Name

Slovak Republic

The Helsinki Commission has exceptionally long engagement on Slovakia, issuing its first report on developments there in 1990.

In 1992, Czechoslovakia chaired the OSCE, with Jiri Dienstbier representing the country for the first six months, followed by Josef Moravcik for the remainder of the year. 

The Czechoslovakia Federation dissolved on January 1, 1993 and the Czech and Slovak Republics became independent states.  The Commission actively engaged on what was initially a rocky transition to democracy and respect for human rights through the period when Slovakia became a net exporter of expertise on democratic transitions.  Slovakia has become a strong partner to the United States in many areas and Helsinki Commissioners have led two delegations to Bratislava. Helsinki Commissioners continue to encourage Slovakia to improve the protection of human rights for members of the Romani minority, including by addressing past sterilization without informed consent.

Staff Contact: Erika Schlager, counsel for international law

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

  • 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.  

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel Statement by Senator Benjamin Cardin

    Thirty years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could “live and work as free human beings.” Today, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.  When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories.  Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the Charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of this chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other Chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders, including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years. Perhaps the regime’s harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak’s Czechoslovakia; no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, “Plastic People of the Universe;” by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. 1989 was an extraordinary year – a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East German were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin wall was breached. But while communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime’s repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.  On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released video tapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.  As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS, but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, “. . . a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.” On December 29, Vaclav Havel – who had been in prison just a few months earlier – was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.  Jan Patocka once wrote, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

  • Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

    Mr. WEXLER. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the resolution (H. Res. 230) recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome signed on March 25, 1957, which was a key step in creating the European Union, and reaffirming the close and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Europe. The Clerk read as follows: H. Res. 230 Whereas, after a half century marked by two world wars and at a time when Europe was divided and some nations were deprived of freedom, and as the continent faced the urgent need for economic and political recovery, major European statesmen such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Sir Winston Churchill, and others joined together to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among their peoples; Whereas on March 25, 1957, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Rome to establish a customs union, to create a framework to promote the free movement of people, services, and capital among the member states, to support agricultural growth, and to create a common transport policy, which gave new impetus to the pledge of unity in the European Coal and Steel Agreement of 1951; Whereas to fulfill its purpose, the European Union has created a unique set of institutions: the directly-elected European Parliament, the Council consisting of representatives of the Member States, the Commission acting in the general interest of the Community, and the Court of Justice to enforce the rule of law; Whereas on February 7, 1992, the leaders of the then 12 members of the European Community signed the Treaty of Maastricht establishing a common European currency, the Euro, to be overseen by a common financial institution, the European Central Bank, for the purpose of a freer movement of capital and common European economic policies; Whereas the European Union was expanded with the addition of the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, a unified Germany in 1990, Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004, and Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, making the European Union a body of 27 countries with a population of over 450 million people; Whereas the European Union has developed policies in the economic, security, diplomatic, and political areas: it has established a single market with broad common policies to organize that market and ensure prosperity and cohesion; it has built an economic and monetary union, including the Euro currency; and it has built an area of freedom, security, and justice, extending stability to its neighbors; Whereas following the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the European Union has played a critical role in the former Central European communist states in promoting free markets, democratic institutions and values, respect for human rights, and the resolve to fight against tyranny and for common national security objectives; Whereas for the past 50 years the United States and the European Union have shared a unique partnership, mindful of their common heritage, shared values and mutual interests, have worked together to strengthen transatlantic security, to preserve and promote peace and freedom, to develop free and prosperous economies, and to advance human rights; and Whereas the United States has supported the European integration process and has consistently supported the objective of European unity and the enlargement of the European Union as desirable developments which promote prosperity, peace, and democracy, and which contribute to the strengthening of the vital relationship between the United States and the nations of Europe: Now, therefore, be it  Resolved, That the House of Representatives-- (1) recognizes the historic significance of the Treaty of Rome on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its signing;  (2) commends the European Union and the member nations of the European Union for the positive role which the institution has played in the growth, development, and prosperity of contemporary Europe;  (3) recognizes the important role played by the European Union in fostering the independence, democracy, and economic development of the former Central European communist states following the end of the Cold War;  (4) acknowledges the vital role of the European Union in the development of the close and mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the United States and Europe;  (5) affirms that in order to strengthen the transatlantic partnership there must be a renewed commitment to regular and intensive consultations between the United States and the European Union; and  (6) joins with the European Parliament in agreeing to strengthen the transatlantic partnership by enhancing the dialogue and collaboration between the United States Congress and the European Parliament.  I first want to thank Chairman Lantos for introducing this resolution with me. If there is anyone in Congress who fully understands the significance of this moment, it is Congressman Lantos, who has been an unwavering supporter of the transatlantic alliance and the creation of the European Union. In addition, I want to thank the ranking member of the Europe Subcommittee, Mr. Gallegly, for his efforts in bringing this resolution to the floor. Mr. Speaker, on March 25, 1957, in an attempt to recover from destruction caused by two devastating world wars, six European nations, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Luxembourg, joined together in common interest to form the foundations of a new economic and political community. The resulting Treaty of Rome laid the framework to promote an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. At that time, the Treaty of Rome provided for the establishment of a common market, a customs union and common policies, expanding on the unity already established in the European Coal and Steel Community. The founding members, keen on ensuring the past was not to be repeated, were particularly interested in the idea of creating a community of peace and stability through economic ties. The success of the European Economic Community inspired other countries to apply for membership, making it the first concrete step toward the creation of the European Union. The Treaty of Rome established the basic institutions and decision-making mechanisms still in place today. The European Union, now comprised of 27 countries and over 450 million people, is a unique and a historic example of nation-states transcending their former divisions, deciding to come together for the sake of freedom, peace and prosperity, and resolving their differences in the interest of the common good and rule of law. The success of the EU over the past 50 years has also benefited greatly the United States. Today, the United States and Europe enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship that has a long and established history. As the world's most important alliance, the U.S. and the EU are intimately intertwined, cooperating on regional conflicts, collaborating to address global challenges, and sharing strong trade and investment relations. It is clear that the strongest possible relationship between the United States and Europe is a prerequisite for addressing the challenges of the 21st century. The U.S. and EU are working closely to promote reform and peace in the Middle East, rebuild and enhance security in Afghanistan, support the goals of democratization and prosperity in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Balkans and Central Asia, prevent genocide in Darfur and end the violence and terrorism in Lebanon. The anniversary of the Rome Treaty is a reminder of the importance of the transatlantic alliance in an increasingly difficult global environment. However, the 50-year EU experiment is an example of the enduring possibilities of democratic transformation and a brighter future for millions. It is my hope that the EU will continue to keep its doors open and remain a beacon of hope to the citizens of Europe who aspire to obtain the peace and prosperity that have blossomed over the past 50 years. When Americans visit Europe today, it is hard to see how very damaged the countries of that continent were when they emerged from the destruction of the Second World War. American assistance played a very important role in rebuilding Western Europe in the 1940s and the 1950s, and American arms played a crucial role in protecting the democracies of Europe from the advance of Soviet communism during the Cold War. Ultimately, however, Europeans needed to do more on their own to build upon a foundation that the United States had first provided. The 1957 Treaty of Rome, signed by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg was one of the first steps that Western Europe took to put the causes and the legacy of the Second World War behind them. The treaty established a free-trade region known as the European Economic Community, the cornerstone of what we today know as the European Union. A post-World War II economically ravaged Europe reasoned that if nations are linked economically, in this case by recalling the role that economic decline and hindered trade among nations had played in the years leading up to World War II, the creators of that free trade zone saw that the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and people might well prove to be a great deterrent to conflict between the states of Europe, large and small. Over the subsequent decades through the entry of new members and expansions both geographically across Europe and functionally across issues, the European Community grew beyond the original core membership of the 1950s and assumed responsibilities going well beyond trade. Today, the European Union indeed counts among its member states countries that once were under Soviet domination. It has worked to transfer more powers from its individual member states to the overall organization centered on the road to creating a more unified European foreign and security policy and making the European Union an organization that the United States increasingly looks to for leadership on transatlantic issues, joining the NATO alliances that continue to bind us together in that common cause. While the European Community continues to provide a framework within which to conduct international trade, such as multilateral trade negotiations with the United States, it has also advanced the cause of liberty, free markets, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights throughout the European continent. The Treaty of Rome was an important step in building on the foundation that the United States helped create after World War II for Europe. Today, we look to a strong Europe as seen in the expanded NATO and expanded and strengthened European Union as a foundation on which we can work together to address new and ever growing challenges. Therefore, with enthusiasm, Mr. Speaker, it is that this House should commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of this Treaty of Rome. Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join with my colleagues in supporting H. Res. 230, a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which was signed on March 25, 1957. The Treaty of Rome established a customs union--formally known as the European Economic Community--among six countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Today, that customs union is known as the European Union, and now includes 27 countries spanning the length and breadth of Europe. Most importantly, it has grown into an institution that inspires countries to be their better selves. If one travels to Europe today, it may be hard to remember that, 50 years ago, the continent was still recovering from the second of the two world wars it had unleashed in less than half a century. It may be hard today to recall or imagine the magnitude of devastation that still scarred farmland and cities alike. It may be difficult to conceive of the bitterness, anger and thirst for revenge that bled across the continent like the blood of those fallen in war. The fact that Germany, a country that had unleashed a war of aggression against its neighbors just a few years before, was included in this new ``community'' was really nothing short of a minor miracle. Moreover, fifty years ago, Europe was still riven in two--no longer by a shooting war, but by a cold war. While a small group of nations was beginning the slow process of rebuilding their own countries and forging transnational relations based on cooperation, mutual trust, and mutual benefit, another part of the continent had fallen under the boot of communist dictatorship, where the Soviet Union exploited its neighbors, stripping them of wealth, prosperity, and opportunity for generations. Just one year before the Treaty of Rome was signed, the Soviet Union underscored its opposition to any independent foreign or economic policy on the part of East European countries--a message unequivocally sent by its invasion of Hungary. As the years passed, and the success of the European Economic Communities became ever more apparent, it is no surprise that more countries joined this union. Membership in Council of Europe, the European Union's sister organization and home of the European Court of Human Rights, helped pave the way for membership in the EU. Meanwhile, the NATO alliance created a zone of military security where the post-war citizens of Western Europe could build a zone of financial security. Since the fall of communism, there is no doubt that the aspiration of joining the European Union, much like the goal of joining the NATO alliance, has helped focus the attention of many countries on overcoming their past differences for a larger, common good that also brings substantial benefits to their own citizens. Today, I commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, and the new vision it held for the European continent, one that has helped spread peace and prosperity to nearly 500 million people.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel

    Thirty years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could “live and work as free human beings.” Today, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.  When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories.  Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the Charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of this chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other Chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders, including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years. Perhaps the regime’s harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak’s Czechoslovakia; no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, “Plastic People of the Universe;” by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. 1989 was an extraordinary year – a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East German were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin wall was breached. But while communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime’s repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.  On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released video tapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.  As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS, but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, “. . . a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.” On December 29, Vaclav Havel, who had been in prison just a few months earlier, was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.  Jan Patocka once wrote, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Chairman Alcee Hastings

    As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am privileged to add my voice today to those honoring Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist President, and the Charter 77 movement which, 30 years ago, he helped to found.  Three decades ago, the Charter 77 movement was established and its founding manifesto was formally delivered to the Communist regime in Prague. The goals of the Chartists – as signatories came to be known – were fairly straightforward: “Charter 77 [they stated] is a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world – rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the U.N. Universal Charter of Human Rights.”  The phrase “people of various shades of opinion” was, in fact, a charming understatement regarding the diversity of the signatories. Founding members of this movement included Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest banned by the regime; Vacla Benda, a Christian philosopher; former Trotskyite Peter Uhl; former Communists like Zdenek Mlynar and Jiri Hajek, both of whom were ousted from their leadership positions in the wake of the 1968 Soviet attack that crushed the Prague Spring reforms; and, of course, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and dramatist. Notwithstanding the many differences these people surely had, they were united common purpose: to compel the Communist regime to respect the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted.  Interestingly, the Charter 77 movement was never a mass dissident movement – fewer than two thousand people ever formally signed this document. But, to use a boxing analogy, Charter 77 punched above its weight. Its influence could be felt far beyond the number of those who openly signed on and, ultimately, in the battle of wits with the Communist regime, Charter 77 clearly won.  And most importantly, Charter 77 – like other human rights groups founded at roughly the same time in Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and elsewhere – looked to the Helsinki process as a vehicle for calling their own governments to account. Although it is sometimes said that the Helsinki process helped to bring down communism, it is really these grass roots movements that gave the Helsinki process its real meaning and its true legitimacy.  Thirty years ago, a small, courageous band of people came together and said, “We believe that Charter 77 will help to enable all citizens of Czechoslovakia to work and live as free human beings.” Today, we remember their struggle and praise their enduring contributions to democracy and human rights.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Chris Smith

