Title

Title

Chernobyl
Radioactive and Reclaimed by Nature
Tuesday, June 04, 2019

By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor
and Kyle Parker, Senior Senate Staff Representative

Disaster

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, during a safety test designed to simulate a power outage, a combination of operator error and inherent flaws in reactor design led to an explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor 4. The graphite fire burned uncontained for nine days, releasing radioactive particles over most of Europe, contaminating Ukraine and neighboring Belarus most severely.

It took nearly two full days for Soviet authorities to begin the evacuation of the approximately 50,000 residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, located just a mile away from the power station. A public admission of the accident only came on the evening of April 28 following diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin from the government of Sweden where, earlier that day, monitors at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant north of Stockholm had detected elevated radiation levels and suspected an accident in the Soviet Union. Given the secrecy of the Soviet system, the subjectivity of first-hand accounts, and the breakup of the Soviet Union, some of the why and how of what happened remain controversial.


This amusement park in Pripyat was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, a few days before the disaster.

Less than six months after the disaster, construction began on nearby Slavutych, a city to replace Pripyat and house the displaced workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and their families. Much work remained to be done to contain and assess the April disaster, not to mention run the remaining three reactors, the last of which ceased to operate only in December 2000. The formal decommissioning process of Reactors 1, 2, and 3 began in 2015 and will continue for decades.

To this day, many residents of Slavutych board a special train for the power station’s workers transiting Belarus to enter the Exclusion Zone for work at the plant and nearby storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

Consequences

Thirty-three years after that safety test at Reactor 4 went fatally wrong, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station remains the worst in world history, superseding the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and eclipsing the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following damage sustained by a catastrophic tsunami in 2011. The accident at Three Mile Island remains the worst in the history of U.S. commercial atomic energy and ranked a 5 (accident with wider consequences) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of assessing nuclear and radiological events. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only two disasters to ever be ranked as a 7 (major accident), the scale’s maximum.

Due to the differences in the half-lives of the specific contaminants, a full remediation and resettlement around Fukushima holds far greater promise than around Chernobyl. If radioactive leakage can be fully contained at Fukushima, there is a chance that the area could be declared completely safe for permanent human habitation in less than 100 years. By comparison, the first zone of exclusion immediately surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is likely to remain unsafe for permanent habitation for thousands of years.

The total human, environmental, and financial cost of the disaster is fraught with obvious political sensitivities, but even in the scientific realm, significant disputes remain. The unprecedented magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster frustrates efforts to draw a definitive conclusion on the lingering effects of the explosion and fire of 1986. While there is wide agreement that somewhere between 30 and 50 people died in the immediate aftermath as a direct result of the accident, consensus breaks down over estimates of a longer-term assessment of deaths attributable to the radioactive fallout from the disaster.

Shortly after the disaster, a zone of approximately 1,000 square miles around Reactor 4 was established, evacuated, and condemned for permanent human habitation. This area—known as the Exclusion or Alienation Zone—has begun the long process of being reclaimed by nature.

The area is divided between Zone 1 and Zones 2 and 3. The first zone is the immediate vicinity around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and comprises roughly 15 percent of the total Exclusion Zone. It is also contaminated with transuranium elements that decay over a period of thousands of years, placing this area off-limits indefinitely. Zones 2 and 3 comprise the remaining territory and were largely contaminated with elements that decay much faster. Some of this shorter-term contamination is already gone and the rest could be gone in the coming decades.

The Exclusion Zone is as alive as it is hauntingly empty. Forests encroach on what were once fertile fields. Butterflies flutter above concrete cracked open by saplings. Wild horses roam by day and wolves by night, and entropy takes its toll on man-made construction. It almost seems that the flora and fauna suffered more from proximity to humans than they now do from lingering radiation in the contaminated soil—a phenomenon known as the ecological paradox.

Containment

In those first critical hours after the explosion, when firefighters heroically battled a radioactive blaze, efforts were made to erect temporary barriers around the damaged core of Reactor 4. Those emergency efforts continued once the fire was out, but the hasty construction allowed radiation to continue to escape the confines of the reactor and was structurally unsuitable for containing the deadly transuranium elements inside. In 2018, with the support of the international donor community, Ukraine completed construction on the New Safe Confinement facility designed to safely entomb Reactor 4 for as long as 100 years.


Helsinki Commission policy advisor Rachel Bauman inside the structure containing Reactor 4.

