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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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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. 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    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.

  • Democracy, Human Rights and Justice in Serbia Today

    Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing that discussed, among other things, the trajectory of democratic institutions in Serbia. This briefing was held in the wake of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, after which the authorities in Belgrade undertook tough measures to crack down on the criminal elements that had continued to be a barrier to Serbia and Montenegro’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic community’s institutions. More restrictive measures against crime in Serbia and Montenegro had underscored the progress already made by democratic forces in overcoming the estrangement between the two countries and the West.

  • Internally Displaced Persons In The Caucasus Region And Southeastern Anatolia

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), other legislators, and witnesses discussed Internally Displaced Persons (or IDPs) in the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At the time of this hearing, this set of countries represented the greatest concentration of IDPs fleeing conflicts anywhere in the OSCE, which then consisted of 55 states. IDPs are not granted the same protections as refugees as stipulated under the U.N. Refugee Convention, although IDPs face similar problems, due to the fact that IDPs do not cross international borders.

  • The Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Chechnya

    This briefing followed a defeat, by a vote of 15-21 at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, of a U.S.–supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violation in Chechnya.  The developments in Chechnya since the outbreak of the war in 1994 were briefly surveyed, while the focus of discussion was largely on the human dimension of the situation and the dangers faced by average Chechen civilians. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia Office of the Memorial Human Rights Center; Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision; and Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for the Europe and Eurasia division of Amnesty International – addressed the dismal state of human rights in Chechnya and the issue of international assistance, which was less effective than it could have been due to government accountability issues. The lack of infrastructure and security guarantees was additional topics of discussion.

  • In Memory of Zoran Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, we learned today of the assassination in Belgrade of the Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic.   This is a true tragedy, not only for family and friends of Mr. Djindjic but for all the people of Serbia and, indeed, for all who struggle for human rights and democratic development.   Zoran Djindjic became a leader during difficult times in his country. He chose to stand in opposition to Slobodan Milosevic and his regime. That certainly was not the easiest course, and it took courage. Zoran Djindjic also had determination and, after repeated setbacks and obstacles, he played a key role in ousting Milosevic from power in 2000. He subsequently became, as Prime Minister of Serbia, a force for reform, recognizing that Serbia needed to cast off not only the yoke of Milosevic's rule but also Milosevic's legacy of nationalist hatred, organized crime, corruption and greed. Transferring Milosevic to The Hague in 2001 to face charges for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide perhaps best symbolized Djlndjic's continued courage and determination to conquer the sinister forces which seized his country.   Zoran Djindjic was still battling resistance to reform in Serbia when his life was taken by the vicious act of cold-blooded assassins.   These will undoubtedly be turbulent times for Belgrade, for Serbia, and for Montenegro which is just embarking on a new relationship with Serbia. This tragedy may have reverberations throughout the region, particularly in Bosnia and in Kosovo.   It is my hope and prayer, Mr. Speaker, that the people of Serbia will respond to this crime with a loud and united cry: ``Enough is enough.'' In the past, they have seen the lives of journalist Slavko Curuvija and politician Ivan Stambolic snuffed out for their advocacy of a civilized Serbia, in which human rights and the rule of law are respected.   Similarly Djindjic, too, was advocating such noble objectives. The very decent people of Serbia deserve a society which respects human rights and upholds the rule of law. That is what the leaders of Serbia must now provide without further hesitation or delay. I take heart in knowing that Djindjic had many colleagues who shared his vision of a reformed Serbia.   My deepest condolences go to the family of Zoran Djindjic. I hope that the incredible grief they must now feel will be tempered by the pride they should feel in his accomplishments and service to his country.

  • Mourning the Assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, I want to join the gentleman from California (Mr. Dreier) in his comments about Mr. Djindjic, the Prime Minister of Serbia. Serbia in the 1990s, like Iraq has gone through, was under the heel of a despot who was vicious and who in my opinion was a war criminal. When the United States acted to displace the Milosevic regime and ultimately Milosevic was voted out of office because we went into Kosovo, it was Mr. Djindjic who showed the courage and the moral commitment to ensure that Mr. Milosevic would be transferred to The Hague to answer for his crimes. That trial currently is going on. It is going on because Mr. Djindjic had the courage to facilitate the transfer out of Serbia to The Hague of the alleged war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.   He has now been assassinated. We do not know yet who the perpetrator of that assassination is. Suffice it to say, we have lost someone whose courage and commitment to freedom and human rights was an important aspect for his country and for the international community. We are a lesser international community for his loss.

  • Assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart to condemn in the strongest possible terms the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. As a Member of Congress, I express my condolences to the government of Serbia and Montenegro and to the family of the late Prime Minister. Mr. Djindjic was one of the driving forces behind the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague for war crimes, and also favored increased political and economic cooperation with the West. Mr. Speaker, I think it is our responsibility to encourage the government of Serbia and Montenegro to hold all of those responsible for the assassination accountable and to continue their work for economic reform and full cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal, including the turning over of those indictees who still remain at large and cooperation on the witnesses and the information that is needed. Again, Mr. Speaker, we offer our condolences to the family.

  • Disturbing Developments in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am concerned by a myriad of problems that plague the nation of Georgia a decade after restoration of its independence and nearly eleven years after it joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Among these pressing concerns that I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues is the ongoing violence against non-Orthodox religious groups, as well as allegations of torture perpetrated by Georgian security officials.   Concerning religious freedom, the situation in Georgia is one of the worst in the entire 55-nation region constituting the OSCE. Georgia is the only OSCE country where mobs are allowed to attack, violently and repeatedly, minority religious groups with complete impunity. Most recently, on January 24th, worshipers and clergy were assaulted and beaten in a mob attack on the Central Baptist Church in Tbilisi, where an ecumenical service was to have taken place. While police did eventually intervene, no arrests were made, and the planned ecumenical service between Baptists, Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholics and Lutherans was canceled. While I am pleased President Shevardnadze did issue a decree calling for a full investigation, to date no action by police or the Prosecutor General has taken place.   During the past three years of escalating mob violence, the Jehovah's Witnesses have experienced the majority of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, and Catholics. Sadly, victims from throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, and not one of these has resulted in a criminal conviction. The mob attacks are usually led by either Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, or Paata Bluashvili, the leader of the Orthodox ``Jvari'' Union. Often the police and media are tipped off in advance of an attack--probably so that the media can arrive early and the police can show up late. The brazen leaders of these attacks have even given television interviews while mob brutality continues in the background.   In response to this ongoing campaign of violence against members of minority faiths, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other members of the Senate and House have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze on numerous occasions. Congressional dismay over this ongoing issue was also reflected in language included in the omnibus appropriations bill underscoring concern over the Georgian Government's apparent resistance to prosecuting and jailing the perpetrators of these mob attacks. Despite assurances, Georgian officials have neither quelled this violence nor taken effective measures against the perpetrators of these assaults. Ironically, it appears that minority religious communities may be freer in parts of Georgia outside of Tbilisi's control than those under the central authorities.   The conference report language should send a strong message to President Shevardnadze and other Georgian leaders. They must understand the Congress's deep and abiding interest in this matter and our desire to see those responsible for the violence put in jail.   I also must express my concern regarding the widespread, indeed routine, use of torture in the Republic of Georgia. While law enforcement remains virtually nonexistent when it comes to protecting religious minorities from violent attacks, the use of torture by police remains a commonplace tool for extracting confessions and obtaining convictions in other areas. A government commission has also acknowledged that the scale of corruption in law enforcement has seriously eroded public confidence in Georgia's system of justice and the rule of law.   At one point, a few years ago, there appeared to be real political will to address this problem. Sadly, increased protections for detainees, adopted to facilitate Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe, were quickly reversed by the parliament once Georgia's admission was complete. Moreover, I am particularly concerned by remarks made by Minister of Interior Koba Narchemashvili in November. In a move calculated to look tough on crime following a notorious murder, he called for seizing control of pre-trial detention facilities from the authority of the Ministry of Justice. This would move Georgia in exactly the wrong direction. Reform must continue on two levels; continuing to move Georgia's legal standards into compliance with international norms, and improving actual implementation by law enforcement officers.   I want to see a prosperous, democratic, and independent Georgia, but these facts are deeply disturbing and disappointing. The Government of Georgia's failure to effectively address these concerns through decisive action will only further erode confidence here in Washington as well as with the people of Georgia.

