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Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Laws: a Summary of Free Speech Developments in Romania
Friday, May 24, 2002

Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law.

Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech.

Criminal Defamation Laws

All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discrete offense, as distinct from defamation of a person.

Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.)

Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim.

It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary.

“Insult” Laws

"Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor.

Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms.

Their Use Today

At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government.

Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes.

The International Context

Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee, Romanian Helsinki Committee and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières.

Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms:

  • “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. . . . Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.”
  • “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.”
  • “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .”

(See: “Statement Regarding Key Issues and Challenges in Freedom of Expression,” agreed by Santiago Canton, OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; and Abid Hussain, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, February 2000, www.article19.org. See also “Insult Laws: An Insult to Press Freedom,” published by the World Press Freedom Committee.)

Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports, in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used and, at OSCE meetings, regularly calls for the repeal of such laws.

Free Speech Cases in Romania

Since the end of the Ceausescu era, non-governmental human rights groups, free speech advocates, journalists’ associations and others have called for the repeal of Romania’s criminal defamation and insult laws. These laws have been widely criticized and their use documented, including by Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), the non-governmental free speech watchdog Article 19 (www.article19.org), Freedom House, the Romanian Helsinki Committee, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Resolution 1123/1997), and the U.S. State Department (“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for calendar year 2001). While similar reports on other countries in Central Europe often detail specific cases of individuals charged with criminal defamation or insult, cases in Romania are so numerous they are often described not by individual names but, collectively, by triple-digit figures. For example, according to a statement by Article 19 and the Center for Independent Journalism, Romania, delivered at the March 2001 OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression – convened during the Romanian Chairmanship of the OSCE – official statistics indicated that over 225 people were in prison at that moment for speech “offenses” against the authorities. More recently, the Associated Press reported: “Currently some 400 journalists are being sued for libel and insulting authorities” (“Romania pledges to abolish communist-era laws restricting free speech,” May 5, 2002).

When individual cases are reported in detail, they illustrate the conflict between Romania’s criminal defamation/insult laws and basic free speech norms. For example, in December 2001, the General Prosecutor announced that he was investigating whether the singing of the Hungarian national anthem at a private meeting constituted a violation of article 236 (defamation of national symbols). That is, he used scarce taxpayer resources to consider whether people should actually be sent to prison, for up to three years, for singing.

Renewed calls for Romania to repeal articles of the criminal code that restrict free speech have often followed controversies triggered by government actions perceived as hostile to free speech and an independent media. In May 2001, Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu called for increasing criminal penalties for defamation, exactly contrary to the recommendations of, i.a., the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Although President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase subsequently stated they did not support jail terms for press offenses, they failed to call for the full repeal of the range of articles in the penal code that, at present, still permit journalists and others to face criminal charges for their speech.

In January 2002, another controversy erupted when the General Prosecutor ordered the arrest of Ovidiu Cristian Iane and the search of Mugur Ciuvica’s home. The two men, a journalist and former government official respectively, were suspected of circulating email messages (under the title “Armageddon II”) accusing Prime Minister Nastase of corruption. These actions were portrayed by the General Prosecutor as damaging to national security and Romania’s international relations and a violation of article 168 of the criminal code (disseminating false information, a provision, in other penal codes, generally intended to cover acts that might create a threat to the public, such as making a false bomb threat). Although Prime Minister Nastase later acknowledged that he had overreacted, he failed to call for the full repeal of the range of relevant articles in the penal code.

The latest controversy unfolded after the Wall Street Journal published a report on May 3, 2002, entitled “Among NATO Applicants, Romania Draws Particular Scrutiny.” Romanian journalists then reported on the story, including the assertion that the continued presence of Securitate agents in Romania’s security services is a matter of concern in the context of Romania’s candidacy for NATO. On May 10, Minister of Defense Ion Mircea Pascu issued – in writing – a warning to journalists that “life is too short, and your health has too high a price to be endangered by debating highly emotional subjects.” In addition to heightening concern that old Securitate practices, if not actual agents, are alive and well in Romania’s security services, the written threat triggered yet another row between the government and journalists. On May 16, Minister Pascu issued another statement, saying he regretted that his May 10 statement had been misinterpreted and that it was only intended to be humorous.

The event nearly overshadowed an announcement by Prime Minister Nastase that the government plans to amend the criminal code to bring it into conformity with Romania’s free speech commitments. The government’s proposal, however, which would reduce prison terms for some speech offences but not actually repeal them all from the criminal code, falls short of what is needed to achieve the Prime Minister’s stated goals.

Relevant Romanian Laws

The articles of the Romania criminal code which are not consistent with Romania’s freely undertaken commitments are:

  • article 205 (insult; punishable by up to two years in prison);
  • article 206 (defamation; punishable by up to three years in prison);
  • article 236 (defamation of national symbols; punishable by up to three years in prison);
  • article 236/1 (defamation of the country or nation; punishable by up to three years in prison);
  • article 238 (insult or defamation of public officials; punishable by up to seven years);
  • article 239 (insult or defamation of civil servants; punishable by up to seven years in prison).

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.