Support from the West, most notably the United States, is critical to safety. Currently, Western contractors are working with Ukrainian partners to complete the construction of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from other reactors across the country. Construction is reportedly on, or slightly ahead of, schedule on this facility that is planned to eliminate Ukraine’s need to contract with Russia for its growing storage needs.

Protecting the public from the widely dispersed radioactive particulate found within the Exclusion Zone is the main reason for the establishment of the zone itself as well as the multiple checkpoints encountered when leaving the zone. The most immediate danger to further contamination of habitable areas beyond the Exclusion Zone are wildfires; their smoke disperses contaminated debris into the atmosphere and in the direction of prevailing winds. Ukrainian firefighters have trained regularly with firefighters from the American West as they execute what is not only a domestic priority, but an international responsibility.

Other regular challenges to the safe administration of the Exclusion Zone are trespassers pursuing adventure, souvenirs, or wild game. Risks include not only the obvious danger of radiation exposure, but also crumbling construction and poor communications should a rescue be needed. Trespassers also risk the safety of the broader public by inadvertently transporting radioactive materials outside the Exclusion Zone.

A final, and enduring, challenge to securing the Exclusion Zone lies with waning public interest and thus political pressure to devoting scarce financial resources to protect this beautiful but contaminated landscape for the long term.

The Future

Government authorities plan to use Exclusion Zone 1 for dangerous industrial activities such as storing spent nuclear fuel or developing massive solar panel farms designed to replace some of the electricity that was once generated by the power station’s four reactors. The remainder of the Exclusion Zone will serve as a buffer between habitable areas and Zone 1 as well as a unique nature preserve and massive open-air laboratory to study any lingering effects of the disaster.


Construction site of a future spent storage facility.

As the passage of time has made parts of the Exclusion Zone safer, more and more visitors come to learn about those tragic events of the spring of 1986. Locals are beginning to tap a developing market for nuclear tourism, fueled by politicians, scientists, and thrill-seekers.

When leaving the Exclusion Zone and passing through the last checkpoint, travelers are greeted by tour buses, flag-carrying guides, and a roadside kiosk selling cheap t-shirts. Increasing interest in Chernobyl tours, and particularly the photogenic abandoned town of Pripyat, ensure a steady stream of income. The city may no longer generate power, but it continues to generate interest.

