’s session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Third, I want to say a word about Kazakhstan, which served as this year’s host. Kazakhstan is a large, resource-rich and strategically located country, and a country that wishes to play a stronger role in the OSCE and in world affairs generally. The U.S. delegation used its presence in Astana to welcome that fact, and to express our willingness to work with Kazakhstan to that end. At the same time, the Assembly meeting provided an opportunity to stress the need for Kazakhstan to make greater progress regarding human rights and political reforms, in line with its OSCE commitments but also with specific promises its leaders made when the OSCE designated Kazakhstan to chair the organization in 2010.  The final declaration of the OSCE PA Annual Session can be found on the Assembly’s website or by contacting the Helsinki Commission, which I chair. Again, thank you Madam Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to lead this delegation, which accomplished a great deal.

  • Briefing on the Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), held a briefing with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), regarding the medical evidence of torture of detainees by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay.  Representatives of PHR presented their recently released report entitled, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” in which they documented individual cases of torture, the impact on detainees and made recommendations based on the findings of their investigation.

  • Promises to Keep: Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship

    This hearing, presided over by Alcee Hastings, discussed Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE.   Kazakhstan, which started the bidding process in 2003, hoped to be the first Central Asian country to lead the OSCE.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed the suitability of Kazakhstan to lead the OSCE, given its track record on democracy and human rights.

  • A Great Leader Lost: The Death of Bronislaw Geremek

    Madam Speaker, it is my sad duty to note the death last week of former Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chair-in Office Bronislaw Geremek, who was killed in a car crash in Poland. I am honored to pay tribute to a Polish patriot who had an impact far beyond the borders of his native country. Born in 1932 to a Jewish family in Warsaw, Bronislaw Geremek was fated to confront the two great evils of the Twentieth Century: Nazism and communism. Having survived the first as a child, he later played an instrumental role in defeating the second. Mr. Geremek trained as an historian – a serious scholar specializing in the history of medieval France. Indeed, as many obituaries have observed, he was the very image of the professional academic, complete with pipe and tweeds. But it was in politics and political life that he truly made his mark and where he has left his legacy. Bronislaw Geremek was a great Polish patriot who knew that his country deserved better than the communist oppression of the post-war period. He protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia; he stayed in Poland when anti-Semitic purges drove thousands of other Jews away; and most of all, he helped build necessary bridges between workers and intellectuals. That bond, between these two segments of Polish society, enabled Solidarity to become the mass movement it was. His imprisonment after the imposition of Martial Law on December 13, 1981, did not deter him from his struggle to build a truly free and democratic Poland. In 1989, he was a member of the historic “Round Table” that negotiated the peaceful transition of power. In fact, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, that included my good friend, and now-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, was in Poland in August 1989, and watched from the gallery of the Polish parliament when Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected the first non-communist Prime Minister in more than four decades. Bronislaw Geremek played a singular role in bringing that democratic transition to Poland – and the democratic transition in Poland helped bring democracy to all of Eastern Europe. Bronislaw Geremek subsequently served his country in many ways: as a member of Parliament, not only as a Foreign Minister but the Foreign Minister who signed the treaty bringing Poland into NATO, and then as a member of the European Union Parliament. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I would especially like to note the important role Bronislaw Geremek played when, as Foreign Minister, he served as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE in 1998. Few people understood as well the historical role of the Helsinki Accords and he brought to that mission an unmatched moral leadership. Perhaps most of all, however, Bronislaw Geremek personified the best of Eastern Europe’s intelligentsia – intellectually curious and accomplished, outraged by injustice and impelled to resist it despite the risks, and possessed of a wry sense of humor that endeared him to his colleagues. Bronislaw Geremek’s time on this earth was not merely full, but profoundly consequential. The world is a better place for his having lived. We, in the post-communist-era, are all the beneficiaries of his passion, labor and achievements. Madam Speaker, may Bronislaw Geremek rest in peace, honored by his countrymen and women, remembered fondly and missed by those fortunate enough to have been his friends, and invoked as a role model wherever brains and courage are sorely needed to face down tyranny.    

  • Racism in the 21st Century: Understanding Global Challenges and Implementing Solutions

    This hearing was one in a series focused on efforts to combat intolerance in the OSCE region.  In spite of initiatives to address racism around the world, there have been worrying developments that warrant an increased focus on this issue.  The witnesses discussed the shift from a focus on racism and xenophobia to one on migration and integration.  Several witnesses expressed concern that this ignored the diversity of many European countries.  

  • Guantanamo Detainees after Boumediene: Now What?

    The hearing reviewed the detainee-related policy issues – particularly for Guantanamo detainees -- that remain in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene. Witnesses also had the opportunity to discuss a related question: what does Europe do with its terror suspects, and are there any lessons for the United States from the European experience? The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in Boumediene v. Bush that foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have the right under the Constitution to challenge their detention in a U.S. civilian court.

  • Ingushetia: The New Hot Spot in Russia’s North Caucasus

    John Finerty, staff advisor at the Commission, led this briefing on the increased destabilization in the North Caucasus region of Russia, specifically in Ingushetia. After the conclusion of the second Chechen war, the North Caucasus region was once again experiencing an increase in violence.  Although the entire region was fraught with instability, Ingushetia attracted particular attention, having undergone a rise in terrorist and counter-terrorist operations, illegal detentions, kidnappings and extra judicial executions over the past year.  Panelists – Eliza Musaeva, Gregory Shvedov, and Magomed Mutsolgov -described Ingushetia’s history and the arbitrary lack of rule of law that had originated in Chechnya and crept into Ingushetia. They highlighted the prolific kidnappings in the regions that were specifically Chechnya related, which led to Ingushetia being talked about as a republic of its own.  Since then, the Russian government had conducted counterterrorism operations, leading the panelists to speculate about the potential for another war in the North Caucasus. 

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

  • The Forgotten: Iraqi Allies Failed by the U.S.

    The briefing focused on the efforts of "The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies," a non-profit organization that helps resettle Iraqis who are at particular risk for having worked for the United States government and American organizations. It also examined the need for the United States to significantly increase its efforts to resettle these vulnerable Iraqi allies. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Kirk Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of The List Project; Christopher Nugent, Senior Counsel of Holland & Knight LLP; and Ibrahim, an Iraqi Citizen – provided testimonies of their own experiences with the role of the United States in assisting Iraqi refugees to emphasize the steps that should be taken to improve the efforts being made

  • The Challenges To Minority Communities in Kosovo

    This hearing, chaired by the Hon. Alcee Hastings and Hon. Benjamin Cardin, saw Ambassador Knut Vollebaek of Norway, High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) testify before the Commission. The hearing focused on the protection and promotion of the rights of Serb, Romani and other minority communities in Kosovo, in light of the February 17 declared independence which Serbia does not recognize. In particular, the hearing examined Ambassador Vollebaek’s work regarding Kosovo and his recommendations for action by the Kosovar authorities as well as by Serbia, other OSCE States and the OSCE itself.

  • Los Angeles: The Regional Impacts and Opportunities of Migration

    Alcee Hastings and Hilda Solis, together with witnesses – Reverend Richard Estrada, Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Ms. Lucy Ito, Mr. Kerry Doi, Ms. Angelica Salas, and Ms. Eun Sook Lee – discussed the challenges, best practices in existence, and positive aspects of migration. The witnesses, immigrants themselves, shared their personal stories of immigration and what it meant to live as minorities.

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