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Res. 578 will put the Congress on record:   Supporting the desire of the Government of Romania to improve the standard of care and well-being of children in Romania;   Urging the Government of Romania to complete the processing of the intercountry adoption cases which were pending when Law 273/2004 was enacted;   Urging the Government of Romania to amend its child welfare and adoption laws to decrease barriers to adoption, both domestically and intercountry, including by allowing intercountry adoption by persons other than biological grandparents;   Urging the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to work collaboratively with the Government of Romania to achieve these ends; and   Requesting that the European Union and its member States not impede the Government of Romania's efforts to place orphaned or abandoned children in permanent homes in a manner that is consistent with Romania's obligations under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.   In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country. Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I visited Romania and witnessed the misery and suffering of these institutionalized children. They were the smallest victims of Ceausescu's policies which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution than by their families.   Americans responded to this humanitarian nightmare with an outpouring of compassion. For years now, Americans have volunteered their labor and donated money and goods to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions. Many families in the United States also opened their hearts to Romania's children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 8,000 children found permanent families in the U.S.; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe.   The legacies of Ceausescu's rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to the continued abandonment of Romania's children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, “child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 [in Romania] was no different from that occurring 10, 20, or 30 years ago.” UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania's maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions; nearly 49,000 more live in nonpermanent settings in “foster care” or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets.   During Romania's first decade of post-communist transition, the corruption which plagued Romania's economy and governance also seeped into the adoption system. There is no question that corruption needed to be rooted out. The U.S. Government and the U.S. Helsinki Commission have been steadfast in our support of Romania's efforts to combat corruption and to promote the rule of law and good governance.   I strongly disagree, however, with supporters of the current ban on intercountry adoption who allege that it was a necessary anti-corruption measure. There are many indications that corruption has been used as a hook to advance an ulterior agenda in opposition to intercountry adoption. In the context of Romania's desire to accede to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the fate of adopted children and the qualifications and motives of those who adopt internationally. Romanian policy makers chose to adopt this law against intercountry adoption in an effort to secure accession despite the fact, as stated in H. Res. 578, that there is no European Union law or regulation restricting intercountry adoptions to biological grandparents or requiring that restrictive laws be passed as a prerequisite for accession to the European Union.   The resolution notes that the Romanian Government declared a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 but continued to accept new applications and allowed many such applications to be processed under an exception for extraordinary circumstances. Then, in June 2004, Law 273/2004 was adopted, taking effect on January 1, 2005, which banned intercountry adoption except in the exceedingly rare case of a child's biological grandparent living outside the country. At the time of enactment, approximately 1,500 adoption applications were registered with the Romanian Government; of these, 200 children had been matched with prospective parents from the United States and the remainder from Western Europe.   Intercountry adoption is, and always should be, anchored on the need to find homes for children, not to find children for would-be parents. Nonetheless, the individuals who applied to adopt Romanian children in the past few years committed their hearts to these children and we must recognize that the Romanian Government's mishandling of their applications has put them through a years-long emotional agony. H. Res. 578 calls on the Government to conclude the processing of these cases in a transparent and timely manner. Since introduction of the resolution, the Romanian press has reported that intercountry adoption would be denied in all of the pending cases. If indeed this is accurate, then it is impossible to believe that the standard applied in each case was that of the best interest of the child.   Romania's new adoption law and another addressing child protection, Law 272/2004, create a hierarchy of placement for orphaned or abandoned children. By foreclosing the option of intercountry adoption, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth.   On November 29, the European Commission issued a press release stating that “according to the Romanian Office for Adoptions, there are 1,355 Romanian families registered to adopt one of the 393 children available for adoption. Thus there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions.” The European Commission's press release fails to mention that more than 80,000 children in Romania are growing up without permanent families, in orphanages, foster care, maternity hospitals, or on the streets. That less than 400 have been declared available for adoption is a denunciation of the child welfare system. Barely 1,000 children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year and since enactment of the new laws in 2004, the rate of domestic adoption has fallen further. There is no doubt that if more children were to be made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption to provide them with permanent, loving homes. For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been taken away. This will fall hardest on the Roma children who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice.   The Romanian Government and the European Commission are attempting to use a Potemkin Village to hide a grim reality of suffering children and bureaucratic obstacles which prevent them from being declared legally available for adoption. In one case that has come to the Commission's attention, an adoptive family is waiting for biological parents to sign away their rights to a child they abandoned at birth and who has spent the first four years of her life with her prospective adoptive parents. She knows no other parents. Her biological parents have on four previous occasions relinquished their parental rights and yet, because of the new laws, the child has still not been declared available for adoption.   Other sources also belie a Potemkin approach. A November 5th article in the British journal The Lancet entitled “Romania's Abandoned Children are Still Suffering,” quotes a charity worker saying, “of course something needs to be done to help the children here, but at the moment all the Romanian government is doing is signing forms sending children back to their parents ..... It doesn't seem to matter that the parents might be alcoholics or have no means to look after their kids as long as the numbers are cut.” The article continues, “Romanian authorities have proudly claimed that last year only 1,483 children aged 0-2 years were in state institutions, compared with 7,483 in 1997. But those figures do not include hospitals, where staff admit they rely on donations from charities and individuals to keep helping such children. ..... The head of the Neonatology Department at the University Hospital in Bucharest says abandoned children stay on average for 6-7 months [and] the situation is almost as bad as it was in Ceausescu's time.'' The article also quotes the head of the Neonatology Section at the Bucur Maternity Hospital, also in Bucharest, as saying “last year, we had more abandoned kids than ever because the law changed. And it changed for the worse for the people in the maternity wards because the law forbids us to send children under 2 years old to state orphanages.”   At a Helsinki Commission hearing on September 14, Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on the reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. According to Dr. Johnson, “in neither of those documents is the mention of time. . . . It doesn't tell you how long you should spend reunifying that child with the family. . . . Contemporary child development research has clearly shown that there is a known amount of deterioration that occurs in children who are in hospitals or institutional care and outside of family care during the first few years of life. . . . You can predict that every child who is in institutional care during that period of time will lose one month of physical growth, one month of motor development, one month of speech development for every three months they're in institutional care. You also can predict that from age four months through 24 months of age, they will lose one to two I.Q. points a month during that period of time. The other thing we know is that by placing them into a caring, competent family, that you can recover some of this function. . . . A child that is abandoned in Romania today at the end of next summer will have permanently lost 15 I.Q. points. That child two years from now will have permanently lost 30 I.Q. points, which means that half of those kids are going to be mentally retarded.”   Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking for Romania's children. H. Res. 578 notes that Romania is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which recognizes that “intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin.” State Department officials and nongovernmental experts from the adoption and child welfare communities have testified that Romania's child welfare and adoption laws are inconsistent with Romania international commitments under this and other agreements.   The resolution further notes that UNICEF has issued an official statement in support of intercountry adoption which, in pertinent part, reads: “for children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Intercountry adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.”   Finally, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the role of the European Union in this debacle, I ask who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romania's orphaned or abandoned children.   I strongly urge my colleagues to support this resolution. For the sake of the innumerable children in need of permanent families, the voice of the United States Congress must be heard clearly in this transatlantic dialogue on intercountry adoption.

