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American Scientist Suffers Under Turkey’s Faltering Rule of Law
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By Everett Price,
Policy Advisor

From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns.

This feature article on Turkey coincides with the September 19 session of HDIM 2017, which focuses on whether OSCE participating States are implementing their commitments related to rule of law. On September 11, the first day of the meeting, the Turkish delegation walked out to protest that an NGO it alleged has ties with the Gulen movement was allowed to register for HDIM.

A NASA scientist based in Houston, Texas has spent the last 14 months in a Turkish prison, caught in the same dragnet that has ensnared tens of thousands of Turkish nationals since the failed coup attempt that played out in Turkey during the night of July 15, 2016. The scale of the Turkish government’s crackdown since that chaotic night is difficult to comprehend, but this scientist’s story illustrates the kind of ordinary lives that the sweeping purges upended with only the slimmest of justifications.

A 37-year old dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, Serkan Golge is married to Kubra, also a dual US-Turkish national. The couple has two young sons, aged eight and one.  They have lived in a two-story home in a quiet suburb of Houston since 2013, when Serkan landed a contract as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, focusing on the effects of solar radiation on the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Serkan’s mind, once immersed in scientific observation and the boundless expanse of outer space, is now mostly trapped in the contemplation of his small prison cell and the national political drama that landed him there. For the past 14 months, he has been detained in Iskenderun prison on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern Turkey, 25 miles from the Syrian border—he has spent the last 12 months in solitary confinement, allowed outside his cell just one hour every day.

***

On the morning of July 23, eight days after the failed coup, Serkan and his family were wrapping up a month-long stay with his parents in Antakya, Turkey.

The surreal night of the coup attempt, including pitched street battles between rebel military units and civilians in Istanbul and Ankara, had seemed a world away to the Golges on vacation in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. But as Serkan and his family were loading up a car to go to the airport to begin their return trip to Houston, the coup’s aftermath arrived at their doorstep.

Plainclothes state security officials approached Serkan as he emerged from the house and detained him on suspicion of membership in the so-called “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) that the Turkish government has accused of plotting the overthrow attempt. “FETO” is the pejorative term coined by the Turkish government for a major social and religious movement in Turkey led by the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Once a political ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gulen movement fell out with AKP officials in recent years as the movement asserted its independence in various state organs, particularly the courts. President Erdoğan perceived the Gulen movement as a threat and started to purge its allies in state ministries, followed by the private sector. It was no surprise to most observers when Erdoğan declared “FETO” responsible for the coup and moved to eviscerate every last remnant of the group in Turkish institutions, whether in the public sector, business, media, civil society, or education. 

Serkan is currently on trial and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted of belonging to “FETO.” Yet the evidence that ostensibly links him to the organization, establishing his complicity in the coup and justifying his prolonged detention, is astonishingly thin. A distant disgruntled relative appears to have denounced Serkan to authorities to settle an old score relating to an inheritance dispute. Based on the relative’s statements, authorities arrested Serkan and raided his parents’ home where they seized upon a single one-dollar bill as evidence. Turkish authorities claim that Fethullah Gulen gave blessed American dollar bills to his followers; thus, national security trials around the country have scrutinized countless dollar bills in their deliberations.

His relative further testified to his suspicion that Serkan worked for the CIA. When questioned about this at trial, the relative acknowledged that his claim was based solely on the fact that Serkan lived in the United States. Authorities have also questioned Serkan about his college degree from a major Gulen-affiliated university that the government closed in 2016. He reminded authorities that he attended the university on a government-funded scholarship—a reminder of the ruling party’s formerly cozy relationship with the organization it now denounces as public enemy number one.

A dollar bill, a U.S. passport, and a college degree: this is the evidence that has landed an American citizen in solitary confinement for a year in Turkey.

***

Serkan’s experience reflects the plight of the tens of thousands of people arrested, imprisoned, or fired from their jobs for suspicion of involvement in the attempted coup. The state of emergency decrees that paved the way for these massive purges did not specify the criteria for detention and dismissal. As a result, baseless assertions about an individual’s suspected links to “FETO” have caused people to lose their jobs, be stripped of their professional licenses, or thrown in jail without even the most minimal due process.

In all, the government has detained more than 110,000 people, of whom 50,000 are under arrest. These detentions have swelled Turkey’s prison population and prompted the government last year to release 38,000 inmates just to make room for the influx. Reliable information is not available for the number of ongoing trials or convictions but last month the government issued a decree extending the maximum pre-trial detention period from five to seven years, underscoring how prolonged detention without conviction can serve as punishment itself.

Of the 140,000 people who lost their jobs, so far 30,000 have been allowed to return to work. Meanwhile, 80,000 people who lost jobs have appealed their cases to a temporary State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission established by Ankara in July 2017.

