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Commission on security and cooperation in Europe

U. S. Helsinki Commission

Mission

We are a US government agency that promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Nine Commissioners are members of the Senate, nine are members of the House of Representatives, and three are executive branch officials.

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Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

Co-Chairman

Representative Christopher H. Smith

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  • Revolution in Armenia?

    Under pressure from a surging popular protest movement, Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on April 23, less than one week after taking office. The mass demonstrations were sparked by Armenia’s transition this month to a parliamentary system from a semi-presidential one. Small-scale protests emerged in mid-April as it became clear that parliament would elect Sargsyan, who served as president since 2008, to the newly empowered post of prime minister, and culminated with tens of thousands of demonstrators in Armenia’s central square. Protestors met news of Sargsyan’s resignation with jubilation, but after securing its principal demand, the loosely organized, youth-led movement faces uncertain prospects going forward. During the briefing, panelists discussed the key elements of the protests, the response from the U.S. and Russian governments, and Armenia’s political options moving forward. The protestors were predominantly young people – including many high school and university students. Panelists noted that youth were motivated to protest primarily due to concerns over economic opportunities, which have not significantly improved under 10 years of rule by the Republican Party of Armenia. Independent Research Analyst Elen Agehkyan noted the charisma of protest leader Nikol Pashinyan as playing a major role in mobilizing protesters. Dressing simply and marching with protestors, Pashinyan was seen as a “people’s leader”.  Panelists also remarked that the protests were noteworthy for their nonviolent nature. Protestors did not even erupt into violence when Pashinyan was detained overnight. Panelists also discussed the response from the U.S. and Russian governments. The International Republican Institute’s Regional Director for Eurasia Stephen Nix commended U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills for playing a positive role, noting that Ambassador Mills met with both the government and opposition and called on protestors to remain peaceful. The Russian government held a hands-off approach to the protests, releasing statements that the protests were strictly a domestic affair. Mr. Nix further outlined the constitutional provisions governing Armenia’s transition of power. He discussed scenarios for the coming weeks that might require emergency elections, depending on the ability of a prime minister candidate to secure the parliament’s approval for his appointment and government program. Nix further addressed the importance of U.S. government support to develop Armenian public institutions, political parties, and civil society that will be essential to sustaining any momentum toward reform. 

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on the Protest Movement in Armenia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: REVOLUTION IN ARMENIA? THE POWER AND PROSPECTS OF THE PROTEST MOVEMENT Thursday, April 26, 2018 4:00 p.m. Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 200 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Under pressure from a surging popular protest movement, Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on Monday, less than one week after taking office. The mass demonstrations were sparked by Armenia’s transition this month to a parliamentary system from a semi-presidential one. Small-scale protests emerged in mid-April as it became clear that parliament would elect Sargsyan, who served as president since 2008, to the newly empowered post of prime minister, and culminated with tens of thousands of demonstrators in Armenia’s central square. Protestors met news of Sargsyan’s resignation with jubilation, but after securing its principal demand, the loosely organized, youth-led movement faces uncertain prospects going forward. What will be the outcome of early dialogue between the government and protest leaders? Can the movement achieve more lasting reform of the entrenched power structures in Armenia’s political system? Will this collective mobilization translate into sustained political engagement? What are the regional implications of this domestic upheaval?  The following expert panelists will address these questions and others: Elen Aghekyan, Independent Research Analyst Stephen Nix, Eurasia Regional Director, International Republican Institute Other panelists may be added.  

  • Helsinki Commission to Investigate Kremlin Pressure on UN Anti-Corruption Agency