  • Romania's Ban on Intercountry Adoptions

    Mr. Speaker, last month I introduced a resolution, H. Res. 578, expressing disappointment that the Government of Romania has instituted a virtual ban on intercountry adoptions that has very serious implications for the welfare and well-being of orphaned or abandoned children in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I am pleased to be joined as original cosponsors by the Commission's Ranking House Member, Representative CARDIN, fellow Commissioners Representative PITTS and PENCE as well as Chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Representative BURTON, and Representative NORTHUP, COSTELLO, JO ANN DAVIS, TIAHRT, BRADLEY and FRANK. Mr. Speaker, the children of Romania, and all children, deserve to be raised in permanent families. Timely adoption of H. Res. 578 will put the Congress on record: Supporting the desire of the Government of Romania to improve the standard of care and well-being of children in Romania; Urging the Government of Romania to complete the processing of the intercountry adoption cases which were pending when Law 273/2004 was enacted; Urging the Government of Romania to amend its child welfare and adoption laws to decrease barriers to adoption, both domestically and intercountry, including by allowing intercountry adoption by persons other than biological grandparents; Urging the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to work collaboratively with the Government of Romania to achieve these ends; and Requesting that the European Union and its member States not impede the Government of Romania's efforts to place orphaned or abandoned children in permanent homes in a manner that is consistent with Romania's obligations under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country. Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I visited Romania and witnessed the misery and suffering of these institutionalized children. They were the smallest victims of Ceausescu's policies which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution than by their families. Americans responded to this humanitarian nightmare with an outpouring of compassion. For years now, Americans have volunteered their labor and donated money and goods to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions. Many families in the United States also opened their hearts to Romania's children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 8,000 children found permanent families in the U.S.; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe. The legacies of Ceausescu's rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to the continued abandonment of Romania's children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, "child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 [in Romania] was no different from that occurring 10, 20, or 30 years ago.'' UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania's maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions; nearly 49,000 more live in nonpermanent settings in ``foster care'' or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets. During Romania's first decade of post-communist transition, the corruption which plagued Romania's economy and governance also seeped into the adoption system. There is no question that corruption needed to be rooted out. The U.S. Government and the U.S. Helsinki Commission have been steadfast in our support of Romania's efforts to combat corruption and to promote the rule of law and good governance. I strongly disagree, however, with supporters of the current ban on intercountry adoption who allege that it was a necessary anti-corruption measure. There are many indications that corruption has been used as a hook to advance an ulterior agenda in opposition to intercountry adoption. In the context of Romania's desire to accede to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the fate of adopted children and the qualifications and motives of those who adopt internationally. Romanian policy makers chose to adopt this law against intercountry adoption in an effort to secure accession despite the fact, as stated in H. Res. 578, that there is no European Union law or regulation restricting intercountry adoptions to biological grandparents or requiring that restrictive laws be passed as a prerequisite for accession to the European Union. The resolution notes that the Romanian Government declared a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 but continued to accept new applications and allowed many such applications to be processed under an exception for extraordinary circumstances. Then, in June 2004, Law 273/2004 was adopted, taking effect on January 1, 2005, which banned intercountry adoption except in the exceedingly rare case of a child's biological grandparent living outside the country. At the time of enactment, approximately 1,500 adoption applications were registered with the Romanian Government; of these, 200 children had been matched with prospective parents from the United States and the remainder from Western Europe. Intercountry adoption is, and always should be, anchored on the need to find homes for children, not to find children for would-be parents. Nonetheless, the individuals who applied to adopt Romanian children in the past few years committed their hearts to these children and we must recognize that the Romanian Government's mishandling of their applications has put them through a years-long emotional agony. H. Res. 578 calls on the Government to conclude the processing of these cases in a transparent and timely manner. Since introduction of the resolution, the Romanian press has reported that intercountry adoption would be denied in all of the pending cases. If indeed this is accurate, then it is impossible to believe that the standard applied in each case was that of the best interest of the child. Romania's new adoption law and another addressing child protection, Law 272/2004, create a hierarchy of placement for orphaned or abandoned children. By foreclosing the option of intercountry adoption, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth. On November 29, the European Commission issued a press release stating that "according to the Romanian Office for Adoptions, there are 1,355 Romanian families registered to adopt one of the 393 children available for adoption. Thus there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions.'' The European Commission's press release fails to mention that more than 80,000 children in Romania are growing up without permanent families--in orphanages, foster care, maternity hospitals, or on the streets. That less than 400 have been declared available for adoption is a denunciation of the child welfare system. Barely 1,000 children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year and since enactment of the new laws in 2004, the rate of domestic adoption has fallen further. There is no doubt that if more children were to be made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption to provide them with permanent, loving homes. For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been taken away. This will fall hardest on the Roma children who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice. The Romanian Government and the European Commission are attempting to use a Potemkin Village to hide a grim reality of suffering children and bureaucratic obstacles which prevent them from being declared legally available for adoption. In one case that has come to the Commission's attention, an adoptive family is waiting for biological parents to sign away their rights to a child they abandoned at birth and who has spent the first four years of her life with her prospective adoptive parents. She knows no other parents. Her biological parents have on four previous occasions relinquished their parental rights and yet, because of the new laws, the child has still not been declared available for adoption. Other sources also belie a Potemkin approach. A November 5th article in the British journal The Lancet entitled "Romania's Abandoned Children are Still Suffering,'' quotes a charity worker saying, "of course something needs to be done to help the children here, but at the moment all the Romanian government is doing is signing forms sending children back to their parents ..... It doesn't seem to matter that the parents might be alcoholics or have no means to look after their kids as long as the numbers are cut.'' The article continues, "Romanian authorities have proudly claimed that last year only 1,483 children aged 0-2 years were in state institutions, compared with 7,483 in 1997. But those figures do not include hospitals, where staff admit they rely on donations from charities and individuals to keep helping such children. ..... The head of the Neonatology Department at the University Hospital in Bucharest says abandoned children stay on average for 6-7 months [and] the situation is almost as bad as it was in Ceausescu's time.'' The article also quotes the head of the Neonatology Section at the Bucur Maternity Hospital, also in Bucharest, as saying "last year, we had more abandoned kids than ever because the law changed. And it changed for the worse for the people in the maternity wards because the law forbids us to send children under 2 years old to state orphanages.'' At a Helsinki Commission hearing on September 14, Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on the reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. According to Dr. Johnson,"in neither of those documents is the mention of time. . . . It doesn't tell you how long you should spend reunifying that child with the family. . . . Contemporary child development research has clearly shown that there is a known amount of deterioration that occurs in children who are in hospitals or institutional care and outside of family care during the first few years of life. . . . You can predict that every child who is in institutional care during that period of time will lose one month of physical growth, one month of motor development, one month of speech development for every three months they're in institutional care. You also can predict that from age four months through 24 months of age, they will lose one to two I.Q. points a month during that period of time. The other thing we know is that by placing them into a caring, competent family, that you can recover some of this function. . . . A child that is abandoned in Romania today at the end of next summer will have permanently lost 15 I.Q. points. That child two years from now will have permanently lost 30 I.Q. points, which means that half of those kids are going to be mentally retarded.'' Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking for Romania's children. H. Res. 578 notes that Romania is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which recognizes that "intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin.'' State Department officials and nongovernmental experts from the adoption and child welfare communities have testified that Romania's child welfare and adoption laws are inconsistent with Romania international commitments under this and other agreements. The resolution further notes that UNICEF has issued an official statement in support of intercountry adoption which, in pertinent part, reads: "for children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Intercountry adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.'' Finally, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the role of the European Union in this debacle, I ask who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romania's orphaned or abandoned children. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this resolution. For the sake of the innumerable children in need of permanent families, the voice of the United States Congress must be heard clearly in this transatlantic dialogue on intercountry adoption.