The case load created by the purges would strain the judicial system under normal circumstances, but the situation faced by the Turkish judiciary today is anything but normal.  Prior to the coup attempt, President Erdogan had already embarked on a campaign to extend his influence over the judicial branch and promote party loyalists within its ranks. In the coup’s aftermath, this campaign kicked into high gear. Since July 2016, President Erdogan dismissed more than 4,200 judges and prosecutors—approximately a quarter of the total—on suspicion of subversive loyalties.  Of the 900 new judges recruited as replacements in April, opposition leaders claim 800 have ties to the ruling party. 

The independence of the Turkish judiciary further eroded in April 2017 when a controversial nationwide referendum narrowly approved constitutional changes that increased the President’s influence over the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP). The powerful CJP “oversees the appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplining, and dismissal” of judges. Under the newly enacted constitutional amendments, the President now appoints nearly half of the CJP and the Turkish parliament appoints the rest, easily giving the ruling party a majority on the council. 

Straining under the weight of an overwhelming case load and immense political pressure, Turkey’s judiciary appears to lack the capacity and capability to deliver timely and credible justice for Serkan Golge and thousands like him.

***

Back in Houston, the Golges’ house is now on the market. Kubra has opted to remain in Turkey, living with her in-laws in Antakya; she fears that even if the government let her and her sons out of the country it might not let them back in.  She covered the mortgage from abroad for the past year, but the mounting financial pressure was unsustainable. Her eldest son should have begun second grade this month at his local public school in Houston. He says he misses his old room, his books and toys.

She is able to visit Serkan once a week where she and the children can speak to him by phone through a glass pane. Once every two months, they can meet in person and embrace, always under the watchful gaze of prison guards. Serkan’s next trial date is set for October 13th. For now, the Golge’s homecoming in Houston is postponed indefinitely: every new hearing brings with it the hope of acquittal and the dread of an unjustified conviction. 

In May, the Helsinki Commission’s leadership, joined by the co-chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, sent a letter to President Trump urging him to raise Serkan’s case, among others, with President Erdogan during the latter’s official visit to Washington. The letter highlighted the cases of other American prisoners and a detained veteran Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate in Adana accused of supporting a Kurdish terrorist organization. The letter further encouraged the President to seek consular access for U.S. diplomats to detained Americans in Turkey—a courtesy the government has so far denied them. The Commission will continue to highlight these and other cases in Turkey and urge Ankara to uphold its commitments as a participating State of the OSCE to human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law.

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Russia, Lokshina contends, is becoming a threat to its own citizens and the world community at large. Uncritical Western support is counter to its own interests, she remarked. Asked about reports of widespread public apathy in Russia, Dr. Mendelson said there is certainly a great deal of apathy, but there is a certain line over which the state cannot go. Ms. Lokshina added that some of the apathy has to do with lack of knowledge and heavy media control. For instance, it is frequently reported that Russians are not opposed to some level of censorship. In reality, though, this does not mean they do not want to know what is going on in Chechnya. What they want is to get rid of scams and con games ("chernukha"), i.e. "citizens would rather the government had control of the media than Boris Berezovsky." Ms. Greenwood raised the issue of the situation of the Meshketian Turks living in tenuous circumstances in southern Russia. 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Ms. Lokshina contends that the situation in the provinces is even worse. Asked about specific policy recommendations, Lokshina favored a strong statement from the United States against the anti-democratic trends and continued U.S. assistance programs for civil society and human rights in Russia. Mendelson added that the United States has made a strategic investment in Russian democracy and civil society, but this investment is under funded and it is too early to "graduate" Russia from such programs. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason Ekk contributed to this article.

  • Further Assault Against Activists in Belarus

    By Orest Deychakiwsky CSCE Staff Advisor and Ronald McNamara CSCE Deputy Chief of Staff United States Helsinki Commission staff met with a wide variety of opposition party members, non-governmental organization representatives and independent media journalists during an October 11-15 visit to the west Belarusian city of Hrodna and the capital city, Minsk. While the repressive apparat of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka has mounted a full-fledged assault on civil society over the last few months, pro-democracy forces remain committed to the creation of an independent, sovereign and democratic Belarus. In meetings with representatives from civil society throughout the visit, discussions inevitably turned to the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, introduced earlier this year by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). The Belarus Democracy Act would authorize increased assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. In a clear effort to consolidate his firm hold on power, Lukashenka has further tightened his grip on independent elements of Belarusian society, using the full force of the state to repress dissent. This comports with his new "state ideology” which has as its aim to further his rule by eliminating any vestige of pluralism in Belarus. Non-governmental organizations have been "de-legalized," or threatened with closure, often on petty pretexts. Increasingly, spouses and relatives of activists are being used as pawns with threats of dismissal or other forms of retribution. The media are especially facing pressure, with the electronic media under the control of the authorities and the independent media increasingly subject to systematic reprisals. Dozens of independent publications have been closed or threatened with closure. State printing houses have refused to print even previously registered editions and the state's distribution system refuses to circulate independent media material. Even Russian television is getting pushed out. A proposed new media law threatens to further erode freedom of media. Independent trade unions are becoming further circumscribed. The Government of Belarus has made no substantive progress in meeting the criteria for democratization established more than three years ago by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: End repression and the climate of fear; Permit a functioning, independent media; Ensure transparency of the election process; and Strengthen the functioning of the parliament. No progress has been made to investigate the cases of four opposition figures who disappeared in 1999-2000. The four are presumed dead. Attempts by Belarusian democrats and the international community to engage in a dialogue with the powers-that-be on amending the electoral code have thus far been unsuccessful. Belarusian authorities refuse to cooperate with the OSCE, even within the framework of its limited mandate. In both Hrodna and Minsk, Commission staff met with a wide gamut of representatives from leading non-governmental organizations, independent media, national and local leaders of democratic opposition political parties, wives of the disappeared, leaders of independent trade unions, dissident members of the National Assembly, various religious leaders, and human rights and cultural organizations. On the official Belarusian side, Commission staff met with the Governor of Hrodna and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising a wide range of concerns with respect to Belarus' refusal to implement its OSCE commitments, including those pertaining to the deepening assault on civil society. In Hrodna, the issues surrounding Jewish cemeteries were raised with the Governor Vladimir Savchenko. On the U.S. side, staff held constructive meetings with newly installed Ambassador George Kroll, Embassy staff and officials of the United States Agency for International Development. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Business Climate in Ukraine