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: THE LONG ARM OF INJUSTICE: DID A UN COMMISSION FOUNDED TO FIGHT CORRUPTION HELP THE KREMLIN DESTROY A RUSSIAN FAMILY? Friday, April 27, 2018 9:15 a.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2172 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Witnesses scheduled to testify include: Victoria Sandoval, criminal and human rights attorney representing the Bitkov family Rolando Alvarado, attorney representing the Bitkov family; professor of law and founding partner, Corpolegal Bill Browder, founding director of the Global Magnitsky Campaign for Justice Additional witnesses may be added. In 2008, Igor and Irina Bitkov, along with their daughter Anastasia, fled Russia in fear for their lives. Having seen their successful company bankrupted in a textbook raider scheme, their daughter kidnapped and raped, and facing death threats, the Bitkovs took refuge and began a new life with new identities in Guatemala. The family now finds itself separated, imprisoned in squalid Guatemalan jail cells, and facing nearly twenty years in prison for alleged paperwork irregularities normally punishable by a simple fine. There are grave reasons to question the role of the government of Russia and the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in their imprisonment. “I am deeply concerned about grave injustices suffered by the Bitkov family—brutalized in Russia, now apparently re-victimized in Guatemala, where they languish in jail,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who will chair the hearing. “Evidence indicating that the government of Russia may have enlisted the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to persecute this family is troubling and must be thoroughly scrutinized.” The hearing will seek answers to key questions: Did the Kremlin enlist CICIG in its vendetta to destroy the Bitkovs? Is this another example of the frightening reach of Putin’s government and its ability to co-opt institutions designed to further the rule of law, as it has Interpol and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties? Has the government of Russia corrupted a UN anti-corruption agency? What does this teach about the government of Russia, the UN, and the global fight against the scourge of corruption? The Helsinki Commission will examine the specifics of the Bitkov case, including Russian influence on CICIG and Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office, and review policy options to protect U.S. taxpayer-supported institutions from abuse and undue pressure from authoritarian governments.

  • Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cardin on Anniversary of Death of Joseph Stone in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—On the one-year anniversary of the death of Joseph Stone, a U.S. paramedic serving in the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) recalled Stone’s tragic death, criticized the pressure put on international monitors, and called for the Russian government to end the cycle of violence that resulted in Stone’s death.  Stone’s life was cruelly cut short when his vehicle struck a landmine in separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. “Civilian OSCE monitors like Mr. Stone risk their lives to tell the world what is happening, even as they face violent harassment and physical obstruction. Monitors should be able to travel throughout the country without restriction or intimidation, as their mandate requires,” Sen. Wicker said. “Russia’s continued fueling of this war must end. Putin and those he supports should live up to their commitments under the Minsk agreements and get out of Ukraine.” Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ranking Senate Commissioner, praised the work of the monitors and condemned Russia’s leaders for their role in the conflict. “Joseph Stone gave his life in service to a mission that shines a light on a war that has killed thousands and affected millions more.  Every day, these brave, unarmed monitors report the ground truth from a conflict manufactured by Putin and his cronies to advance his vision of a weak and destabilized Ukraine,” Sen. Cardin stated. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the most serious breaches of OSCE principles since the signing of Helsinki Final Act in 1975. The Russian regime must put an end to the cycle of violence it perpetuates in Ukraine and live up to its OSCE commitments.” The SMM was established in 2014 to monitor implementation of the Minsk agreements, which were designed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. It is an unarmed, civilian mission that serves as the international community’s eyes and ears in the conflict zone. It is the only independent monitoring mission in the war zone. The SMM operates under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.  It currently fields roughly 700 monitors, nearly 600 of whom are in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The United States supports the SMM by providing more than 60 monitors and other resources to the mission.

  • A Crisis in Guatemala, Abetted by the U.N.