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Eventually, the hard work paid off, and the beginning of my tenure with the Commission coincided with the first signs under Gorbachev that East-West divisions were finally coming to an end. Sharing the chairmanship with my Senate counterparts--first Alfonse D'Amato of New York and then Dennis DeConcini of Arizona--the Commission argued against easing the pressure at the time it was beginning to produce results.   We argued for the human rights counterpart of President Reagan's “zero option'' for arms control, in which not only the thousands of dissenters and prospective emigrants saw benefits. They were joined by millions of everyday people--workers, farmers, students--suddenly feeling more openness, real freedom, and an opportunity with democracy. Dissidents on whose behalf the Commission fought--while so many others were labeling them insignificant fringe elements in society--were now being released and becoming government leaders, people like Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and Czech President Vaclav Havel. The independence of the Baltic States, whose forced incorporation into the USSR was never officially recognized by the United States, was actually reestablished, followed by others wishing to act upon the Helsinki right to self-determination.   Of course, Mr. Speaker, those of us on the Commission knew that the fall of communism would give rise to new problems, namely the extreme nationalism which communism swept under the rug of repression rather than neutralized with democratic antiseptic. Still, none of us fully anticipated what was to come in the 1990s. It was a decade of democratic achievement, but it nevertheless witnessed the worst violations of Helsinki principles and provisions, including genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and brutal conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans as well as in Chechnya, the Caucuses and Central Asia, with hundreds of thousands innocent civilians killed and millions displaced. Again, it was the Commission which helped keep these tragedies on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, holding hearings, visiting war zones and advocating an appropriately active and decisive U.S. response. In the face of such serious matters, too many sought to blame history and even democracy, equated victim with aggressor and fecklessly abandoned the principles upon which Helsinki was based. Again the Commission, on a bipartisan basis in dialogue with different Administrations, took strong issue with such an approach. Moreover, with our distinguished colleague, Christopher Smith of New Jersey, taking his turn as Chairman during these tragic times, the Commission took on a new emphasis in seeking justice for victims, providing much needed humanitarian relief and supporting democratic movements in places like Serbia for the sake of long-term stability and the future of the people living there.   In this new decade, Mr. Speaker, the Commission has remained actively engaged on the issues of the time. Corruption and organized crime, trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery, new attacks on religious liberty and discrimination in society, particularly against Romani populations in Europe, present new challenges. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the latest Commission Chairman, has kept the Commission current and relevant. In addition, there continue to be serious problem areas or widespread or systemic violations of OSCE standards in countries of the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucuses, or reversals of the democratization process as in Belarus. The Commission was born in the Cold War, but its true mission--the struggle for human rights, democratic government and the rule of law--remains as important now as it was then. It remains an essential element for true security and stability in the world, as well as, to paraphrase Helsinki, for the free and full development of the individual person, from whose inherent dignity human rights ultimately derive.   To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I wish to erase any illusion I have given in my praise for the Helsinki Commission on its first quarter of a century that it had single-handedly vanquished the Soviet empire or stopped the genocidal policies of Slobodan Milosevic. No, this did not occur, and our own efforts pale in comparison to the courage and risk-taking of human rights activists in the countries concerned. But I would assert, Mr. Speaker, that the wheels of progress turn through the interaction of numerous cogs, and the Commission has been one of those cogs, maybe with some extra grease. The Commission certainly was the vehicle through which the United States Government was able to bring the will of the American people for morality and human rights into European diplomacy. To those who were in the Soviet gulag, or in Ceausescu's Romania as a recent acquaintance there relayed to me with much emotion, the fact that some Americans and others were out there, speaking on their behalf, gave them the will to survive those dark days, and to continue the struggle for freedom. Many of those voices were emanating in the non-governmental community, groups like Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Through the Helsinki Commission, the voice of the United States Congress was heard as well, and I know that all of my colleagues who have been on the Commission or worked with it are enormously proud of that fact.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    This hearing discussed Ukraine’s future, given its pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems. Commissioners and witnesses mentioned how these issues discouraged foreign investment and expressed a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state.  Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the United States could best help Ukraine achieve this.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    The rationale of this hearing, which Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell presided over, was increasing concern as to Ukraine’s trajectory. More specifically, pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems had raised legitimate questions concerning the directions that Ukraine had appeared to be headed. Needless to say, the relationship between the CSCE and Ukraine has been an important one. It was against this backdrop of rampant corruption, which Campbell said discouraged foreign investment, a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state, and the recent anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster that the Commission examined how the U.S. could best help Ukraine in the development of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and a market economy.

  • Missing Journalist in Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, it has been almost three weeks since the highly disturbing disappearance of Heorhii Gongadze, a journalist known for his articles exposing corruption in the Ukraine and for playing a prominent role in defending media freedoms. Mr. Gongadze, whose visit to the United States last December included meetings with the Helsinki Commission staff, was publisher of a new Internet newspaper called Ukrainska Pravda (meaning Ukrainian Truth), a publication often critical of senior Ukrainian officials and their associates. In fact, shortly before he vanished, Mr. Gongadze had apparently been facing pressure and threats and had complained that police were harassing him and his colleagues at Ukrainska Pravda. Unfortunately, Mr. Gongadze's disappearance takes place in an increasingly unhealthy media environment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, his disappearance follows several suspect or inconclusive investigations into the suspicious deaths of several Ukrainian journalists over the last few years and the beatings of two journalists following their articles about official corruption this year. This disappearance has occurred within an environment which has made it increasingly difficult for professional journalists to operate, including harassment by tax police, criminal libel prosecutions, the denial of access to state-controlled newsprint and printing presses, and phone calls to editors suggesting that they censure certain stories. Such an atmosphere clearly has a chilling effect on press freedom. Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged that the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukraine's parliament, has formed a special ad hoc committee to investigate Mr. Gongadze's disappearance. I am also hopeful that the Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs and other law enforcement agencies will conduct a serious, vigorous investigation to solve the case of this missing journalist. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and as someone who has a longstanding interest in the Ukraine, I am deeply disappointed that the Ukraine's relatively positive human rights record has been tarnished by an environment not conducive to the development of a free media. I remain hopeful that the Ukrainian authorities will make every effort to reverse this situation.