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely followed developments in Ukraine including aspects of the human, security and economic dimensions. My desire is that Ukraine consolidates its independence by strengthening democratic institutions, including the judiciary, and undertaking reforms to improve the business climate essential to attracting much-needed foreign investment.   Twelve years after independence, the people of Ukraine deserve to enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity, but obstacles remain. Bringing Ukraine more fully into Europe is both essential to the country's long-term economic success and important for European security. Accelerating Ukraine's movement toward Europe is timely and needed. While high-ranking Ukrainian officials pay lip service to such integration, the jury is still out as to whether they are prepared to take the bold steps that will be required to advance such integration. An important barometer for the future will be the extent to which the country's moves to confront the corruption and crime that retard the process of democratization and economic liberalization and erode Ukraine's security and independence.   While those at the top say the right things, there is justified skepticism as to their sincerity. This is certainly the case concerning Ukraine's current President, Leonid Kuchma. The controversies surrounding Kuchma undercut his credibility with respect to the issue of combating corruption. Nevertheless, this should not detract from the urgency of tackling corruption in the lead up to the presidential elections to select Kuchma's successor in 2004.   Meanwhile, those serious about rooting out corruption and corrupt officials should take a hard look at the handling, or more accurately, the mishandling, of Ukrainian and foreign owned businesses. For example, United States-owned businesses have been victimized through expropriations, asset thefts, extortion and the like perpetrated or abetted by corrupt officials and courts in Ukraine. While new cases continue to occur, longstanding cases remain unresolved with investors unable to obtain the relief to which they are entitled under Ukrainian and international law.   Although the State Department has made repeated representations about these cases at senior levels of the Kuchma administration, Kyiv rebuffed repeated requests to resolve them in accordance with the law. At the same time it refuses to punish the perpetrators of the criminal acts or take corrective measures to prevent similar cases from arising.   If the victims are to ever achieve a measure of justice, it is essential that U.S. officials raise these cases at every appropriate opportunity.   In one especially egregious and illustrative case, well-connected individuals in Ukraine were able to orchestrate the seizure of all the assets of a successful pharmaceutical joint venture which was half owned by United States investors. When, 6 years after the theft the Ukrainian appeals courts finally dismissed the spurious claims to the assets on grounds that they were based entirely on forged and falsely fabricated documents, senior Ukrainian officials launched into action. Within weeks of these judicial decisions, the Ukrainian President reportedly convened a meeting of senior officials, including the cognizant senior judges and his own senior law enforcement and national security cabinet level officers, at which he made clear that he did not want the stolen assets restored to their rightful American owners.   The courts quickly complied, without explanation, and in disregard of the copious evidence before them, the judges reversed the decisions taken just two months earlier and held in favor of the claimants. Several months later longstanding criminal charges against the same individuals were dropped.   The circumstances surrounding this case and others involving United States investors are indicative of the far reaching scope of corruption and the rule of law deficit in Ukraine today. While the matter was repeatedly raised by the State Department several years ago, I am concerned that the Ukrainian side might assume that the matter is a closed case. I urge officials at the Departments of State and Commerce to disabuse Ukrainian Government officials of such an impression.   If the Kuchma administration is serious about rooting out corruption and advancing democracy and the rule of law, these cases provide a good starting point. Only time will tell if they are up to the challenge.