    In the struggle to defeat transnational crime in Central America, the U.S. is financing a United Nations prosecutorial body in Guatemala. Yet these U.N. prosecutors are thumbing their noses at the rule of law and seem to be using their power to politicize the Guatemalan judiciary. This is dividing and destabilizing a pivotal democracy in the region. The fragile Guatemalan state is in the crosshairs of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s Gen. Raúl Castro. If their allies seize control of Mexico’s southern neighbor via its institutions, as Daniel Ortega has done in Nicaragua, it will have implications for Mexican and American security. The U.N. body, known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG by its Spanish initials), has been in the country since 2007. It has busted some criminals. But its unchecked power has led to abuse, and this should concern U.S. backers. Some of CICIG’s most vociferous defenders hail from Guatemala’s extreme left, which eschews equality under the law and representative democracy. CICIG’s rogue justice has come to the attention of Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. He has scheduled a hearing April 27 to review CICIG’s role in the Guatemalan prosecution and extralegal conviction of a Russian family on the run from Vladimir Putin’s mafia. As I detailed in March 26 and April 19 Americas columns, Igor and Irina Bitkov, and their daughter Anastasia, fled persecution in Russia and became victims of a crime syndicate in Guatemala that was selling false identity documents. Yet Guatemala and CICIG tried the family alongside members of the crime ring that tricked them. They were convicted and given unusually harsh sentences. Guatemalan law and the U.N.’s Palermo Convention say that such migrants are victims, and a Guatemalan constitutional appeals court ruled that the Bitkovs committed no crime. CICIG and Guatemalan prosecutors ignored that ruling, went to a lower court and got a conviction. CICIG will not say why, or why it didn’t prosecute the law firm that solicited the fake documents given to the Bitkovs. Matías Ponce is “head of communications” for CICIG but there is no contact information for him or his office on the CICIG website. I managed to get his cellphone number from a third party and, after repeated tries, made contact with him. I requested his email and wrote to him so I could share with readers CICIG’s explanation of what appears to be abuse of power. He sent me a boilerplate response about CICIG’s work against criminal networks but no answers to my questions. It is unlikely CICIG will answer questions before the Helsinki Commission. Its co-chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), invited CICIG to appear at a similar hearing he proposed for April 24 in the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee monitoring human rights and U.N. entities. CICIG declined the invitation. That hearing was not scheduled, though the office of Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) told me it’s not dead. If CICIG refuses to cooperate with the Helsinki Commission, it will fuel the feeling among rule-of-law advocates that it has something to hide. CICIG says it is in Guatemala merely to “support” the attorney general in her work “identifying and dismantling” criminal networks and is not involved in politics. But an academic analysis of CICIG by Jonatán Lemus, a Francisco Marroquín University political science professor, suggests otherwise. Mr. Lemus observes that “CICIG has also been criticized for the very same reasons others have praised it: becoming a player in judicial appointments, proposing some controversial reforms to the Guatemalan constitution, and the use of televised conferences to shift the public in its favor. From this perspective, instead of strengthening Guatemalan institutions, the Commission is making national institutions dependent on its assistance.” This dependence drives CICIG deeper into politics. As Mr. Lemus notes, “once immersed in a polarized political system,” an international body designed like CICIG naturally “will face incentives to behave as any domestic bureaucracy trying to maximize its power and resources to ensure its survival.” Without an explanation for the bizarre Bitkov convictions, Guatemalans are left to speculate about CICIG’s motives. Incompetence is one possibility. But once the injustice was publicized and not corrected, that reasoning collapsed. A foreign businessman also makes an easy target for a politically correct prosecutor seeking approval from anticapitalist nongovernmental organizations. Kremlin “influence” cannot be ruled out. Nailing the Bitkovs was a priority for Russia because the family had refused to “donate” large sums to the Putin kitty in Kaliningrad. It would hardly be surprising to learn that Moscow leaned on prosecutors and judges to put the family behind bars. There’s no doubt that something fishy went on, and CICIG prosecutor Iván Velásquez’s unwillingness to address it is troubling. The truth matters for the family, for Guatemala and for the U.S.