  • Calling the President to Issue a Proclamation Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for yielding me time. Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me give a special thanks to Bob Hand, who is a specialist on the Balkans, especially the former Yugoslavia and Albania, at the Helsinki Commission. As my colleagues know just a few moments ago, we passed H.R. 1064 by voice vote, legislation that I had introduced early last year. We went through many drafts and redrafts, and I would like to just thank Bob for the excellent work he and Dorothy Taft, the Commission's Chief of Staff, did on that legislation. H.R. 1064 would not have been brought to the floor in a form we know the Senate will pass quickly and then forward for signature, without their tremendous work on this piece of legislation, and their organization of a whole series of hearings that the Helsinki Commission has held on the Balkans. We have had former Bosnian Prime Minister Silajdzic, for example, testify at several hearings. The Congress itself has had so much input into this diplomatic process which we know as the ``Helsinki process,'' and they have done yeoman's work on that. Mr. Speaker, I rise and ask my colleagues to support passage of H.J. Res. 100, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. I am pleased that we have more than 40 cosponsors on this resolution, and that includes all of our colleagues on the Helsinki Commission. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer) is the ranking Democratic Member, and my good friend and colleague. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act was a watershed event in European history, which set in motion what has become known as the Helsinki process. With its language on human rights, this agreement granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle regulating relations between the signatory countries. Yes, there were other provisions that dealt with economic issues as well as security concerns, but this country rightfully chose to focus attention on the human rights issues especially during the Cold War years and the dark days of the Soviet Union. The Helsinki process, I would respectfully submit to my colleagues, was very helpful, in fact instrumental, in relegating the Communist Soviet empire to the dust bin of history. The standards of Helsinki constitute a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues. The West, and especially the United States, used Helsinki to help people in Czechoslovakia, in East Germany and in all the countries that made up the OSCE, which today comprises 54 nations with the breakup of the Soviet Union and other States along with the addition of some new States. Let me just read to my colleagues a statement that was made by President Gerald Ford, who actually signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. He stated, and I quote, “the Helsinki Final Act was the final nail in the coffin of Marxism and Communism in many, many countries and helped bring about the change to a more democratic political system and a change to a more market oriented economic system.” The current Secretary General of the OSCE, Jan Kubis, a Slovak, has stated, and I quote him, “As we remember together the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, we commemorate the beginning of our liberation, not by armies, not by methods of force or intervention, but as a result of the impact and inspiration of the norms and values of an open civilized society, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and of the encouragement it provided to strive for democratic change and of openings it created to that end. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act is a living document. We regularly hold follow-up conferences and meetings emphasizing various aspects of the accords, pressing for compliance by all signatory states. I urge Members to support this resolution, and I am very proud, as I stated earlier, to be Chairman of the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the Statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, David T. Johnson, at the Commemorative meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act Statement at the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act (By Ambassador David T. Johnson to the Commemorative Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE) Madame Chairperson, as we look with fresh eyes today at the document our predecessors signed on August 1, 1975, we are struck by the breadth of their vision. They agreed to work together on an amazing range of issues, some of which we are only now beginning to address. The States participating in the meeting affirmed the objective of “ensuring conditions in which their people can live in true and lasting peace free from any threat to or attempt against their security;” they recognized the “indivisibility of security in Europe'' and a ``common interest in the development of cooperation throughout Europe.” One of the primary strengths of the Helsinki process is its comprehensive nature and membership. Human rights, military security, and trade and economic issues can be pursued in the one political organization that unites all the countries of Europe including the former Soviet republics, the United States and Canada, to face today's challenges. Over the past twenty-five years we have added pieces to fit the new realities, just last November in Istanbul we agreed on a new Charter for European Security and an adapted Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. But the most significant provision of the Helsinki Agreement may have been the so-called Basket III on Human Rights. As Henry Kissinger pointed out in a speech three weeks after the Final Act was signed, “At Helsinki, for the first time in the postwar period, human rights and fundamental freedoms became recognized subjects of East-West discourse and negotiations. The conference put forward . . . standards of humane conduct, which have been, and still are, a beacon of hope to millions.” In resolutions introduced to our Congress this summer, members noted that the standards of Helsinki provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive regimes. Many paid a high price with the loss of their freedom or even their lives. Today we have heard from you, the representatives of the many who have struggled in the cause of human rights throughout the years since Helsinki. We are in awe of you, of the difficult and dangerous circumstances of your lives, and of what you have and are accomplishing. Many of us here cannot comprehend the conditions of life in a divided Europe. And those who lived under repressive regimes could not have imagined how quickly life changed after 1989. Political analysts both East and West were astounded at the rapidity with which the citizens of the former Iron Curtain countries demanded their basic rights as citizens of democratic societies. What we have heard time and again is that the Helsinki Final Act did matter. Leaders and ordinary citizens took heart from its assertions. The implementation review meetings kept a focus fixed on its provisions. Even before the Wall came down, a new generation of leaders like Nemeth in Hungary and Gorbachev in the Soviet Union made decisions to move in new directions, away from bloodshed and repression. In the summer of 1989, the Hungarians and Austrian cooperated with the West Germans to allow Romanians and East Germans to migrate to the West. Looking at what was happening in Europe, the young State Department analyst Francis Fukuyama, wrote an article which captured the world's attention. In ``The End of History,'' he claimed that what was happening was not just the end of the Cold War but the end of the debate over political systems. A consensus had formed that democracy, coupled with a market economy, was the best system for fostering the most freedom possible. And then in the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened unexpectedly. Citizens emerging from repressive regimes knew about democracy and told the world that what they wanted more than anything else was to vote in free and fair elections. Only a year after the fall of the Wall, a reunited Germany held elections at the state and national level. Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states carried out amazing transformations beginning with elections which brought in democratic systems. When Albania descended into chaos in 1997, groups across the country shared a common desire for fair elections. We have seen Croatia and the Slovak Republic re-direct their courses in the past several years, not by violence but through the ballot box. Just a few weeks ago, citizens of Montenegro voted in two cities with two different results, in both instances there was no violence and the new governments are moving forward with reforms to benefit their citizens. OSCE has time and again stepped up to assist with elections and give citizens an extra measure of reassurance that the rest of the world supports them in the exercise of their democratic rights. We are all aware that in the decades since Helsinki, we have seen conflict, torture, and ethnic violence within the OSCE area. Unfortunately, not all areas in the OSCE region made a peaceful transition to the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic prosperity. Some OSCE countries remain one-party states or suffer under regimes which suppress political opposition. Perhaps the most troubled region is the former Yugoslavia. As Laura Silber has written in the text to the BBC series “The Death of Yugoslavia,” “Yugoslavia did not die a natural death. Rather, it was deliberately and systematically killed off by men who had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a peaceful transition from state socialism and one-party rule to free-market democracy.” We need only look at the devastation of Chechnya and the continuing ethnic strife in parts of the former Yugoslavia to realize there is much still to be done in the OSCE region. We must continue our work together to minimize conflict and bring contending sides together, foster economic reforms through enhanced transparency, promote environmental responsibility, and or fight against organized crime and corruption. Human rights remain very much on our agenda as we seek to eradicate torture, and find new solutions for the integration of immigrants, minorities and vulnerable peoples into our political life. “Without a vision,” wrote the prophet Isaiah so long ago, “the people will perish.” We here today have a vision of collective security for all the citizens of the OSCE region. After twenty-five years, the goals embodied in the Helsinki final act remain a benchmark toward which we must continue to work. The Panelists have reminded us today that the Helsinki Final Act has incalculable symbolic meaning to the citizens of our region; we must continue to take on new challenges as we strive to keep this meaning alive. Mr. Crowley. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to yield 8 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission.   Mr. Hoyer: Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley) for yielding me the time. I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman), the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, for bringing this resolution to the floor. I am pleased to join my very good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), with whom I have served on the Helsinki Commission since 1985 and who is now the chairman of our commission and does an extraordinarily good job at raising high the banner of human rights, of freedom, and democracy and so many other vital values to a free people. I am honored to be his colleague on the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.J. Res. 100 which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act which, was signed on August 1, 1975. It is my firm belief that the political process set in motion by the signing of the Final Act was the groundwork for the forces which consumed the former Soviet empire. In 1975, many of the Final Act signatory states viewed the language of the act dealing with human rights and the obligation that each state had toward its own citizens, as well as those of other states, as essentially meaningless window dressing. Their objective, it was felt that of the Soviets, was to secure a framework in which their international political position and the then existing map of Europe would be adjudged a fait accompli. Let me say as an aside that as we honor the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, we ought to honor the courage and the vision of President Gerald Ford. I am not particularly objective. President Ford is a friend of mine for whom I have great affection and great respect, but those who will recall the signing of the Final Act in August of 1975 will recall that it was very controversial, and that many particularly in President's Ford's party thought that it was a sellout to the Soviets, thought that it was, in fact, a recognition of the de facto borders that then existed with the 6 Warsaw Pact nations, captive nations, if you will. President Ford, however, had the vision and, as I said, the courage, to sign the Final Act on behalf of the United States along with 34 other heads of state; that act became a living and breathing process, not a treaty, not a part of international law, but whose moral suasion ultimately made a very significant difference.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