  • 80th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Turkish Republic, an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will mark its 80th anniversary. The Turkish Government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is working hard toward membership in the European Union. The accession of Turkey to the Union would recognize the important reforms that have already been adopted and accelerate the reform process. The various constitutional reform packages in recent years have addressed, or begun to address, many longstanding human rights concerns. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I am pleased to note that much needed change is beginning to take place. For example, the crucial issue of torture is finally receiving the attention necessary to prevent such abuse and address the legacy of this endemic scourge. Perpetrators of torture are facing punishment by a new generation of state prosecutors. For the first time, police who have committed acts of torture are being brought to justice. However the ongoing use of torture in southeast Turkey in the guise of anti-terrorism is an outrage that Turkey must bring to a halt. It is not enough to pass these reforms or to hold a few show trials. No, all transgressors must be arrested and tried. There must be a zero tolerance policy in place on torture. Other issues of concern have also benefited from the reform package process. For example, religious communities with "foundation'' status may now acquire real property, as well as construct new churches and mosques and other structures for religious use. However, there is a considerable gap between the law and its application. Also, while the problem of allowing the return of internally displaced persons who fled the internal conflict with the PKK terrorist organization remains. Renewed efforts to address this problem are promising, such as inviting the UN Rapporteur on IDPs to visit and the possibility that Turkey may host an international conference on internally displaced persons. While Turkey still has a long way to go to successfully eradicate human trafficking in its borders, the government has taken some positive steps. While I am pleased Turkey has expanded its cooperation with source countries to improve its victim protection efforts, I want to encourage continued improvement to wipe out this modern day slavery. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, other serious concerns remain. While Turkey works to bring its laws and regulations into conformity with the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and works toward fulfilling human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State, actions taken by police and other government authorities raise doubts as to the sincerity of these reforms. The imprisonment this month of Nurcihan and Nurulhak Saatcioglu for attending demonstrations four years ago protesting the prohibition against head scarves in public institutions, is deeply troubling. The fact that the government denies women who choose this religious expression the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public buildings, including schools and hospitals, is counterproductive and an encroachment of their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, authorities severely curb the public sharing of religious belief by either Muslims or Christians with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view. These limitations on religious clothing and speech stifle freedom of religion and expression and are contrary to Turkey's OSCE commitments. At a fundamental level, the inability of religious groups to maintain property holdings is problematic, as the Office of Foundations has closed and seized properties of non-Muslim religious groups for contrived and spurious reasons. Groups most affected by this policy are the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches, which have also experienced problems when seeking to repair and maintain existing buildings or purchase new ones. I hope the application of the aforementioned reforms will rectify this problem. The most notable property issue concerns the continued closure of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. Considering the reportedly promising conversations between the church and government, I urge Turkey to return full control to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow religious training to resume, in keeping with relevant OSCE commitments. Furthermore, religious groups not envisioned by the Lausanne Treaty have no legal route for purchasing property and building facilities, since the new legal provisions affect only communities with the official status of a "foundation.'' As no process exists for these other groups to obtain foundation status, they are forced to meet in private apartments. This lack of official status has real consequences, since provincial governorships and the Ministry of Interior have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant groups and Jehovah's Witnesses without any options. Churches and their leaders in Diyarbakir, Mersin, Iskenderun and other towns all face troubling government prosecutions and threats of closure. I urge Turkey to create a transparent and straightforward process to grant religious groups so desiring official recognition, so that they too can enjoy the right to establish and freely maintain accessible places of worship of assembly. The continued incarceration of four Kurdish former parliamentarians: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak is particularly disturbing. Convicted in 1994, they have won their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and were granted a retrial under recent Government of Turkey legal reforms. The retrial began March 28, and at each of the eight sessions, most recently October 17, the court has refused to release the defendants. Their continued imprisonment is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the initial legal reforms put in place by the government display Turkey's--or at least the legislators in Ankara's--apparent willingness to address much needed reforms in human rights practices. But actions speak louder than words. We need to see implementation of these reforms seriously carried out before we can rest assured that Turkey has met minimal OSCE human rights commitments. As Turkey strives to enter the European Union, I applaud the efforts that have been made to date and urge Ankara to intensify the reform process.  

  • OSCE Police-Related Activities

    This briefing, which CSCE Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor moderated, specifically focused on efforts to provide national police forces in multiple southeastern European countries with adequate and proper training and resources for the purpose of combating criminal activity. The countries in question (i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) have needed particularly effective and professional law enforcement agencies. Since the 1990s, the OSCE has helped to monitor and train police officers, with notable success in Kosovo, southern Serbia, and elsewhere in Southeastern Europe. At the time of the briefing, the focus had been shifted to countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus region, headed by Richard Monk, the witness in this briefing, who had been the OSCE Police Adviser since February of 2002.

  • The Path to Justice in Southeastern Europe

    This briefing examined the status of current and future efforts to bring justice to southeastern Europe after a decade of conflict dominated by war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The international responses to the atrocities committed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, including the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, were addressed. Theodor Meron, President of the Tribunal since March 2003, discussed the ongoing efforts of ICTY and the possibility of completing all trials by 2008 and appeals by 2010. He also addressed the advantages of transferring some cases for trial in national courts in the region and the challenges these courts would face in meeting international standards, including witness protection, fostering inter-state cooperation and garnering unbiased, independent judges.

  • Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved After 3 Years

    Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved--three years after he was murdered. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of "Ukrainska Pravda," an Internet news publication critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared.   Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Over the last three years, the Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately, mishandling of this case has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling.   Last month, a prime suspect in the case, former senior militiaman Ihor Honcharov, who allegedly headed a gang of ex-police accused of several kidnappings and murders, died in police custody under mysterious circumstances. His posthumous letters--which give a detailed account of events surrounding Gongadze's death and which name names--are now being investigated by the Prosecutor General's office. A few days ago, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun indicated that some facts in the letters have proved to be true. Reportedly, warrants have been issued for two suspects in the killing.   Mr. Speaker, a credible investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue. At the same time, it is important to stress that not only those who committed the actual crime, but those who ordered it--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice.   Unfortunately, the Gongadze case is not an isolated one. The murder, and deaths in suspicious car accidents, of journalists and opposition figures, have become commonplace. Earlier this year, Ukraine's Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, and many more have been beaten, including several within the last few months. This past July, Volodymyr Yefremov, a journalist critical of president Kuchma who worked with the press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (11/41), died in a suspect car accident. Just two weeks ago, Ivan Havdyda, who was head of the Ternopil region branch of the democratic opposition "Our Ukraine," was found murdered in Kyiv under questionable circumstances.   Over the last three years, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised the Gongadze murder case and urged the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a serious investigation into the this case. The response from Ukrainian officials has done nothing but cast doubt about the Ukrainian Government's commitment to the rule of law. Last year--just to cite one example--Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation, even after promising to accept U.S. technical assistance in the matter.   I also hope that the Ukrainian parliament will take determined action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the Gongadze and other murders, and bringing those involved to justice.   The lack of a resolution of the Gongadze and other cases of those who have perished under suspicious circumstances has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities in dealing with fundamental human rights.   Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and in the strongest possible terms, I once again urge Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the many enduring concerns regarding the circumstances that led to Heorhiy Gongadze's murder and the subsequent investigation.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    This briefing was the fourth hearing held by the Helsinki Commission held on restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist-era Central and Eastern Europe.  The goal of the briefing was to discuss developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Briefing: Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: a Status Update

    A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission held three prior hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing surveyed developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention was given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    The importance of this briefing, which then ranking member of the Commission Senator Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was underscored by the fact that a central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individual and religious communities. Communism’s demise in 1990 sparked hope that regional governments would redress wrongful seizures of private and communal property. This briefing was the fourth hearing that the Helsinki Commission held whose focus was on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist era Central and Eastern Europe. A goal of the briefing, then, was to survey developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Mayor Giuliani, Chairman Smith Lead U.S. Delegation to OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held an historic international conference in Vienna, Austria on June 19-20 to discuss anti-Semitism within the 55 participating States. While the OSCE states have addressed anti-Semitism in the past, the Vienna Conference represented the first OSCE event specifically devoted to anti-Semitism. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N-04J) led the United States delegation. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who currently serves as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was also part of the U.S. delegation. Public members of the delegation were: Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League; Cheryl Halpern, National Republican Jewish Coalition; Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Mark Levin, NCSJ; and, Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, also participated. The personal representative of the Dutch OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ambassador Daan Everts, opened the meeting expressing dismay that in the year 2003 it was necessary to hold such a conference, but "we would be amiss not to recognize that indeed the necessity still exists." Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy declared "anti-Semitism is not a part of [Europe’s] future. This is why this Conference is so important, and I believe it will have a strong follow-up." Former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Holocaust survivor, cited free societies as an essential element in combating anti-Semitism. The European Union statement, given by Greece, noted that anti-Semitism and racism are "interrelated phenomena," but also stated "anti-Semitism is a painful part of our history and for that requires certain specific approaches." Mayor Giuliani began his remarks to the opening plenary with a letter from President Bush to conference participants. Citing his visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, the President recalled the "inhumanity and brutality that befell Europe only six decades ago" and stressed that "every nation has a responsibility to confront and denounce anti-Semitism and the violence it causes. Governments have an obligation to ensure that anti-Semitism is excluded from school textbooks, official statements, official television programming, and official publications." Many OSCE participating States assembled special delegations for the conference. The German delegation included Gert Weisskirchen, member of the German parliament and a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Claudia Roth, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Policy and Humanitarian Aid. The Germans called for energetic actions by all the participating States to deal with anti-Semitism and stressed the need for appropriate laws, vigorous law enforcement and enhanced educational efforts to promote tolerance. Mr. Weisskirchen stressed that anti-Semitism was a very special form of bigotry that had haunted European history for generations and therefore demanded specific responses. In this spirit, Germany offered to host a follow-up OSCE conference in June 2004 focusing exclusively on combating anti-Semitism that would assess the progress of initiatives emerging from the Vienna Conference. The French delegation was led by Michel Voisin of the National Assembly, and included the President of the Consistoire Central Israelite de France, Jean Kahn, and representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Office of Youth Affairs, National Education and Research. The French acknowledged with great regret the marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in France during the past two years. In response, France had passed new laws substantially increasing penalties for violent "hate crimes," stepped up law enforcement and was in the process of revising school curricula. The work of the conference was organized under several focused sessions: "Legislative, Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement"; "Role of Governments in Civil Society in Promoting Tolerance"; "Education"; and, "Information and Awareness-Raising: the Role of the Media in Conveying and Countering Prejudice." Mayor Giuliani noted the fact that the conference was being held in the same building where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. "It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing this topic so many years later and after so many lessons of history have not been learned; and I am very hopeful that rather than just discussing anti-Semitism, we are actually going to do something about it, and take action." Giuliani, drawing on his law enforcement background and municipal leadership, enumerated eight steps to fight anti-Semitism: 1) compile hate crime statistics in a uniform fashion; 2) encourage all participating States to pass hate crime legislation; 3) establish regular meetings to analyze the data and an annual meeting to examine the implementation of measures to combat anti-Semitism; 4) set up educational programs in all the participating States about anti-Semitism; 5) discipline political debate so that disagreements over Israel and Palestine do not slip into a demonizing attack on the Jewish people; 6) refute hate-filled lies at an early stage; 7) remember the Holocaust accurately and resist any revisionist attempt to downplay its significance; and 8) set up groups to respond to anti-Semitic acts that include members of Islamic communities and other communities. Commissioner Hastings identified a "three-fold role" governments can play in "combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance." First, elected leaders must "forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support." He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while "public denunciations and spirited law enforcement" are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they "must work in tandem with education." He concluded, "if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs." Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith, who served as Vice Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference, highlighted how a "comprehensive statistical database for tracking and comparing the frequency of incidents in the OSCE region does not exist, [and] the fragmentary information we do have is indicative of the serious challenge we have." In addition to denouncing anti-Semitic acts, "we must educate a new generation about the perils of anti-Semitism and racism so that the terrible experiences of the 20th century are not repeated," said Smith. "This is clearly a major task that requires a substantial and sustained commitment. The resources of institutions with special expertise such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be fully utilized." In his closing statement Giuliani stressed that anti-Semitism "has its own history, it has a pernicious and distinct history from many prejudicial forms of bias that we deal with, and therefore singular focus on that problem and reversing it can be a way in which both Europe and America can really enter the modern world." He enthusiastically welcomed the offer by the German delegation to hold a follow-up conference on anti-Semitism, in Berlin in June 2004. Upon their return to Washington, Giuliani and Smith briefed Secretary Powell on the efforts of the U.S. delegation in Vienna and the importance of building upon the work of the Conference at the parliamentary and governmental levels. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Plight of Internally Displaced Persons