  • Turkey Wants to Veto Civil Society Organizations at the OSCE

    A September meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is being held up by Turkey, which wants to be able to stop specific civil society groups from participating in the annual event. Each September, civil society organizations from OSCE member states meet with government representatives for Europe’s largest human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. For many civil society organizations, the event is the lone opportunity they have to address government representatives. But if Turkey gets its way, those civil society organizations won’t include groups affiliated with Fethullah Gulen, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s onetime ally and current foe. Erdogan blames Gulen for the 2016 failed coup attempt and claims that groups affiliated with his movement are part of terrorist organizations. The Turkish government’s demand for a veto over civil society organizations’ participation has some worried that Ankara will weaken a critical event in the human rights community — and set an example for other countries in the process. Last September, the Turkish delegation stormed out after an opening speech to oppose participation of the Gulen-affiliated Journalists and Writers Foundation. “This entity is so closely linked to the Fethullahist Terror Organization,” said Rauf Engin Soysal, the Turkish ambassador to the OSCE. Earlier that year, Turkey managed to rid the group of its consultative status at the U.N. Economic and Social Council over a technicality. Though the group lost its consultative status at the U.N., it still came to September’s OSCE meeting. A representative for the Journalists and Writers Foundation says the organization was not given a chance to reply to claims it is a terrorist organization. “Of course because this is an allegation without any proof and a groundless claim,” the representative says. In the fall of 2017, Turkey, which can block the dates and agenda of the Human Dimension Meeting, attempted to establish a veto over which civil society organizations could join the event. A working group that was set up last fall to deal with the issue is expected to meet Friday. In January, U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Ben Cardin wrote to Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell expressing concerns about countries calling for a “vetting” mechanism for civil society organizations, specifically citing Turkey. “Turkey’s attempt to limit civil society participation at the OSCE rejects its commitment to promote freedom as a NATO ally. The State Department is right to join the Commission in opposition to these actions,” Wicker wrote in a comment to Foreign Policy. There may not be an easy solution, however. “Everything is based on consensus decisions made by the participating states,” a spokesperson for the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights says. And Turkey appears to be standing firm in its position. Turkey recognizes the importance of the OSCE’s work and is not opposed to groups that are critical, Behic Hatipoglu, a counselor for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, wrote in response to questions. “However, participation of terror affiliated organizations to the OSCE activities is another issue and we believe that OSCE platforms should not be abused by terrorist or terrorist affiliated organizations,” he wrote. Beyond the September meeting, some NGOs and government officials alike are concerned that Turkey might inspire other countries — Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example — to take similar measures to keep civil society organizations away from the table. But there are also concerns that this is part of a larger pattern of Turkish behavior on the international stage. Erdogan recently called for snap elections, which will take place under the state of emergency, and civil society groups have been a frequent government target. “They aren’t worried about attracting negative attention. If anything, they like it. It shows they’re proactive,” says David Phillips, the director of the program on peace-building and rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. “This is all part of an effort by Erdogan to show voters he’s not allowing foreigners to interfere in Turkey’s domestic affairs.” And though the current Turkish initiative is focused on Gulen-affiliated groups, Phillips believes it’s part of a broader effort, at home and abroad, to go after civil society. “I would suspect that their efforts are not restricted only to Gulen-related groups. Once you start restricting civil liberties, why stop with the Gulen groups?”

  • Capitol Hill Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide

    Mr. Speaker, next week, on April 24, we will mark the 103rd anniversary of the infamous Armenian genocide. The date of the commemoration marks the anniversary of Red Sunday, the night when the Ottoman Empire Government gave the order to arrest and intern approximately 250 Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. Less than 2 months after Red Sunday, the end of May 1915, the government enacted legislation that unleashed unspeakable widespread government-organized evictions, massacres, and deportations. As many as 1.5 million people perished. It was about the annihilation of the Armenian people. In September of 2000, I held the first-ever hearing on the Armenian genocide here in Congress. Three years ago this month, I chaired another hearing on the 100th anniversary. At the time, I noted that the Armenian genocide is the only one of the genocides of the 20th century in which the nation that was decimated by genocide has been subjected to ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of genocidal denial, openly sustained by state authority--that would be the Turkish Government. That has to change, and this horrible, horrible genocide needs to be recognized by our government for what it was.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Praises Latest Round of Russia Sanctions

    WASHINGTON—Following today’s announcement by the Trump administration of new sanctions on Russian oligarchs, officials, and entities, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: "The administration's decisive actions today strike hard at Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and remind Russia and the world that the United States stands with the oppressed, not the oppressors. These steps are designed to isolate those who have impoverished the Russian people and act as trustees for corrupt officials in the Kremlin looking to hide their illicit wealth. I stand with President Trump in holding the Russian regime accountable, even as we continue to engage those elements of Russian society that remain open to genuine partnership."