    Mr. Speaker, next Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, which organized what has become known as the Helsinki or OSCE process, a critical venue in which the United States has sought to advance human rights, democracy and the rule of law. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act granted human rights of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declarations of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women, and are not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state. The commitments are worth reading again. Among the many pages, allow me to quote from several of the documents: In the Helsinki Final Act, the participating States commit to `respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.' In the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the participating states declared, `Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government.' In the 1991 Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, the participating States `categorically and irrevocably declare[d] that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the States concerned.' In the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the participating States committed themselves `to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.' The 1999 Istanbul Charter for European Security and Istanbul Summit Declaration notes the particular challenges of ending violence against women and children as well as sexual exploitation and all forms of trafficking in human beings, strengthening efforts to combat corruption, eradicating torture, reinforcing efforts to end discrimination against Roma and Sinti, and promoting democracy and respect for human rights in Serbia. Equally important, the standards of Helsinki, which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring and affiliated Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Pressure by governments through the Helsinki process at various Helsinki fora, thoroughly reviewing compliance with Helsinki commitments and raising issues with Helsinki signatory governments which violated their freely undertaken human rights commitments, helped make it possible for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to regain their freedom and independence. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many of the States, we have witnessed widespread and significant transformations and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Unfortunately, in others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. Mr. Speaker, this milestone anniversary presents the President an appropriate opportunity to issue a proclamation in recognition of the obligations we and the other OSCE States have committed to uphold. It is important to keep in mind that all of the agreements of the Helsinki process have been adopted by consensus and consequently, each participating State is equally bound by each document. In addition to committing ourselves of the faithful implementation of the OSCE principles, the President should encourage other OSCE signatories as all of us have recognized that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy and genuine security and cooperation in the OSCE region. Each participating State of the OSCE bears primary responsibility for raising violations of the Helsinki Final Act and the other OSCE documents. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes, but the task is far from complete. Mr. Speaker, we can look at OSCE's past with pride and its future with hope, keeping in mind President Ford's concluding comments at the signing of the Helsinki Final Act: `History will judge this conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow, not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.'