    By Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 10, 2003, focusing on the plight of an estimated three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia. The region has become a temporary dwelling place to the single largest body of displaced persons in the region covered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Testifying at the hearing were Dr. Francis Deng, United Nations Secretary General's Representative on Internally Displaced Persons; Ms. Roberta Cohen, Co-Director of the Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement; Dr. Maureen Lynch, Director of Research for Refugees International; and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, Researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Gabriel Trujillo, Mission Head for Doctors Without Borders of the Russian Federation was scheduled to testify, but encountered unexpected delays in Moscow. Mr. Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, U.S.A. graciously delivered Mr. Trujillo's opening statement. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing, describing how protracted conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation have diminished the prospects of displaced persons safely returning home. He noted that few individuals have been allowed to return to southeastern Turkey, despite the lifting of the last state of emergency in late 2002. "We must address this problem now as thousands and thousands of individuals are suffering," said Smith. "More must be done to find just, realistic and durable solutions." Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) stated in written remarks, "As an American Indian, I am particularly sensitive to the plight of men, women and children who have been uprooted from their homes. Whether due to conflict, natural disaster or other causes, the displaced cling to the hope they will one day be able to return home." Campbell added that with millions waiting to return, "it is the responsibility of individual participating States and the international community to meet the needs of these individuals while working to create the conditions necessary for their return in safety and dignity." Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) emphasized the need for the hearing to both ascertain the precise situation of IDPs in the region and to bring greater attention to their needs. He expressed hope that the hearing would provide information and ideas on how the State Department and the U.S. Congress could play a role in assisting the internally displaced. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) called the condition of IDPs in the region "urgent," as they suffer not only from a lack of food, medical aid, and education, but also from the inability to return home. "Some fear government action against them. Others fear rebel action. Others fear both," Pitts noted. Dr. Deng is the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which recognized international norms for the rights of the displaced and the corresponding duties of states in protecting those rights. He provided an overview of the situation in the region, characterizing IDPs as having the same needs as refugees, "but worse." Since IDPs do not leave their country, they remain more or less within the conflict zone, faced with the same threats that caused their flight. While their home governments bear primary responsibility for their safety and security, Deng noted in many cases IDPs become in effect political hostages. By not resettling the displaced and allowing free integration, the government uses them as bargaining chips in the political conflict. When the government fails to act, the displaced often fall into a "vacuum of responsibility," Deng observed, noting that the world cannot sit and watch and do nothing. Ms. Cohen offered a series of recommendations for the OSCE on issues pertaining to IDPs. "The OSCE, more than most regional organizations, has tremendous potential for dealing with the problem of internal displacement in the European region," stated Cohen. "It also has the responsibility to do so." Although recognizing that in recent years the OSCE has expanded its involvement with problems of internal displacement, Cohen noted that these steps have been largely ad hoc and too small. She recommended that the OSCE systematically integrate internal displacement into its activities, particularly within the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia, using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as a framework. Cohen specifically urged OSCE bodies to ensure the right of IDPs to vote. In addition, Cohen identified the OSCE/ODIHR migration unit as the potential focal point for activities within the organization and contended that, if these recommendations are carried out, it would positively impact the situation in the Caucasus and Turkey. Russian Federation Gabriel Trujillo's prepared statement outlined the results of a Doctors Without Borders' survey conducted in February 2003 that polled over 16,000 displaced Chechens housed in camps in neighboring Ingushetia. When questioned about returning to Chechnya, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were too afraid for their safety to return. Notably, individuals interviewed did not consider the availability of humanitarian aid available in Ingushetia as a reason to stay. The ongoing violence has kept UNHCR from certifying Chechnya as a safe return destination. International aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, are choosing to limit or suspend their operations out of concern for the safety of aid workers. Mr. de Torrente pointed to recent abductions, including Doctors Without Borders volunteer Arjan Erkel still missing from nearby Daghestan after ten months, as exemplifying the security situation in the region. "If present security conditions in Chechnya and the neighboring republics are not adequate for humanitarian workers to carry out assistance activities," asked de Torrente, "why would they be considered adequate for civilian Chechens to return and resume their normal lives?" Despite this lack of security, the UN estimates that more than 38,000 IDPs from Ingushetia returned to Chechnya last year. Respondents to the survey said people are left with little choice. They report that officials have threatened to cut off assistance in Ingushetia and block future aid in Chechnya for those refusing to leave immediately. Also, Russian troops reportedly are stationed near IDP camps and authorities limit assistance from international agencies, all to pressure IDPs to return to Chechnya. De Torrente concluded, "The results of the survey are a clear indication that the basic rights of displaced people to seek safe refuge, to be protected and assisted properly in a time of conflict, and only to return home voluntarily as guaranteed by international humanitarian law are not being respected." Turkey Mr. Sugden described the situation in southeastern Turkey, where approximately 400,000 to one million people, mostly of Kurdish heritage, fled their villages during the conflict with the PKK. Relative peace returned to the region by 2001, yet the majority of Turkey's displaced have been unable to return home. Sugden noted that often local authorities will not permit villages to be re-inhabited, while in other cases the gendarmes or village guards block resettlement, often by threat or use of violence. While the Government of Turkey has policies and programs aimed at returning the displaced to their homes, Sugden asserted, they have "consistently been underfunded and ill-conceived, falling far short of established international standards." Because of this, the international community has been reluctant to get involved. "Instead of helping villagers to get international assistance, the government, with its flawed plans, is actually standing in their path," he remarked. Sugden noted that the implementation of a fair and effective return program for the displaced populations in Turkey would also serve the country's goal of EU membership. He urged the Helsinki Commission to use its leverage in encouraging Turkey "as a matter of urgent priority" to convene a planning forum with the goal of creating a return program meeting international standards. Azerbaijan and Georgia Dr. Lynch estimated that in the South Caucasus there are currently some 250,000 displaced individuals from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia and over 572,000 displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan. Although political solutions would provide the best opportunity for these groups to return home, the frozen nature of the conflicts makes that a remote possibility. In addition, Lynch asserted that the Georgian and Azeri Governments have failed to provide alternative integration opportunities, thereby maintaining the displaced as "political pawns." In Azerbaijan, only about ten percent of IDPs live in camps. The rest have settled in abandoned hotels, railway cars, or underground dugouts, all of which represent serious health hazards from air and water quality to the risk of structural collapse. The lucky few provided with government-funded housing find themselves located far from jobs and on unirrigated land unsuitable for farming. Nevertheless, Dr. Lynch maintains that Azerbaijan is full of potential; it is an oil-rich country with a highly literate population. "The answer to Azerbaijan's trouble is not found only in resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," he asserted, "Azerbaijan must protect itself from corruption and use all of its resources to look to the future." In Georgia, the living conditions for IDPs are just as harsh, but with the added difficulty of only sporadic food aid. There is also a severe lack of even basic healthcare accessible to IDPs and virtually no psychosocial assistance. What healthcare is available is often too expensive for the displaced, resulting in many IDPs dying from curable ailments. Dr. Lynch declared that both Azerbaijan and Georgia must develop long-term solutions for their displaced populations, but they must also allow relief aid to arrive unhindered. In particular, Georgia must lift the import tax it imposed on humanitarian goods, which is currently blocking effective aid distribution, and both countries must work to create economic opportunities for IDPs. She further urged governments to be transparent in their plans, thereby encouraging continued participation of the international community. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Combating Torture and Assisting Victims of Torture