  • Riding Roughshod Over Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I remain deeply concerned about the violations of human rights occurring every day in Lukashenka's Belarus.   During a recent news conference, the autocratic Belarusian leader expressed confidence in his victory in the presidential election scheduled for next year, rhetorically asking why should he be rigging this election. Given his intensified assault on civil society, his dismal human rights record, and penchant for rigged elections, Mr. Lukashenka's statements ring hollow. Yet, Lukashenka's actions against democratic forces, non-governmental organizations and the independent media belie his stated confidence regarding electoral victory.   Last week, the lower chamber of Lukashenka's pocket parliament passed a law endorsing tougher new penalties for activities “directed against people and public security,” a proposal submitted to the parliament only days before passage. These changes to the Criminal Code increase penalties for participation in organizations that were liquidated or warned to stop their pro-democratic activities, or for the training and other preparations for unauthorized demonstrations or other civic actions.   Mr. Speaker, to cite just one of the draconian provisions, the Code now gives authorities the leeway to jail an individual for up to 2 years for “providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus.” Putting aside the matter of such a provision violating free speech norms, if the past is any guide, it is clear who would be the arbiter of what constitutes “false information.” There can be no doubt that the law aims to stifle the democratic opposition, and the head of the KGB (yes, in Belarus it is still called the KGB) himself recently admitted that the reasons for the law is to discourage street protests during the upcoming presidential race.   This law, while particularly blatant, is part and parcel of other actions designed to strengthen the regime's control and deny the Belarusian people any alternative voices as the presidential election campaign unfolds. Last month, a new law further controlling political parties came into force. A recent Council of Ministers decree clamps down on organizations that conduct public opinion polls. A Lukashenka decree further discriminates against independent trade unions, stipulating that only trade unions belonging to the pro-governmental federation are granted the right to premises at no cost. Yet another decree considerably limits students' opportunities to travel abroad.   Meanwhile, opposition activists are routinely beaten up or detained. Just last week, for instance, Ales Kalita was detained and at the hands of the police suffered a dislocated arm for merely distributing the independent newspaper “Narodna Volya.” Viktor Syritsya, a lecturer at Baranavichi College was fired for organizing a meeting of students with presidential opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Belarusian State Economic University in Minsk expelled fourth-year student Tatsyana Khoma because she took a brief trip to France, where she was elected to the executive committee of the Brussels-based National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), an umbrella organization of 44 national student unions from 34 countries. The police beat activist Mikita Sasim. They detained youth activists Yauhen Afnagel and others. Other repressive actions include frequent arrests of activists of democratic youth movements such as ZUBR, a ban on worship by some religious congregations and other repressive actions against selected religious minorities, and continued harassment of members of the Union of Poles in Belarus.   Moreover, there is an emerging pattern of the regime putting obstacles in the way of Mr. Milinkevich. Recently, a public meeting he held in Borbuisk was disrupted by the authorities, with participants being told by the authorities to go home and threatened with tax inspections. During a press conference, the electricity in the room was cut off, as well as a “hot-line” phone with town residents.   Especially egregious has been the regime's intensification of the war against the already repressed and struggling independent media. Newspaper closures, suspensions, threats, and exorbitant and absurd libel fines, pressures on advertisers and other forms of harassment have become routine. Outright police confiscations of independent newspapers are also not uncommon. A seemingly more subtle tactic, implemented just a few weeks ago, involved the decision by Belarus' monopoly state postal service to stop delivery to subscribers of a dozen private periodicals. Meanwhile, the suspicious murder in 2004 of journalist Veronika Charkasova has not been resolved. Authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into journalist Vasil Hrodnikau's death. Lukashenka himself recently admitted to Russian journalists that his regime applies very serious pressure on the media, somewhat incongruously adding that ``this does not mean I am crushing them.''   Mr. Speaker, what I have cited is by no means an exhaustive list of abuses perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime, merely a sampling of the types of repressive actions employed on a daily basis by Europe's last dictator. As Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, I will continue to monitor closely and speak out forcefully regarding these and other violations of Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. I urge the Bush Administration to step up efforts to break the Lukashenka regime's near monopoly over the country's information space and provide timely assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus.   It is clear that Mr. Lukashenka and his minions are laying the groundwork for yet another un-free and unfair election--similar to the 2001 presidential elections and the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections--that will fall far short of OSCE standards. Lukashenka is once again showing that, despite his confident rhetoric, he fears his own people and profoundly fails to respect their dignity as citizens and as human beings.

  • The Meaning of Egypt's Elections and Their Relevance to the Middle East

    The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on October 12, 2005 to examine Egypt’s September 7, 2005 presidential election and its ongoing parliamentary elections.   The presidential election was the first in Egyptian history to be open to opposition candidates, while the parliamentary elections are being held in three phases over a six- week period to be concluded in early December. In the Egyptian presidential election, as was widely expected, incumbent President Hosni Mubarak of the National Democratic Party won a fifth consecutive six-year term with  88% of the vote. Out of numerous opposition candidates, the two main challengers, Ayman Nour of the Al-Ghad party and Noaman Gomaa of Al-Wafd, received 7.3% and 2.8% of the vote, respectively Post-election Analysis While the elections were generally acknowledged to have fallen short of meeting international standards, it was broadly agreed that the vote represented a change in Egyptian politics.  The nature of that change was, however, disputed by the panelists. Consequently, much of the discussion at the briefing was critical of the government’s conduct of the elections, with claims that electoral reforms that had been undertaken in Egypt had not gone far enough. “While the Egyptian elections did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness, the mere fact that the regime allowed the opposition a place on the ballot had opened a doorway,” said U.S. Helsinki Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) in prepared remarks. In a statement, Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, “The Egyptian people have tasted electoral freedom for the first time and began to debate the future of their country in a way that once was unthinkable. This is the beginning of a long process of democratic reform which over time will reverberate throughout the Arab world.” Thomas Garrett of the International Republican Institute (IRI), who had observed the pre-election period and the elections as part of a 15-member observer delegation, remarked on the significant progress made by Egypt in allowing open elections.  “For the first time in history, Egyptian voters were given the opportunity to choose from among several candidates for the position of president,” he said. Garrett noted that one of the problems in the lead-up to the elections was that access to voter lists was not provided to opposition parties until two days before the election, making voter contact difficult for all but the incumbent.  He was also concerned that apparent “off-the-cuff remarks”  by members of the independent electoral commission regarding candidacies and party participation were given the force of law by virtue of the fact that such remarks could not be subjected to legal challenge.  These issues notwithstanding, Garrett commented that the election broke the historic taboo against citizens openly criticize their government in a way that had previously been unheard of in Egyptian politics.  Overall, Garrett concluded, the aspirations of the voters were not subverted in that it was the clear intent of those who did vote to re-elect President Mubarak. Khairi Abaza, visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and formerly of Egypt’s Wafd Party, the second major opposition party in the election, discussed the nature of the opposition.  Abaza pointed out that although Mubarak received 88% of the vote, estimates are that only 15-23% of the 32 million registered voters participated in the election, meaning that Mubarak had the support of 6.5 million in a country of 72 million. Abaza listed less-than-democratic aspects of the election, arguing that these had the impact of lowering voter turnout. These problems notwithstanding, Abaza noted that the public gains for the opposition were very important, allowing for the first time in 50 years a real civic debate about political reform and systemic change.  He added that the lead-up to the election saw the growth of the opposition which, as a result, began to speak much more openly against the government.  However, “there’s still a long way to go before we can see free and fair elections in Egypt,” he said.  “What happened in Egypt is probably a step toward a freer system, but it could only be considered a step if it’s promptly followed by many other steps.”  Abaza also remarked that it because of its comparatively more solid national, social, and linguistic identity as well as parliamentary history, Egypt was well positioned to serve as an example for the region. A Different Perspective Somewhat in contrast to the prevailing view, Dr. Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did not view the presidential election as representing an historic step or breakthrough.  Hamzawy maintained that describing the election as historic was misleading, especially when taking into account the low voter turnout and the lack of serious competitors to Mubarak.  Rather, Hamzawy suggested, the election was simply the latest step forward in an ongoing reform of Egyptian politics that had gone on for the past 5 to10 years.  He predicted that the impact of the irregularities suffered in the election would be minimized by judges who would play a greater role in monitoring the elections than had historically been the case.  This, Hamzawy argued, would help restore the public’s belief in the neutrality of state institutions.  Hamzawy also added that he believed that opposition parties would win 15-20% of the seats in the People’s Assembly in the parliamentary elections. First Steps Counselor Wael Aboulmaged of the Embassy of Egypt noted that, as the vote was Egypt’s first experience with open presidential elections, it was perhaps inevitable that an assessment of their conduct would show them to have been deficient in various aspects. He added that Egyptians were only beginning to understand such facets of an election as campaigning nationally; how to raise funds; addressing people in different parts of the country who have different concerns; when to talk substance, when to talk style. Aboulmaged further contended that voter apathy and low voter turnout in the elections was due to many citizens lacking faith in the process.  However, he thought there was evidence of a new trend in which average people were becoming more involved politically and were beginning to feel that they have a real stake in electoral outcomes. The Counselor made note of the election’s irregularities, but reminded the audience of the significance of the recent events:  “For the first time, an incumbent president in Egypt had to campaign nationwide to present his political, economic and social agenda for public scrutiny:  to be held, in effect, accountable.  This is something that presidents in Egypt simply did not do in the past.  He had to ask for the trust of the voters.” Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a statement observed, “Nobody would mistake this election as free and unfettered.  The opposition was fragmented, its main party excluded, and campaigning was tightly restricted.  However, the sight of any public debate in the very heart of the Arab world’s most important state is the first crack in the façade of the old regime.” Witnesses Mr. Thomas Garrett, Director of Middle East and North Africa Program, International Republican Institute Dr. Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mr. Khairi Abaza, Past Cultural Secretary, Wafd Party; Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute Mr. Wael Aboulmagd, Counselor, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt Moderator Mr. Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission

  • Religious Speech Limitations in Sweden

    Mr. Speaker, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental element of international human rights norms. It is inextricably intertwined with other fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Considering this, I am increasingly concerned by European trends to place limitations on religious speech under the guise of preventing offense or limiting hate speech. One such case concerns Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kalmar, Sweden, who was sentenced to 1 month in prison for “inciting hatred” against homosexuals.   Pastor Green’s troubles began on July 20, 2003, when he expressed his disapproval of homosexuality in a sermon, founded upon his understanding of the Bible. He did not incite nor encourage his congregation on the small southeastern island of Oland to violence. He did, however, express his personal opinion on homosexuality and made a personal moral judgment that the lifestyle was sinful. He later circulated the sermon text to media outlets in an attempt to insert an alternative view into Sweden’s “marketplace of ideas.”   When prosecutors saw the sermon printed, they brought charges against Pastor Green for “inciting hate” toward homosexuals. A district court agreed in June 2004, finding his sermon to be criminal. One particularly alarming quote from the district court’s decision stated, “It is forbidden to use the Bible or similar material to threaten or express disrespect for homosexuals as a group.” Mr. Speaker, should pastors really be sent to jail for sermons that a court deems “disrespectful” or “offensive”? Should the state really dictate how a religious leader interprets the Bible, the Torah, or other religious texts? The district court’s ruling raises the question of whether ministers and priests in Sweden are really free to preach their beliefs.   I recognize that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and not all speech is protected. After 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, we have all seen how criminals abuse religion to preach violence and lead others in criminal deeds. Authorities are within their rights to take legal action to curtail the speech when it rises to the level of posing an imminent threat of actual criminal action. The international community and the European Court of Human Rights have recognized this high threshold for limiting speech activity. Yet we must be careful to not limit religious liberties and speech rights.   Thankfully, Pastor Green has not spent a night in jail while his case is on appeal. Also encouraging was the February decision by an appellate court to overturn the conviction, saying it is not illegal to preach a personal interpretation of the Bible. However, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Fredrik Wersaell, appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Green violated Sweden’s 2003 hate crimes law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on November 9th.   Undoubtedly, Swedes enjoy tremendous religious freedoms and generally Sweden is a staunch defender of human rights. However, in this case, the government has sought to limit basic religious teachings. I believe the criminalization of the use of the Bible to express beliefs, if not overturned, will have frighteningly broad ramifications for the free practice of religion in Sweden and beyond.

  • In the Best Interest of the Children? Romania’s Ban on Inter-Country Adoption

    Commissioners Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed their displeasure with  Romania’s ban on adoption.  Romania’s international adoption ban had prevented over 200 Americans from taking adopting children from the Eastern European country, regardless of the prospective adoptive parents' qualifications. The law that enabled this ban came after the Romanians consented to ban inter-country adoptions in exchange for acquiring membership in the European Union.  

  • Human Rights in Iran: Prospects and the Western Response

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director In response to ongoing developments in Iran, on June 9 the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing entitled, “The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response,” to examine the continuing pattern of serious human rights violations in Iran and consider how to formulate an effective transatlantic response. The hearing is part of a series to explore emerging threats to countries in the OSCE region. Iran shares borders with several OSCE participant States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan and also borders Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) focused squarely on the deteriorating human rights climate in Iran: “Across the border, Iran's human rights record is dismal and getting worse. The Iranian regime employs all of the levers of power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, even so far as execution. No effort is spared to silence opposition.” “Freedom denied” sums up the regime’s approach to fundamental human rights across the board, observed Chairman Brownback, “the tyrants in Tehran time and time again have shown a zeal for crushing outbreaks of free thought. Having come down hard on vestiges of independent media, the regime has pursued those who sought refuge on the Internet as a domain for democratic discussion.” Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew attention to the extensive economic ties between many European countries and Iran, suggesting that such interests influence policy toward Tehran. Smith also questioned the effectiveness of existing UN human rights structures and the need for major reform of the system. Dr. Jeff Gedmin, Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, testifying before the Commission, noted the paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “It’s changed our thinking about democracy, not only for the moral reasons, but because, as the president and others have said, the old realism, the old stability sort of policies didn't keep us safe, either. They weren’t fully moral, and they didn’t keep us safe.” Gedmin urged a more assertive approach toward Iran that would link the security approach and the human rights and democracy approach, and warned against concentrating on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Gedmin called for ensuring that promotion of democracy is part of any dialogue with the regime, while admitting that European commercial interests could complicate matters. In his testimony, Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, focused on the dynamics of democracy promotion more generally and efforts to foster related U.S. and European cooperation through the Trans-Atlantic Democracy Network initiative involving senior government officials and NGO activists from both sides of the Atlantic. He admitted that there are a variety of European perspectives on how best to encourage democratic change, contrasting “the more traditional Western European officials around Brussels and the newly arrived officials from Central and Eastern Europe….who are willing to be strong allies.” Citing the recently released report How Freedom is Won, Melia noted that broad civic engagement can speed democratic reform and that the absence of opposition violence in the struggle for change ultimately enhances the prospects for consolidation of democracy. Turning to Iran, he noted that the June 17th elections in that country “are not about filling the offices that matter in Iran.” Ms. Goli Ameri, Co-Founder of the Iran Democracy Project, addressed the complexities faced by Iranian-Americans who have thrived in the freedom and opportunity offered in the United States, and who hope that such liberties will be seen in Iran itself. She explained some of the differing approaches advocated within the community: “In my experience, there are three different views on U.S. policy towards Iran amongst Iranian-Americans. One group believes that the U.S. needs to take an active role and make regime change an official U.S. policy. The second group believes that freedom from decades of oppression can only come from the Iranian people themselves without any type of outside involvement.” Ameri continued, “In my travels, the majority of Iranian-Americans I met have a third, more considerate way in mind. They speak as concerned citizens of the United States and independent of political opposition groups or extremist political doctrines. They care about U.S. long-term interests as much as they care for their compatriots in Iran…Iranian-Americans support the promotion of a civil society and a civil movement in Iran. However, they want to ascertain that the format of support does not hurt the long-term security and interests of the United States, as well as not sully the mindset of the Iranian people towards the United States.” Ameri emphasized that Iranian-Americans, “differentiate between support for civic organizations and support for opposition groups, with the latter being of zero interest.” Dr. Karim Lahidji, an Iranian human rights activist since the late 1950s who fled Iran in 1979, pointed to contradictions that exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the “farce” that the regime is somehow based on popular sovereignty. He noted that “power itself is dual in the sense that, on one hand, there is this [unelected] supreme guide, who is kind of a Superman, who supersedes over the other branches of government” and exercises “100 percent real executive power.” Under the current structures in place in Iran, Lahidji stressed, “the underlying and governing principle, it's not equality. It is discrimination that really rules” in which “the rights of the common citizen are different from the rights of Muslims, or the rights of non-Muslims are different from the rights of Muslims. Women don't have the same rights as men. But common people don't have the same rights as the clergy.” He concluded, “Under the present constitution, any reform of the power structure in the country that would lead to democracy or respect of human rights is impossible.” Manda Ervin, founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women, focused on the daily difficulties facing the average Iranian, including rising unemployment, unpaid workers, and other hardships that have spawned manifestations of civil disobedience that are in turn repressed by security and paramilitary forces. Hunger strikes and sit-ins by university students and journalists are common and are met with repression by the authorities. Citing arrests of activists, including members of the Alliance of Iranian Women, Ervin stated, “The regime of Iran practices gender apartheid and legal abuse of children. The constitution of this regime belongs to the 7th century and is unacceptable in the 21st century.” In an impassioned conclusion Ervin said, “the people of Iran need our support, our moral support, our standing in solidarity with them. They don't want words any more. They don't trust words. They want actions. They want United States and Europe to stand together against the regime of Iran.” The panelists repeatedly cited Iranian youth and the efforts of NGO activists as key elements in building a brighter future for Iran. 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.