  • Use Magnitsky Act to Fight Russian Thuggery

    In “Kremlin Revenge in Guatemala” (Americas, March 26) Mary Anastasia O’Grady rightly draws attention to the determination of Vladimir Putin’s cronies to hurt those who defy their corruption. The yearslong ordeal of the Bitkov family—their harassment, persecution and ultimate imprisonment in a Guatemalan jail after fleeing Russia—is astonishing because of its cruelty. However, the story also reveals a much larger truth about the global web of complicity that the Kremlin will weave to suppress the rule of law and human rights outside its own borders. As chairman and former chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which works to advance international human rights, we are encouraged by the release of the first-ever sanctions list under the Global Magnitsky Act late last year. We ask that the administration put those responsible for the harm done to the Bitkovs on this list. These individuals should be held accountable for the flagrant torture and oppression they have inflicted upon this family, once at the helm of a thriving paper-mill company and now unjustly sentenced to years in a Guatemalan jail. Russia’s message of intimidation to the Bitkovs is a familiar one. We’ve seen before what the kleptocracy will do to those who challenge its crimes. We know the stories of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Sergei Magnitsky. In 2012, we championed the Magnitsky Act for the wrongful punishment and death of Magnitsky, who uncovered massive fraud at the hands of Russian authorities. Under the law, those who were complicit in his death would have their U.S. assets frozen and any travel to the U.S. denied. The Global Magnitsky Act, passed four years later, broadens America’s response to human-rights offenders around the world. We have refused to respond to these stories with silence, and we cannot tolerate impunity now. Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.)

  • The Opioid Crisis and the Dark Web

    The opioid crisis is devastating the health and well-being of Americans. Following a dramatic increase in the use of prescription opioid painkillers in the late 1990s, the crisis now kills more than 40,000 people in the United States annually. Experts estimate that millions more abuse prescription opioids each year, many of whom later turn to heroin. Transnational criminal organizations are one of the driving forces behind the intensity of the opioid crisis. By taking advantage of anonymous online marketplaces and legal delivery services, they can smuggle deadly drugs like fentanyl into the United States in a low-risk, high-reward way. This briefing traced the criminal networks that produce these drugs, market them on the dark web, and smuggle them into the United States to better understand how the public and private sectors can more effectively respond to this crisis and save thousands of American lives.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Meet With Russian Doping Whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) met yesterday with Russian doping whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov in the Capitol. Topics discussed included the threat posed by Russia to the United States, corruption in international sports bodies, and how the United States can contribute to the international effort to counter doping fraud. Dr. Rodchenkov’s precarious circumstances in the United States also were discussed. “Dr. Rodchenkov’s story is yet another example of the Kremlin’s willingness to flout international rules and standards. It is deplorable that he must continue to fear for his life and was forced even to wear a ski mask in our meeting today to protect his appearance. Yet in light of the recent nerve gas attack in England made in retaliation against Sergei Skripal, this appears totally, tragically justified. I am impressed and inspired by Dr. Rodchenkov’s bravery. I will continue to speak out about the fundamental human rights of the Russian people, and push the administration to do more to push back on Russia’s attacks on our norms and values,” said Sen. Cardin. “Dr. Rodchenkov is a courageous individual whose whistleblowing has strengthened the global fight against corruption in international sports and elsewhere. It was a pleasure to meet him in person. Whistleblowers are a fundamental element of society based on the rule of law. His story deserves to be told and emulated again and again,” added Rep. Jackson Lee. Dr. Rodchenkov is the former head of Russia’s anti-doping lab and recently exposed Russia’s massive, state-run doping program leading to Russia’s exclusion from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. He is currently in the United States living under heightened security given credible threats to his life. The Oscar-winning Netflix documentary Icarus chronicles Dr. Rodchenkov’s journey from head of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program to whistleblower in exile.

  • Transnational Criminal Organizations and the Opioid Crisis to Be Examined at Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: THE OPIOID CRISIS AND THE DARK WEB: HOW TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINALS DEVASTATE U.S. COMMUNITIES Wednesday, March 28, 2018 3:30 p.m. Russell Senate Office Building Room 485 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission The opioid crisis is devastating the health and well-being of Americans. Following a dramatic increase in the use of prescription opioid painkillers in the late 1990s, the crisis now kills more than 40,000 people in the United States annually. Experts estimate that millions more abuse prescription opioids each year, many of whom later turn to heroin. Transnational criminal organizations are one of the driving forces behind the intensity of the opioid crisis. By taking advantage of anonymous online marketplaces and legal delivery services, they can smuggle deadly drugs like fentanyl into the United States in a low-risk, high-reward way. This briefing will trace the criminal networks that produce these drugs, market them on the dark web, and smuggle them into the United States to better understand how the public and private sectors can more effectively respond to this crisis and save thousands of American lives. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Kemp Chester, Associate Director of the National Heroin Coordination Group, Office of National Drug Control Policy John Clark, Vice President and Chief Security Officer, Global Security, Pfizer Inc. Louise Shelley, Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC); Professor, George Mason University