  • Briefing with Alexandr Nikitin

    On behalf of Chairman Chris Smith, CSCE Chief of Staff Dorothy Taft addressed Alexandr Nikitin’s personal legal case against the Russian government for his dedication to environmentalism.  Nikitin called speaks of the government’s harassment of grassroots advocates in Russia and their repeated failure to find him guilty in court. Alexandr Nikitin spoke of his prolonged legal case, which was reopened three times, and expressed his desire to help others who find themselves in similar situations with Russian law. He also addressed Russia’s abolishment of the State Committee to Protect the Environment and the overall lack of environmentalism in Russia.

  • Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries

    At the briefing, an in-depth study examining the religious liberties laws and constitutional provisions of twelve countries: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan formally released by the Helsinki Commission was discussed. The project was inspired by the agreement of OSCE participating States to “ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligation under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other OSCE commitments.” Various panelists addressed the issue of governments continuing to impose restrictions on individual religious liberties, despite a prior agreement to curtail anti-religious laws and governmental practices designed to prevent people from practicing or expressing their religious beliefs. Legal specialists from the Law Library of Congress emphasized a “frightening” trend in France to limit an individual’s right to freely express religious views or participate in religious activities, a Greek policy requiring one’s religious affiliation to be listed on government-issued identification cards, and Turkish raids on Protestant groups as examples of the violations of religious liberty that continue to plague these selected OSCE countries.