  • Racist Manifestations in Romania Deserve Government Response

    Mr. President, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I welcomed the recent visit of Romanian Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu, and I regret that I was not in Washington D.C. to meet with him. Our countries have forged closer links, and I hope that trend will continue.  While there have been many positive reforms implemented in Romania, unfortunately the situation of the Romani minority has remained the same. Romania has the largest Roma minority in Europe, estimated at 1.5-2 million people yet they remain profoundly marginalized and subjected to pervasive discrimination and prejudice.  A soccer match in Bucharest on April 13th was a clear example of the explicit acts of hatred that have been widespread throughout the country. Fans of one team, Steaua Bucharest, unfurled a banner reading "We have always had and will always have something against Gypsies." They chanted, "We have always hated Gypsies and we have always urinated on you." During the game, the stadium announcer played an anti-Roma song called "Gypsies and UFOs" and made anti-Roma remarks. The coach of Steaua Bucharest called the coach of the opposing team a "stinking Gypsy." The opposing team, Rapid Bucharest, is from a district with a significant Romani minority.  Response to this rabid anti-Roma manifestation was swift with mixed results. On April 20th, the Romanian Football League suspended the stadium announcer for 6 months. However, the League sanctioned both teams that were present at the April 13th match: Steaua Bucharest, the team responsible for hurling racist invective was fined, as well as Rapid Bucharest, the team against whom these slurs were directed. While it is completely appropriate for a sports league to police itself and its members, sanctioning those who were the targets of this abuse is absurd. No one will be fooled by the League's effort to appear pro-active and even-handed while punishing the very people who were the victims of abuse.  The National Council for Combating Discrimination, a Romanian Government body, also sanctioned the offending team about $1400 and fined the stadium announcer about $600. The fact that a governmental body so quickly recognized the racist nature of these events was a positive signal. However, any time a state positions itself to regulate speech, there is the risk that free speech, which may include unpopular or controversial views, will be unduly limited. I strongly believe that there are other ways to combat racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic manifestations. In particular, it is critical that Romania's public leaders, including President Traian Basescu, speak out against such acts of discrimination.  Unfortunately, the April 13th events were not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a larger pattern of racist abuse in Romania. In 2002, scores of fans at a Bucharest soccer match worked in concert to display a massive sign reading "Die, Gypsy." In 2003, like-minded fans displayed a sign reading "One million crows, one solution--Antonescu." In this context, "Crow" is a pejorative slang term in Romanian for a member of the Romani minority and General Ion Antonescu was Romania's World War II fascist dictator who spearheaded the selection of Roma for deportation to Transnistria.  These manifestations tell us two things. First, it is not enough for public leaders to leave it to the National Council for Combating Racism to speak out against these manifestations. Romania's highest leaders must stand up themselves to confront such outrages. Those who would foment racism, and who potentially incite racist violence, must be given no safe harbor. Invoking praise for the World War II dictator who oversaw the persecution of Romania's Jews and Roma is despicable.  Second, these manifestations underscore the need for continued efforts to improve Holocaust education in Romania.  Following decades of denial, the Government of Romania has made great strides in the past year in recognizing Romania's role in the Holocaust and in the deportation and death of Jewish and Romani citizens. The government is to be commended for taking steps to examine this dark and painful chapter in the country's history. Last November, the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, led by Elie Wiesel, officially issued its findings in Bucharest. In addition to the establishment of a national Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Romania marks on October 9th, the Commission recommended that Romania establish a national Holocaust memorial and museum in Bucharest, annul war criminal rehabilitations and develop a Holocaust education curricula and courses in secondary schools and universities. I hope the Government of Romania will move quickly to implement the Wiesel Commission's recommendations.  With this in mind, I was heartened to learn that in April the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest hosted the premier of "Hidden Sorrows," a documentary about the tragic deportation of 25,000 Roma from Romania to Transnistria during the Holocaust. In this time, more than 11,000 men, women and children died from the horrific conditions of their internment. Several, nearly 100-year-old survivors attended the premier, adding a deeply personal element to the documentary's message.  From the Inquisition to the Holocaust, Roma have suffered some of humanity's worst abuses. They were enslaved in Romania until the formation of the modern Romanian state in 1864. They were persecuted and deported and murdered during the Holocaust. Even after the fall of Ceausescu, they were subjected to dozens of pogroms. And yet after all this, they have survived.  The Romani people, who have endured so much, should not be made to suffer at a time that otherwise holds so much promise and hope for others. We must ensure that these people, their culture, and their heritage are not destroyed by hatred and violence. We must call upon the Romanian Government to abolish these ongoing acts of discrimination.

  • The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation

    In this briefing, Co-Chairman Smith described the issue of the status of the Orthodox Church in Turkey and condemned Turkey’s practice of property seizures; continuous impediments to land ownership and church repairs; and the denial of legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate as direct contradictions to Ankara’s OSCE commitments. The progress that the Government of Turkey has made in its reform program as well as the actions that should be taken in the future to support its Orthodox citizens and to bring its laws and policies into conformity with OSCE commitments was also discussed. Witnesses providing testimony at the briefing addressed a range of topics, including the confiscation of church property and other religious liberty violations undertaken by the government. A combination of personal experience and historical evidence was used by the witnesses to illuminate these violations and present suggestions for improving religious liberty in the future.