  • The Good Friday Agreement at 20

    From 1969-1999, political violence shook Northern Ireland in a time known as “The Troubles,” and by its end, nearly 3,500 people died. Through negotiations between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as with political parties from Northern Ireland, an agreement was reached, bringing an end to hostilities. On April 10, 1998, their settlement was signed, and is remembered as the Good Friday Agreement. As the United States celebrates twenty years of compliance of this landmark agreement, the anniversary also brings a moment of honest reflection. Full implementation of this agreement has been challenging and certain aspects remain unfulfilled. There are still concerns regarding devolved government, police reforms and accountability for past abuses. The hearing, held on March 22, 2018, was convened in order to commend the achievements of the Agreement and to bring to light aspects of the Agreement that have not been fully implemented, including state collusion in the crimes of paramilitaries. It featured testimony from Brian Gormally, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice; Judge James F. McKay III, President of Ancient Order of Hibernians; and Mark Thompson, Director of Relatives for Justice. Congressman Chris Smith opened by informing the witnesses and guests of the Hearing of a resolution he introduced in the House, H. Res. 777, calling for a recommittal of the United States, the British, and all parties—including the Republic of Ireland—to the peace process Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin expressed his ongoing support of the spirit embodied by the Agreement, saying that, it represented “the best of the Helsinki principles” and urged the maintenance of its terms through Brexit negotiations. Representative Brenan Boyle, condemned remarks from London that suggested the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t meant to be permanent. Boyle reaffirmed American support and claimed, “That there is absolutely zero support in Washington, D.C. for going back to the days of pre-Good Friday Agreement.” Brian Gormally, the first witness to testify, outlined what he and his organization consider the main area of ongoing human rights violations, though it is not addressed fully by the Agreement. Impunity for past crimes, Gormally said, has left victims dying “without seeing justice, or even serious attempts to achieve it.” Such nonchalance by the British government and security forces have undermined society, threatened the peace process and erode faith in the rule of law. The second witness to testify, Judge James McKay, reminded the Commissioners of the close relationship between the United States and Ireland, and thus, why the United States is such a strong and vocal stakeholder in the Agreement’s continuance. He stated that the AOH understands the importance that the issue of identity weighs on individuals, and that understanding leads them to believe the best way of mitigating identity and legacy issues is through a special, third party envoy. The final speaker, Mark Thompson, was then yielded the floor. He emphasized how much international forums such as this one resonated with the families and communities affected by this conflict, as well as non-government organizations seeking the promotion and protection of human rights. Congressman Smith then returned to the issue of developing a special envoy. Judge McKay and Mr. Thompson were in agreement that such an envoy would be a much-needed impetus to “move things forward,” as Mr. Thompson said. The hearing gave considerations regarding the case of Pat Finucane. Judge McKay remarked upon the two standards held by London and Belfast. “I’m sure if Pat Finucane were murdered on the streets of London in the same manner,” he said, “this would have been headlines and inquiries going on within three or four months.” In closing, Judge McKay offered his thanks to Congressman Smith for the drafting and introduction of House Resolution 777, and offered the assistance of his organization to back its passing. Mr. Thompson concluded that with Brexit on the horizon, “it would be timely to have a U.S. intervention.” Mr. Gormally emphasized that “the guiding principle before and since the Good Friday Agreement is to implement human rights standards.”