  • OSCE Parliamentarians Vow to Confront Anti-Semitism

    By Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor American and German delegates to the Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) recently hosted a special forum in Vienna during which more than 75 parliamentarians from 17 countries expressed their support for efforts to combat anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. The forum was organized by the cooperative efforts of United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and Chairman of the US Delegation to the OSCE PA Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Dr. Gert Weisskirchen. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), as delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly, actively participated in the discussions. The forum also included parliamentarians from Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. OSCE PA President Bruce George and Secretary General Jan Kubis also attended the meeting. Participants expressed their readiness to support the Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Declaration of July 2002 denouncing anti-Semitic violence and agreed that a pro-active approach by parliaments and governments are essential to counter anti-Semitism throughout the 55-nation OSCE region. That measure, based on a draft introduced by the U.S. delegation, was unanimously adopted in Berlin. Dr. Weisskirchen and Rep. Smith obtained substantial support for the German-U.S. joint action plan of December 2002 to combat anti-Semitism which encourages “all OSCE countries to enact appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic acts and ensure that such laws are vigorously enforced.” The action plan also addresses the need for renewed educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic attitudes and stereotypes, and the proliferation of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi material via the Internet. Dr. Weisskirchen opened the Vienna meeting by recalling Germany’s experience and stressed the importance of preventive action. He said that anti-Semitism is a virus that may appear small in the beginning but can quickly gain momentum, poison the body of state institutions and destroy democracy itself. Co-Chairman Smith cited the need for collective action and referred to a resolution he and Commissioner Cardin introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to combat anti-Semitism that places particular emphasis on law enforcement and education. Mr. Michel Voisin, head of France’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, described a new law passed unanimously by both houses of the French Parliament that doubles penalties for anti-Semitic and racist violence. He cited the law as an example of decisive action parliaments can take. Voisin noted that prior to the approval of this law on February 3, 2003, anti-Semitic and racist motives were not taken into account when punishing perpetrators of violence. According to Voisin, France is vigorously tackling the problem posed by proliferation of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi material over the Internet and stressed that providers who knowingly promulgate such material will be held responsible. Austrian journalist and human rights activist, Marta Halpert, addressed the gathering as an expert witness. Citing the Austrian experience, she underscored how political populism was breaking old taboos in many European countries. Populists sought to fill gaps in the political spectrum by appealing to frustrated voters seeking simple solutions to complex problems, according to Halpert. Halpert said politicians such as Jörg Haider in Austria and Jürgen Möllemann in Germany used language to encourage those in the electorate who assert that “the Jews encourage anti-Semitism themselves.” She noted how Haider’s high profile has enabled individuals with extremist views to “enter the mainstream” and cited the example of an Austrian neo-Nazi who writes a regular column for a high circulation national newspaper. Halpert stressed the importance of politicians in all parties to vigorously denounce those who use xenophobia and anti-Semitism to appeal to the base fears of the electorate. Parliamentarians from several other OSCE participating States, including Canada, the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, expressed their support for the joint German-American efforts. Canadian Senator Jerry Grafstein, OSCE PA Treasurer ,strongly endorsed the German-American initiative and praised the OSCE for leading international institutions in combatting anti-Semitism. He reminded his colleagues that “silence is acquiescence” and stressed that all parliamentary bodies of the OSCE participating States should take a strong, public stance condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms. Members of the Canadian, French, German, Italian and Swedish delegations signed formal statements of solidarity with the German-American initiative. Canadian MP and Third Committee Vice-Chair Sven Robinson said the fight against anti-Semitism attracts support across party lines in his country where efforts are underway to formulate a stronger response to those responsible for hate crimes. Czech MP and head of delegation Petr Sulak expressed solidarity with the initiative and recalled the immense suffering that anti-Semitism had brought to his country and elsewhere in central Europe. In his country alone, more than 300,000 had perished in the Holocaust. Italian Senator Luigi Compagna and MP Marcello Pacini highlighted proposals introduced into Italian legislative bodies to condemn anti-Semitism. According to Compagna and Pacini, such proposals are unprecedented. Various speakers raised the need to counter the proliferation of racist and anti-Semitic material through the Internet and endorsed the French delegation’s call for restrictions. Canadian MP Clifford Lincoln asserted that Internet service providers had to assume a greater sense of responsibility and questioned why measures to accomplish this would be a restriction on freedom of speech. Germany’s head of delegation, Bundestag Member Rita Süssmuth, said that speech should not be permitted to “ignore the dignity of others.” Rep. Cardin noted the need to trace material transmitted by the Internet more easily, but noted the delicacy involved in finding ways to do this that respect the right of freedom of expression. Rep. Cardin also congratulated the French on the passage of their new law and particularly endorsed its emphasis on motivation for a criminal act. This distinction was of great importance. He added that we also needed to increase the capability of schools and teachers to instruct the next generation to be fair minded and tolerant. Echoing this sentiment, Mr. Smith pointed out that youth are not inherently inclined to hate, but needed to be “taught by their seniors to hate.” He advocated that more resources should be devoted to promoting Holocaust awareness. Danish MP Kamal Qureshi also recommended better education and training for police, who needed to learn how to distinguish between anti-Semitic and racist motivated crime and common criminal acts. U.S. Helsinki Commission and OSCE PA Vice President Rep. Alcee Hastings suggested the OSCE consider granting a special award to individuals who had done the most in the region to combat anti-Semitism. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan Minikes, spoke of plans by OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to hold a special conference on anti-Semitism. The date for such an OSCE conference has not been announced, but officials anticipate the two-day Vienna meeting will precede the Parliamentary Assembly’s July 2003 Annual Session to be held in Rotterdam. Topics will likely include the role of governments in monitoring anti-Semitism, appropriate legislation, education, law enforcement training and the role of civic leaders and NGOs in combatting anti-Semitism. Russian Duma member, Elena Mizulina, noted that some progress has been made in her country. She hailed a new law condemning racism and extremism as a “milestone,” and praised the efforts of President Vladimir Putin in supporting the legislation. However, according to Mizulina, much work remains. Mizulina said that anti-Semitic attitudes in Russia are much too common among the general population as well as elected officials. She said such attitudes are particularly common in Russia’s provinces where even certain state governors were still not embarrassed to express anti-Semitic views openly. Mizulina said that representatives from Russia and other CIS countries need to speak out more forcefully to condemn anti-Semitism and racism. She added that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has not done enough and strongly endorsed the notion that anti-Semitism be considered as a separate agenda item at the Rotterdam meeting. Delegates also welcomed the decision by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to convene a special OSCE meeting on xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the coming months. At the same time, they agreed that the Parliamentary Assembly needs to remain actively involved and that continuing the fight against anti-Semitism must be a high priority item at the Assembly’s Annual Session. 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.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus , as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am joined by Congressmen HOYER, HOEFFEL and Congresswoman Slaughter, as original cosponsors.   When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal--it has the worst record of any European state.   Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. Just within the last few months, we have seen a number of events reflecting the negative trend line: the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property; the bulldozing of a newly-built church; the incarceration of leading independent journalists; and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations--in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy , would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.   Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, non-govermental organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.   One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus , and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential [Page: E242] GPO's PDF and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.   In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny highranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.   Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill would help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belaras' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.