  • Russian Support for the Syrian Regime

    Mr. President, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held a hearing last week that examined the close relationship between Russian Federation and Syria. The Commission heard testimony detailing their intricate financial and military dealings that began in the earliest days of the Cold War and continue to this day. This relationship allows Syria to continue to support numerous terrorist groups, groups that have terrorized Lebanon for the past three decades and fuel the insurgency in Iraq. In addition, we heard details about Syria's support of terrorist organizations who operate around the world. Finally, we heard from both Lebanese and Syrians committed to freedom and democracy who have become victims of the Assad regime and are now languishing in the prison cells of Damascus.  The Commission's concern regarding Russia's involvement with Syria--a country that has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979 by the State Department--rises from the Helsinki commitments that Russia has freely accepted as a participating State of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe OSCE. The OSCE Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism was agreed to at the Porto Ministerial in 2002. Russia then committed to refrain from instigating or providing active or passive support or assistance to, or otherwise sponsoring terrorist acts in another state. Russia also committed to reducing the risk of terrorists gaining access to weapons and materials of mass destruction and their means of delivery.  Russia's support for the terrorist regime in Damascus flies in the face of these commitments. Russia is an active enabler of the Assad regime, whose Ba'ath Party was described by one of our witnesses as the richest terrorist organization in the region. The Syrian regime has received untold amounts of military hardware, much of which are currently being used by terrorists in Iraq against our American troops and our allies. Additionally, Syrian intelligence supports terrorist units in Iraq, composed not only of Syrians, but including Egyptians, Sudanese, Moroccans, and other Islamic mujahidin.  Even more alarming is Russia's plan to sell an unknown number of Igla SA-18 shoulder-held missiles to Syria. Such a sale to this terrorist state is more than criminal. This sale will put in the hands of terrorists some of the most sophisticated shoulder-held missiles in the Russian inventory, and increases the likelihood that they will get into the arsenals of other terrorist organizations around the world. Despite Russia's denials, indicators are that this sale will go forward soon, putting at risk every airline flight, every military flight, with the potential for massive loss of life and the shutting down of modern transportation around the world.  We must focus on the fact that, while there is no apparent direct Russian involvement in Iraq, this direct support of Syrian military and intelligence operations, coupled with Syria's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the long list of evil deeds coming out of Damascus, cast Russia as a suspicious party to these terrorist activities. We should not sit idly by and allow this to transpire without comment. We must call upon President Bush and Secretary Rice to reiterate U.S. demands that Russia disengage from its support of Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. It is not enough to stop the sale of the missiles. Complete cessation of financial and military support to this rogue regime is necessary.  On the eve of the Helsinki Commission hearing, a courageous group of human rights activists and pro-democracy reformists held a demonstration in Damascus, a daring display of dissent quickly broken up by the security forces. One of the protesters held up at banner that read: “Freedom for Prisoners of Opinion and Conscience.” According to the Syrian Human Rights Committee, the Assad regime in Damascus has executed nearly 17,000 Syrian and Lebanese prisoners. Additionally, there are over 600 prisoners of conscience in Syrian jails, champions of human rights, accountability and transparency who are still languishing under horrible conditions.  I would like to highlight a few of these prisoners of conscience whose names were submitted to us by one of the witnesses and call for their immediate release: Riad Seif, member of parliament; Aref Dalilah, economist; Maamun al-Homsi, member of parliament; Abdul Aziz al-Khayer, physician; Habib Issa, lawyer; Walid al-Bounni, physician; Mohammad Bashir al-Arab, student leader and doctor; Muhanad al-Debs, student leader; Mahmoud Ammo, activist; Mahmoud Abou Sader, activist; Mazid Ali Al-Terkawi, businessman; and Fawaz Tello, engineer.  I was pleased to hear of Syria's promise to a U.N. envoy to withdraw its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, but as the counter-demonstrations yesterday against Syria demanded, Damascus must follow through with actions as soon as possible. I am hoping that details of the withdrawal plan from U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen after his talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud will allow the people of Lebanon to hold their parliamentary elections in May without any interference from the Syrians and to do so in a manner that is free, timely, and transparent.  What would be unacceptable is the kind of warning issued by Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami that polls may have to be postponed if the country's political opposition fails to enter a dialogue with the government. Such an effort will surely ignite the kind of violence that the Lebanese people have been yearning for so many years to avoid.  It is time for the international community to lend support for the slogan that defines the people's revolution in Lebanon and in the region: “Kifaya,” which means "enough." Let's listen to what the people in Lebanon are saying for what they are saying is now being heard not only in Beirut but in Damascus, in Cairo, and in Riyadh: enough of autocrats, enough of the corruption, and enough of the repression. 

  • Winds of Change in Romania?

    Mr. President, I rise to congratulate the people of Romania and newly elected President Traian Basescu on the success of their recent national elections, and to encourage them in their efforts to consolidate democracy in Romania. In the 15 years since the overthrow of the brutal Communist dictatorship which ruled that country for decades, Romania has undertaken four successful national elections and peaceful transfers of power, and has made important strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law.  I was recently appointed chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--and have followed events in Romania for many years. In that capacity, I look forward to working with the government and the people of Romania on the challenges confronting both of our countries.  Romania is a good friend of the United States and a strong partner in the war on global terrorism. I thank the Government of Romania for its steadfast support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where a battalion serves on the ground, and for its support of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq. More than 700 Romanian soldiers contributed to the efforts that supported the people of Iraq in their historic ballot. Romania is our NATO ally and anticipates accession to the European Union in 2007.  President Basescu has recognized that endemic corruption and the poverty it breeds are a threat to Romania's national security, and his government is already taking steps to combat this scourge and to institute effective government reform. We commend the President's efforts and stand ready to assist him as he shines the light of transparency across Romania.  President Basescu's focus and determination give me hope that progress can also be made on a number of matters that have been of concern.  In 2001, Romania imposed a moratorium on all international adoptions under pressure from the European Union, and amid allegations of “baby selling”. This moratorium was extended several times pending development of comprehensive child protection legislation to include new rules on adoption. The new legislation came into effect in January of this year and limits international adoption to the grandparents of the Romanian child--effectively ending international adoption. More than 200 U.S. families were in the process of adopting Romanian children when the moratorium was established, and the Government of Romania indicated that it would proceed with those adoption requests that were “already in the pipeline”.  However, to date, these cases remain unresolved. This total ban on international adoptions is regrettable and means that many children in Romania will now grow up without permanent families. I am particularly concerned about the over 200 adoption cases which were already being processed for U.S. parents, and I urge the Government of Romania to resolve these cases quickly, so these children can be placed with the families as promised. I also urge President Basescu to consider revising existing law to allow the resumption of international adoptions with appropriate safeguards.  The Government of Romania enacted a comprehensive antidiscrimination law in 2000 and has in place a national action plan on Roma. Yet the great majority of Roma and Sinti in Romania remain marginalized, living in abject poverty due to severe discrimination in employment, housing, and education. President Basescu should take bold and concrete steps to ensure that Romani citizens have full opportunity to participate in the civil and political life of Romania. The establishment of a fund to implement school desegregation would be an important step toward achieving that goal and would make the Romanian government's participation in the Decade of Roma Inclusion truly meaningful.  Following decades of denial, the Government of Romania has made great strides in the past year in recognizing Romania's role in the Holocaust. I commend the government for taking steps to examine this dark and painful chapter in the country's history. The International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, led by Elie Wiesel, officially issued its findings last November in Bucharest. In addition to the establishment of a national Holocaust Remembrance day, which Romania marks on October 12, the Commission's recommendations include the construction of a national Holocaust memorial and museum in Bucharest, the annulment of war criminal rehabilitations, and the establishment of Holocaust education curricula and holocaust courses in secondary schools and universities. The government should move quickly to implement that Commission's recommendations.  In a related matter, I hope that the Government of Romania will finally bring to closure the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews and Roma. During the past 3 years, government officials publicly condemned efforts to honor Antonescu and removed from public land three statues that had been erected in his honor. One statue remains on public land in Jilava, the site of Antonescu's execution, and important streets in the cities of Cluj, Targu Mures, and Campulung Muscel continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.  The process of providing restitution or compensation for property confiscated by former regimes in Romania has been slow, complicated, and difficult. Government records indicate that more than 200,000 claims for property restitution have been filed by individuals, and more than 7,000 claims have been filed by religious denominations and communal groups. The plight of Romania's Greek Catholic Uniate Church, which was banned by the Communist government in 1948, is particularly troubling. More than 2,500 churches and other buildings seized from the Uniates were given to Orthodox parishes. The government decree that dismantled the Greek Catholic Church was abrogated in 1989, however, of the thousands of properties confiscated from the Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned. I hope that this government will finally take significant steps toward the restitution of Greek Catholic property as well as that of other religious denominations. Romania's failure to return religious properties to their rightful owners 15 years after Communist rule is inexcusable and, in my view, a destabilizing element in Romanian society.  Trafficking in human beings will continue to challenge the new government. Romania is a source and transit country primarily for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. While the Romanian Government has made tremendous progress in its anti-trafficking initiatives in the past several years, there are still some areas of concern including corruption within the law enforcement community, light penalties for those convicted of trafficking, and proposals to legalize or regulate prostitution.  Greater accountability is needed among members of the law enforcement community in view of allegations that officials have assisted traffickers in obtaining false passports, facilitated illegal border crossings and accepted bribes to tamper with witnesses' testimony. Traffickers are increasingly likely to be prosecuted for their crimes in Romania, however, the penalties imposed by judges are still too low--usually 1 year or less in prison. Penalties should be severe enough to reflect the heinous nature of the crime and to serve as a deterrent to other prospective traffickers. Finally, it is important for the government to take a firm stance against all efforts to legalize or regulate prostitution. Legalized and regulated prostitution is a magnet for human trafficking and provides a shield behind which traffickers hide.  While many challenges remain on the road ahead for President Basescu, his new government, and the people of Romania, I am convinced that, working together, they will move toward a bright and prosperous future. I stand ready to assist our friends in Romania in any way I can.