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing on the Good Friday Agreement at 20

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT AT 20: ACHIEVEMENTS AND UNFINISHED BUSINESS Thursday, March 22, 2018 9:30 a.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Between 1969 and 1999, during a period known as “The Troubles,” almost 3,500 people died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland. On April 10, 1998, the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom—along with Northern Ireland political parties participating in peace talks—reached a political settlement and signed what is now known as the Good Friday Agreement. However, full implementation of the agreement has been challenging. Certain aspects of the agreement remain unfulfilled, including those related to devolved government, police reforms, and accountability for past abuses. Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which will be April 10, the hearing will examine the agreement’s achievements as well as aspects that have not been fully implemented, including state collusion in the crimes of paramilitaries. Witnesses scheduled to testify include: Brian Gormally, Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice Judge Jim McKay, President, Ancient Order of Hibernians Mark Thompson, Director, Relatives for Justice

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Welcomes New Russia Sanctions

    WASHINGTON—Following today’s announcement by the Trump administration of the first Russian individuals and entities to be sanctioned under the 2017 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: “I welcome today’s action by the administration. The targets of this first round of sanctions demonstrate that the United States will not tolerate Russian cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure, and we will not accept attempts by the Putin regime to interfere in U.S. elections. I encourage the administration to continue to expand and enforce sanctions against those in Russia who violate our laws and harm our national security.” CAATSA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress in July 2017 and signed into law by President Trump on August 2, 2017. It codifies certain executive order sanctions and directs the administration to impose additional penalties on the Kremlin’s clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of international norms.

  • Could U.S. Law Help Punish Russians for Doping Scheme?