  • Turkey's Post-Election Future Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    By Chadwick R. Gore CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing November 14 which examined Turkey’s future after the drastic shift in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly following the November 3rd elections. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received just 34 percent of the popular vote, but gained two-thirds of the seats in the 550-seat Assembly. Forty-five percent of Turkey’s population voted for political parties that did not meet the 10 percent requirement for representation in the new parliament. The political flux has been likened to an earthquake as 88 percent of the newly elected officials are new to parliament, and the roots of the AKP and its leadership can be traced to former, but now illegal, Islamist parties. These factors have raised concerns in and outside of Turkey about the country’s political, democratic, economic and social future. Abdullah Akyüz, President of the Turkish Industrialist and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSÝAD), emphasized the significance of timing and outcome of the recent election. Turkey’s election of a party with a Muslim leader, the fragility of Turkey-EU relations, Turkey-Cyprus relations and the situation in Iraq all create apprehension about Turkey’s future. The election, which resulted in single party leadership, came at a very complex and crucial time for Turkey. While accession into the European Union (EU) is felt by many to be paramount to Turkish stability, Akyüz felt Turkey must address these issues immediately to make itself more attractive to the EU. Mr. Akyüz and Jonathan Sugden, Turkey Researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), stressed expressed the importance of EU accession for the economic and democratic development of Turkey. Sugden stated the EU Copenhagen summit in December is “a make or break date” for Turkey. According to Sugden, two main objectives need to be completed to give Turkey a better chance for negotiations with the EU: (1) The government needs to enact the new draft reform law on torture, reducing and eradicating torture from the Turkish law enforcement system; and, (2) Four imprisoned Kurdish parliamentarians [Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak] need to be released or at least given the chance to appeal their cases with adequate legal counsel. Once passed, the legislation to provide legal counsel to detainees immediately upon their detention would place Turkey ahead of several European nations, including France, regarding the right for the accused to have prompt access to counsel. Sanar Yurdatapan, a musician and freedom of expression activist, commented that “Turkey must become a model of democracy to its neighbors by displacing the correlation of Islam and terrorism and diminish the influence of the military in domestic affairs.” The AKP must prove it is committed to democracy and development and not a religious agenda, according to Yurdatapan. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of AKP, has shown signs that his party will attempt to live up to that commitment. Tayyip recently stated that accession to the EU is his top priority. Yurdatapan was most concerned with Turkish citizens gaining domestic freedoms, especially freedom of expression. Other concerns were raised about possible military intervention in domestic affairs. Historically, when the military feels the government is moving away from secularism toward a religious government, the military has stepped in and changed the government. This influence and subtle control of the military from behind the scenes is something that must be overcome if Turkey is to continue to democratize. Another important issue discussed at the briefing was the developing situation between the US and Iraq. Both Akyüz and Yurdatapan voiced concern about the adverse effects of war on Turkey. They were quick to point out that the Gulf War is still very fresh in Turkey’s memory. The Gulf War burdened Turkey with economic downturn and recession, as well as political and humanitarian problems with the Kurds. The Turkish people are very concerned that a new war would have similar effects, severely damaging Turkey’s aspiration for EU accession. If indeed there is a war, Turkey hopes to receive substantial compensation from the United States for economic losses. No one said what exactly Turkey will look like in the next four years, but progress and stability during that period are real possibilities. Yet, the concerns are strong and legitimate due to the several factors on which Turkey’s future depends. 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 intern Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.

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