  • Tenth Anniversary of Ukraine Sovereignty Declaration

    Mr. Speaker, ten years ago, on July 16th 1990, the Supreme Soviet (parliament) of the Ukrainian S.S.R. adopted a far-reaching Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine. The overwhelming vote of 355 for and four against was a critical and demonstrative step towards independence, as Ukraine was at that time a republic of the Soviet Union.   The Declaration, inspired by the democratic movement Rukh whose key members were veterans of the Helsinki movement seeking greater rights and freedoms, proclaimed Ukraine's state sovereignty and stressed the Republic's intention of controlling its own affairs. Ukraine and its people were identified as the sole source of state authority in the republic, and they alone were to determine their own destiny. The Declaration asserted the primacy of Ukraine's legislation over Soviet laws and established the right of Ukraine to create its own currency and national bank, raise its own army, maintain relations with foreign countries, collect tariffs, and erect borders. Through this Declaration, Ukraine announced its intention not to use, possess, or acquire nuclear weapons. Going beyond Soviet leader Gorbachev's vision of a `renewed' Soviet federation, the Declaration asserted Ukraine's sovereignty vis-a-vis Moscow, a move that only a few years earlier would have been met with the harshest of sanctions. The Declaration's assurances on the protection of individual rights and freedoms for all of the people of Ukraine, including national and religious minorities, were extremely important and viewed as an integral aspect of the building of a sovereign Ukraine.   The Declaration itself was the outcome of emerging democratic processes in Ukraine. Elections to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, the first in which non-communists were permitted on the ballot, had been held only a few months earlier, in March 1990; one-third of the new members elected were representatives of the democratic opposition. Even the Communist majority voted for the Declaration, reflecting the reality that the Soviet Empire was steadily unraveling. A year later, on August 24, 1991, the same Ukrainian parliament declared Ukraine's independence, and in December of that year, on the heels of a referendum in Ukraine in which over 90 percent voted for independence, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.   Mr. Speaker, since the adoption of the Declaration ten years ago Ukraine has witnessed momentous transformations. Independent Ukraine has developed from what was, for all practical purposes, a colony of the Soviet empire into a viable, peaceful state with a commitment to ensuring democracy and prosperity for its citizens. It has emerged as a responsible and constructive actor in the international arena which enjoys good relations with all its neighbors and a strategic partnership with the United States. Obviously, the heavy legacy of communism and Soviet misrule has not yet disappeared, as illustrated by stifling corruption, and inadequate progress in rule of law and economic reforms. However, the defeat of the communists in last November's presidential elections, and the appointment of genuinely reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko have given grounds for renewed optimism, which is supported by evidence of growth in some sectors of the economy.   Mr. Speaker, now is the time for the Ukrainian people to strengthen and ensure independence by redoubling their efforts to build democracy and a market economy, thereby keeping faith with the ideals and goals of the historic 1990 Declaration on Sovereignty.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • The Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries

    The stated purpose of this hearing, presided over by Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) was to draw attention to the deteriorating status of free speech and press throughout the OSCE region, raise alarm about this deterioration, and call upon OSCE participating states to recommit themselves to these freedoms. Such an impetus was drawn from how members of the press were mistreated in foreign countries. For example, 34 journalists were killed in the OSCE region in the year of 1999.

  • The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption On Democratic and Economic Reform

    Commissioners Christopher Smith and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, along with others, discussed just how detrimental organized crime and corruption are on society. More specifically, organized crime negatively impact democracy’s expansion, the promotion of civil society, and security in the OSCE region, as well as economic development, particularly in southeast Europe and Central Asia. This is relevant to the United States because it has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in the former U.S.S.R. and Central Asia. Countries in this region assist U.S. businesses exploring market opportunities, and the U.S. provides a good bit of bilateral assistance to these countries. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption.

  • Change in Croatia

    Mr. Speaker, in October of last year, I expressed concerns in this Chamber on the condition of democracy in Croatia.   At that time, the leadership of Croatia was resisting the transition towards free elections, stalling the construction of democratic institutions, flaunting the rule of law, and squashing ethnic diversity. Those that held power were maintaining it in two significant ways. The first was through the manipulation of the political system to their advantage, including, in particular, efforts to control the media and the unwillingness to allow free and fair elections. Second, there was heavy reliance on nationalist passions for support. Zagreb's policies swayed the loyalties of Croats in neighboring Bosnia and made it difficult for the displaced Serb population to return to the country.   Since last October, things have changed drastically and for the better. In the Parliamentary election of January 3, the desire of the people for change was manifested as the party that had ruled since the fall of communism was defeated by an opposition coalition led by the new Prime Minister, Ivica Racan. Meanwhile, in a special presidential election on February 7 to succeed the late Franjo Tudjman, Stipe Mesic won on promises of reform, of a more democratic political system with diminished power for the presidency, of greater cooperation with The Hague in the prosecution of war criminals, of progress in the implementation of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia, and of the return of Croatia's displaced Serb population. These changes have been universally applauded, specifically by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during her visit to Croatia on February 2. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I join the Secretary of State in commending the new policies of Croatia's leaders, and I complement our able Ambassador to Croatia, William Montgomery, for his role in pressing for democratic change.   Mr. Speaker, it is good that Croatia's new leadership is talking about substantial reform. However, we must be sure that it is not just talk. We must be sure to encourage Croatia to move closer towards full freedom, true justice, and greater prosperity for all of her citizens, regardless of ethnicity. We must continue to press for the surrender to The Hague of those indicted for war crimes. As we do, we must be ready to support Croatia, even as we have been ready to criticize Croatia's shortcomings in the past. Recent violence in southeastern Europe underscores the need for true democracy in the region. In closing, I congratulate Croatia's new leadership and its promise of progress. Now that reform is on the horizon, I am hopeful that Croatia will soon be an integrated partner in European affairs.  