    Mr. President, I rise to address the barbaric practices that constitute torture as we mark the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Astonishingly, an estimated 500,000 victims of torture live in the United States today, including many in my home State of Colorado. The United States has provided vital leadership in the campaign to prevent torture around the world. The United States must not equivocate on this most basic of human rights. While the United States has consistently spoken out forcefully against the use of torture around the world, serious questions have been raised suggesting U.S. complicity in torture as part of the war against terrorism. This prompted me to join other members of the Helsinki Commission in writing to the White House recently urging an investigation of "serious allegations that the United States is using torture, both directly and indirectly, during interrogations of those suspected of terrorism." Against this backdrop, I urge the administration to issue a forthright statement on torture. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush described the horrific forms of torture employed by the Hussein regime and concluded, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." Even as experts document the scope of torture in Iraq, there must be no doubt concerning U.S. policy and practice. As Cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am particularly concerned that torture remains a tolerated if not promoted practice by come countries, even within the membership of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. In some places, like Uzbekistan, members of the political opposition or religious minorities are especially likely to be the victims of torture. Tragically, two more people there have joined the long list of those who have died in custody amid credible allegations of abuse and torture, just weeks after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development hosted a prestigious meeting in Tashkent, and days after the Secretary of State determined Uzbekistan is eligible for continued U.S. assistance. Moreover, the shortsighted practice of making martyrs out of Islamic extremists may have exactly the opposite effect the government claims to be seeking in its efforts to combat terrorism. In Georgia, torture and abuse comes hand in hand with police corruption. In the most recent State Department Country Report on human rights in Georgia, the Department stated: "[s]ecurity forces continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees.... NGOs also blamed several deaths in custody on physical abuse, torture, or inhumane and life-threatening prison conditions." Even President Shevardnadze has, in the past, acknowledged the prevalence of abuse against detainees and prisoners. I welcome a new initiative of the OSCE Mission in Georgia to combat torture, but I would also note that antitorture initiatives have come and gone in Georgia with little to show for it. Without real political will, I am afraid this latest initiative may end up like the others. In Turkey--a country which has been given particular attention by the Helsinki Commission--even the doctors who treat the victims of torture have become targets themselves. Their offices have been raided, records seized, and even some doctors have been arrested and tortured. Moreover, the patients of these doctors, all of whom have already suffered at the hands of the authorities, have often been rearrested, retortured and recharged based on their testimonies given to the medical authorities. As a result of these practices, Turkey has been repeatedly sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights. The Turkish nongovernmental organization, the Human Rights Foundation, appears to be making some headway in defending these doctors. Last year, Turkey's Grand National Assembly has passed significant legislation with severe penalties for those convicted of torture. A major effort still needs to be made to conform the application of the law in the regional courts of Turkey with the intent of the parliamentarians. The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor developments in Turkey and the implementation of this law. In the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Charter, the participating States committed themselves to "eradicating torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the OSCE area. To this end, we will promote legislation to provide procedural and substantive safeguards and remedies to combat these practices. We will assist victims and cooperate with relevant international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, as appropriate." Clearly a strategy to confront and combat torture must emphasize prevention of torture, prosecution of those who commit torture, and assistance for the victims of torture. As we mark the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I note the good work being done by the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, located in Denver. The center is part of a nationwide network committed to assisting the victims of torture living in the United States.