    WASHINGTON — In recent months, the United States has punished the following people for alleged human rights violations and corruption: A former Gambian president who led terror and assassination squads. A Chechen leader involved in torture, kidnapping and murder. A Pakistani man at the center of a human-organ trafficking network. And a former Russian sports minister who was implicated in a nation’s systematic doping scheme that tainted several Olympics and other international competitions? Well, not the last person — at least not yet. The United States Anti-Doping Agency is exploring the use of government sanctions to punish Russian officials involved in the state-supported doping program that turned the 2014 Sochi Games into a sham. On Tuesday, Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the agency, attended a workshop here sponsored by the U.S. Helsinki Commission to see if the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 law that allows the sanctions, could apply to the Russians. The law calls for individuals who have committed human rights violations or significant corruption to be barred from obtaining United States visas and blocked from using the American financial system, which effectively blacklists them from doing business with major world banks. Powerful, wealthy people don’t like to have their assets frozen. “What happened in Sochi was the worst case of corruption that we’ve ever seen in sport, so why shouldn’t the act apply to us?” Tygart said. “We have to look down every avenue if we’re working for clean athletes, particularly in light of the I.O.C.’s failure do anything.” Tygart said American athletes have been demanding that the antidoping agency find ways to better protect clean athletes in the future so the Russian doping debacle is never repeated. The International Olympic Committee punished Russia, sort of, for its widespread doping. It barred the Russian Olympic Committee, the Russian flag and the Russian national anthem from last month’s Pyeongchang Games, while letting some Russian athletes compete under a neutral flag. It also barred for life one top Russian official: Vitaly Mutko. (He was implicated in the doping program as the Russian sports minister. After the scheme was exposed, he was promoted to deputy prime minister.) Three days after the Pyeongchang Games ended, the I.O.C. reinstated Russia’s Olympic committee — even though two Russian athletes had failed drug tests during the competition. So the United States antidoping group is looking for additional ways to punish the Russians. The Global Magnitsky Act is in its infancy and the sports angle might be a long-shot, but why not try? Besides, the United States government often has to do the dirty work for sports leagues and federations that refuse to police themselves. To take down the principles and athletes involved in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids scandal that ensnared athletes like Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, law enforcement made arrests and prosecutors took it from there. To address the widespread doping problem in Major League Baseball, Congress had to drag players and management in to testify. To uncover corruption in FIFA, United States prosecutors took the lead and indicted more than two dozen officials and businessmen from all over the world — much to the dismay of soccer’s global establishment. And now it could be the Global Magnitsky Act that delivers a staggering blow to the Russians for corrupting the results of major global sports competitions — including, but certainly not limited to, the Olympics. Among the people who could be targeted for sanctions are Mutko; Yuri D. Nagornykh, the former deputy sports minister; Irina Rodionova, the former deputy director of the Center for Sports Preparation; and others mentioned in an affidavit by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s former longtime antidoping laboratory chief who blew the whistle on the whole operation. Does such sports corruption rise to the level covered by the law? William F. Browder thinks so. He’s a prominent investor who worked with Congress on the original Magnitsky Act, which was passed in 2012 in response to the death of Browder’s Russian lawyer, Sergei L. Magnitsky. The lawyer had uncovered a $230 million tax-theft scheme before he was arrested and died in prison. “There’s one important issue and that’s the doping scandal at the Sochi Games led to what I believe were murders,” Browder said, referring to two officials from Russia’s antidoping agency who died within two weeks of each other in 2016. “There were a number of people involved who died very suspiciously who were most likely liquidated to cover up a crime.” He added: “There were people who effectively ruined institution of sport and have committed crimes to do so. That would reach the standard of Global Magnitsky, in my opinion. These people involved in sports doping, they’re shameless. So there needs to be really hard consequences. They need to pay a very dear price.” That price would be losing access to their money and the freedom to move about the world. And they would be on a list with some of the world’s worst criminals. “If the Olympic Games are unquestionably tainted, that has huge economic ramifications for not just U.S. athletes, but for U.S. industry, and the U.S. government has an interest in making sure that doesn’t happen,” said Robert G. Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First and a former deputy assistant secretary of state. I asked him if he thought the individuals involved in the Russian doping case could be sanctioned under the law. “Without getting into specifics,” he said, “it seems that you can make a case.” Tygart thinks so, too. He left the workshop on Tuesday thinking that sanctions were a last resort but “a viable option.” Is it truly a viable option, and will the antidoping agency act on it? A certain group of Russians might not be eager to learn the answers.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Smith Introduces Resolution Marking 20th Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and a bipartisan group of members from the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs have introduced a resolution to reaffirm U.S. Congressional support for the agreement and expressed concern about the failure to adequately implement certain aspects of it. “The Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland, a tremendous achievement,” said Rep. Smith. “Yet aspects of the agreement that require accountability for past abuses have been only partially implemented. The British government admits to collusion in paramilitary murders, but in many case has refused to bring to justice state agents guilty of grave crimes—a violation of the agreement and basic international human rights law.” Smith’s resolution, H.Res.777, commends the Good Friday Agreement, calling it “a blueprint for sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.” The resolution also notes that certain aspects of the agreement remain unfulfilled, including those related to devolved government, police reforms, and accountability for past abuses. It also calls on the British Government to establish a full, independent, and public judicial inquiry into the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, and urges the U.S. Secretary of State to appoint a Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16), the lead Democrat cosponsor of the resolution, said, “For 20 years, the Good Friday Agreement has been the backbone of the northern Irish political process. It provided a path forward for the two communities to live together and govern this long-disputed land in peace. It also helped clear the way for dealing with the challenges that remain: reconciliation, an honest reckoning of what took place, and justice for those who have yet to see it. This resolution rightfully recommits us to the values and principles underlying the Good Friday Agreement and commemorates the Agreement’s first 20 years.” Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), Chair of the Friends of Ireland, said: “As we recognize the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this year, the United States must continue to play a meaningful role on the island of Ireland in order to ensure that all aspects of that landmark peace accord are implemented in full. I believe this timely resolution expresses those concerns clearly and in great detail.” “It’s important that we mark this anniversary,” said Smith. “The Good Friday Agreement is as relevant now as ever, given the uncertainties that Brexit has created. And many Americans played key roles in facilitating the Good Friday Agreement, and in promoting its implementation. We still have a role to play in urging reconciliation through truth and justice.” H. Res. 777 was introduced with Reps. Eliot Engel, Joe Crowley (NY-14), Richard Neal, and James McGovern (MA-02) as original cosponsors. Reps. Smith, Engel, and Crowley are Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, and Rep. Neal is Chair of the Friends of Ireland—both are Congressional caucuses concerned with supporting justice and human rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Between 1969 and 1999, during a period known as “The Troubles,” almost 3,500 people died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland. On April 10, 1998, the two Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom—along with Northern Ireland political parties participating in peace talks, reached a political settlement and signed the Good Friday Agreement. However, full implementation of the agreement has been challenging. Rep. Smith has chaired 16 congressional hearings on the Northern Ireland justice and peace process, many of them focusing on issues of police reform and government collusion in the crimes of paramilitary organizations. Four of Rep. Smith’s bills and resolutions have been passed addressing the British government’s role in the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, most recently H. Con. Res. 20 (110th Congress, 2007).

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