  • Report on Ukraine's Presidential Elections: October and November 1999

    On November 14, President Leonid Kuchma was re-elected for another 5-years term as President of Ukraine, beating Communist Party candidate Petro Symonenko, with 56.3 percent of the votes to Symonenko's 37.8 percent. More than 27 million people, nearly 75 percent of the electorate, turned out to vote. Nearly one million people, or 3.5% of the voters, selected the option of voting for neither candidate. Despite the economic decline and widespread corruption that were hallmarks of his first term, voters chose to re-elect Kuchma, principally out of fear of a return of communism, and certainly not due to any enthusiastic embrace of his economic policies. While there were violations of Ukraine's elections law and OSCE commitments on democratic elections, especially during the second round, these did not have a decisive affect on the outcome, given Kuchma's substantial margin of victory (over five millions votes). The elections were observed by some 500 international observers, with the largest contingent by far coming from the OSCE, and some 16.000 domestic observers. While the West welcomed the Ukrainian people's rejection of communism and any plans to reinvent the Soviet Union or Russian empire, the lack of economic reforms, as well as inappropriate governmental involvement in the election campaign, dampened Western exuberance over Kuchma's election victory. Following his victory, President Kuchma claimed a mandate and promised to work resolutely for economic reforms. This, however, needs to be weighed against his dismal economic record and the questionable resumes of some of his major campaign supporters. Western governments, including the United States, almost immediately reiterated their commitment to assisting Ukraine's transition to democracy and a market economy. At the same time, these governments are waiting to see if the reality will match the rhetoric of reform.                     

  • Ukraine on the Eve of Elections

    Mr. Speaker, Ukraine's presidential elections will be held in a little over a month, on October 31. These elections will be an important indicator in charting Ukraine's course over the next 4 years. The stakes are high. Will Ukraine continue to move, even if at a slow and inconsistent pace, in the direction of the supremacy of law over politics, a market economy, and integration with the Euro-Atlantic community? Or will Ukraine regress in the direction of the closed economic and political system that existed during Soviet times? Clearly, the outcome of the elections will have significant implications for United States policy toward Ukraine. Despite the many internal and external positive changes that have occurred in Ukraine since its independence in 1991, including progress in creating a democratic, tolerant society and the significant role played in the stability and security of Europe, Ukraine still has a long way to go in building a sustainable democracy underpinned by the rule of law. Specifically, Ukraine needs to improve its judiciary and criminal justice system, reduce bureaucratic arbitrariness and rid itself of the stifling menace of corruption. Indeed, corruption is exacting a huge toll on Ukrainian institutions, eroding confidence in government and support for economic reforms, and discouraging domestic and foreign investment. Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about reports of violations in the conduct of the election campaign, including in the signature-gathering process and inappropriate meddling by officials, especially on the local level. I am also troubled by governmental actions against the free media, including the recent seizure of bank accounts of STB independent television and the suspension of four independent television stations in Crimea. The harassment of the print and electronic media is inconsistent with OSCE commitments. It undermines Ukraine's overall positive reputation with respect to human rights and democracy, including its generally positive record in previous elections. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, was in the forefront of supporting respect for human rights and self-determination in Ukraine during the dark days of Soviet rule. We have viewed, and still view, Ukraine's independence as a milestone in Europe's history. However, in order to consolidate its independence and reinforce internal cohesion, Ukraine needs to speed its transition to democracy and market economy. It needs to work toward greater compliance with OSCE standards and norms. The OSCE Office for Project Coordination in Ukraine can be a useful tool to assist Ukraine in this regard and I hope that the Ukrainian government will take advantage of and benefit from the OSCE presence. Despite frustrations with certain aspects of Ukraine's reality, it is important for both the Congress and the Executive Branch to continue to support an independent, democratic Ukraine, both in terms of policies designed to strengthen United States-Ukraine relations, as well as with assistance designed to genuinely strengthen democratic and free-market development. The key is to be patient, but persistent, in encouraging progress.

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