  • Certification of Assistance to Serbia

    Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Department of State last week made its determination to certify compliance by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with the terms of section 578 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 108-7). This section conditions certain bilateral assistance to Serbia on progress in three areas, although by far the most critical being cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.   I agree with the Department’s assessment that progress has been made, especially since March. In particular, I welcomed action earlier this month by the Serbian authorities to apprehend Veselin Svjilancanin, indicted by the Tribunal for the 1991 massacre near Vukovar in Croatia. Although there was resistance, this action was a success and signaled what is perhaps a new determination by Belgrade to transfer all remaining indictees. Having been in Vukovar, along with my good friend and colleague Mr. Wolf, just before the city fell to Serb forces, I am glad to see all three indicted by the Tribunal for this crime will be tried in The Hague.   Nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the Department’s determination was the wrong one to make. While progress has been made, it remains insufficient. Still at large and believed to have been in Serbia are several other persons, including Ratko Mladic and others, Ljubisa Beara, Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic, indicted by the Tribunal for their connection to the1995 Srebrenica massacre in which thousands of innocent people were executed.   I am concerned, deeply concerned, that these individuals will continue to evade justice while officials in Belgrade may get the impression they have done enough. Clearly, they have not. Mr. Speaker, I would urge Serbian authorities to take the action necessary to remove "cooperation with the Tribunal" as an outstanding issue in our bilateral relationship. In doing so, they will also continue to help Serbia emerge from Slobodan Milosevic’s legacy of nationalist hatred.   In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, I also urge the State Department to use remaining levers to encourage not just better, but full, cooperation with the Tribunal, which Secretary Powell had assured Mr. Cardin and myself in correspondence was a position we all shared. The crimes which occurred were too severe and too horrendous to allow those responsible to escape justice.

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