    Madame Speaker, Edmund Burke once said that, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Thirty years ago, good men and women came together, and together, they ultimately triumphed over evil.  In 1987, I traveled to Czechoslovakia with a Helsinki Commission delegation led by my good friend, Steny Hoyer, who was then Chairman of the Commission. We traveled there just ten years after the Charter 77 movement had been formed and, amazingly, in spite of persecution and imprisonment, they had managed to publish 350 documents during its first ten years. And it was clear during my visit to Prague that this organization was having an impact, especially when the communist authorities went to the trouble of preventing five independent activists, including Vaclav Havel, from meeting with us.  In spite of this, our delegation was able to meet with several other Charter 77 signatories and sympathizers: Libuse Silhanova, Josef Vohryzek, Father Vaclav Maly, Zdenek Urbanek, and Rita Klimova. Libuse Silhanova, then serving as a Charter 77 spokesperson, described her fellow Chartists as “ordinary people who happen to be part of a movement.” For a group of “ordinary people,” they certainly accomplished extraordinary things.  One of the most notable of these “ordinary people” was the playwright Vaclav Havel, who is today the sole surviving member of Charter 77’s first three spokespersons. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised up his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison.  In 1978, Havel wrote a seminal essay entitled, “The Power of the Powerless.” In it, he proposed a remarkably conspiratorial concept: the idea that those repressed by the Communist Lie actually had the power to “live for truth,” and that by doing so, they could change the world in which they live.  One of the people who read this essay was Zbygniew Bujak, who became a leading Solidarity activist in Poland. Bujak described the impact of Havel’s message:  This essay reached us in the Ursus factory in 1979 at a point when we felt we were at the end of the road. Inspired by KOR [the Polish Workers' Defense Committee, which preceded Solidarity], we had been speaking on the shop floor, talking to people, participating in public meetings, trying to speak the truth about the factory, the country, and politics. There came a moment when people thought we were crazy. Why were we doing this? Why were we taking such risks? Not seeing any immediate and tangible results, we began to doubt the purposefulness of what we were doing. Shouldn’t we be coming up with other methods, other ways?  Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later – in August 1980 – it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered. And the rank and file saw us as leaders of the movement. When I look at the victories of Solidarity, and of Charter 77, I see in them an astonishing fulfillment of the prophecies and knowledge contained in Havel's essay.  Vaclav Havel’s essay was not just the product of clever wordsmithing; it was an act of singular heroism. In fact, shortly after writing “The Power of the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel found himself in prison, again. And it should be remembered that others, including philosopher Jan Patocka, Havel’s close friend, and Pavel Wonka, paid with their lives for their opposition to the Czechoslovak communist regime.  Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his steadfast commitment to human rights even from the Prague Castle. From the beginning, he was a voice of reason, not revenge, as he addressed his country’s communist and totalitarian past. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” And not only has he raised human rights issues in his own country but reminds the world of the abuses taking place in Cuba and China.  Throughout his presidency, he pardoned those faced with criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament’s regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. And he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate the world over.  On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Charter 77, I want to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in honoring Vaclav Havel and all the men and women who signed the Charter, who supported its goals, and who helped bring democracy to Czechoslovakia.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism. Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival. Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement. Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.” Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group. In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.” Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism.  Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival.  Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement.  Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.  It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.”  Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group.  In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.”  Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism.  Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival.  Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement.  Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.  It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.”  Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group.  In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.”  Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • The Sterilization Investigation in the Czech Republic

    This briefing addressed the policy pursued by the Czechoslovak Government during the 1970s and 1980s to reduce the birthrate of Roma by targeting some Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Commission expressed concern over this issue, especially in light of the head of the Slovak Nationalist Party calling for the restriction of the birth rate of Roman as recently as February of 2006. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, presented testimony on the League’s efforts to secure justice for ethnic Romani women living in the Czech Republic who were coercively sterilized. This issue was presented in the context of overall human rights violations committed against the Romani minority in the Czech Republic, ranging from racially motivated murder to discrimination in employment and housing.

  • Accountability and Impunity: Investigations Into Sterilization Without Informed Consent in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

    On December 23, 2005, the Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report confirming that some Romani women had been sterilized without informed consent. His report constitutes an unflinching examination of several highly sensitive issues: the relationship between patients and doctors in the Czech Republic, the eugenics movement in Czechoslovakia, communist-era policies toward the Romani minority, and the question of whether the post-communist Czech Government brought a definitive end to the communist-era policy of targeting Romani women for sterilization. This report stands in stark contrast with Slovakia’s flawed investigation (completed in October 2003) of the same issue, which was marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow-up. That inquiry prompted changes to the legal framework for sterilization in Slovakia which should help safeguard against the possibility that anyone will be sterilized without informed consent in the future. However, the Slovak Government’s investigation dismissed sterilizations without informed consent as merely “procedural shortcomings.” Moreover, the Slovak Government’s failure to acknowledge that wrongful sterilizations did, in fact, occur, contributes to the chasm of mistrust that divides Slovakia’s Romani and non-Romani citizens. Non-Roma have been misled by their government to believe that Roma falsely made accusations of egregious wrongs, and government institutions established to defend human rights have utterly failed to protect the rights of Roma. Download the full report to learn more. 

  • Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

    A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent. “I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.” “Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.” The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.” Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma. The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

Pages