  • Belarus: Outpost of Tyranny

    Mr. President, over the course of the last few months, we have witnessed dramatic events in one of Europe's largest countries, Ukraine. The Orange Revolution has clearly shown that people power can bring about peaceful democratic change some thought was not possible in a former Soviet state. As a result, and with the support of the United States, Europe and international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, Ukraine is on the path to freedom and democracy. Notwithstanding the formidable challenges that remain to overcome the legacy of the past, Ukraine now has a real chance at consolidating its democracy and further integrating into the Euro-Atlantic community.   Unfortunately, the news out of Belarus, Ukraine's neighboring fellow eastern Slavic country to the north stands in stark contrast to the encouraging news coming out of Ukraine. Secretary Rice, in her confirmation testimony, characterized Belarus, along with North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Burma, and Zimbabwe as an outpost of tyranny and asserted that America stands with oppressed people on every continent. Belarus, under Alexander Lukashenka's now 10-year repressive rule, has the worst human rights record of any country in Europe. Lukashenka's regime has increasingly violated human rights and freedoms and has made a mockery of commitments that Belarus freely undertook when it joined the OSCE in 1992.   Nothing has changed for the better since last October's fundamentally flawed parliamentary elections and rigged referendum allowing Lukashenka unlimited terms as president. In November, Lukashenka appointed Viktor Sheiman as head of the powerful Presidential Administration, despite credible evidence linking Sheiman to the disappearances of opposition leaders and a journalist in 1999 and 2000.   The harassment and persecution of civil society has intensified. A top opposition figure, Mikhail Marinich, was sentenced in late December on the charge of stealing, of all things, U.S. government property, in this case, computers, despite the fact that the U.S. Embassy in Minsk makes no claims against Marinich. Clearly, Lukashenka wants to eliminate Marinich as a potential candidate for the 2006 presidential elections.   Other opposition leaders, Valery Levaneuski and Alyaksandr Vasilyeu, continue to serve terms in a minimum security colony after having been found guilty of “public slander” of the Belarusian leader. Their crime? Distributing leaflets urging people to take part in an unauthorized rally. The leaflets contained a satirical poem about Lukashenka. Another example of Belarus' reluctance to promote human rights is the recent refusal to grant a visa to former OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman and Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin, who now serves as the UN Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur on Belarus. The Belarusian regime has also clamped down on independent NGOs and prodemocracy political parties with Kafkaesque legal requirements and has mounted a full-fledged assault on independent trade unions. Problems are being experienced by religious communities attempting to operate freely.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance by all 55 participating States with OSCE agreements, I call upon the Belarusian authorities to live up to their freely-undertaken commitments with respect to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Last October, President Bush signed into law the Belarus Democracy Act, which had been introduced in the Senate by then Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Campbell and in the House by commission co-chair Christopher Smith, stating:   We welcome this legislation as a means to bolster friends of freedom and to nurture the growth of democratic values, habits, and institutions within Belarus. The fate of Belarus will rest not with a dictator, but with the students, trade unionists, civic and religious leaders, journalists, and all citizens of Belarus claiming freedom for their nation.   It is essential that we in the Congress, together with the administration and the OSCE, keep faith with the courageous people of Belarus struggling to ensure freedom and democratic values for their long-suffering country.

  • The Mediterranean Dimension Today: Seeds of Hope

    By Chadwick R. Gore, CSCE Staff Advisor Recent events across the Mediterranean region, previously unheralded and unappreciated by both governments and their citizens, are heartening signs of the growing interest in democracy and concomitant human rights at the highest levels of these societies.  Various meetings and seminars held in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and elsewhere indicate the fading away of the previously long-held belief that democratic values and international human rights standards are “Western” values.  Participants have shown a growing acceptance that these values are universal, and that inculcating them into the non-democracies of the region ultimately will result in security and prosperity within and among these states. Similar democratic evolutionary steps occurred in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union starting with glasnost and “new thinking.” With time there has been the growing sense of the possible acceptance by some Middle Eastern governments and non-governmental organizations, especially academics, of a regional security system not unlike the Helsinki model. Commentary across the Middle East, Europe and the United States now suggests that the time is ripe for such a clear-cut progressive step for the good of the region and adjoining areas.  However, for any such process to be successful, it must be accepted by the regional actors as genuine and indigenous. Western involvement should collegial and not dogmatic. The Mediterranean Dimension The importance of Mediterranean concerns has been widely recognized from the outset of the Helsinki process. Issues relating to the Mediterranean were included in the negotiations that produced the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, resulting in a section of the Act on “Questions relating to Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean.”  The so-called “non participating Mediterranean countries,” Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia, participated on the margins in the 1973-1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe discussions regarding security in recognition of the relationship between security across Europe, the Soviet Union and in the Mediterranean region--including its southern shore. The Mediterranean dimension of the OSCE was reformulated in the mid 90s as “Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation” to include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia. It should be noted that such “partner” status does not require commitment to Helsinki principles by these countries. In 1998, Jordan was accepted as a Mediterranean Partner, and Afghanistan, which many consider to lie within the broader Middle East region and which borders the Central Asian states of the OSCE, was accepted as a Partner in 2003. In an effort to broaden and intensify this Mediterranean relationship, the OSCE, including the Parliamentary Assembly, has convened numerous seminars, conferences and forums emphasizing the issues of the Mediterranean and allowing full participation of representatives from Partner countries from the region. Additionally, a contact group exists within the OSCE to provide an ongoing opportunity for participating States and the six Mediterranean Partners to maintain dialogue on pertinent Mediterranean issues. Periodic meetings of the group are typically held at the ambassadorial level. While this formal relationship between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners has been evolving, the looming question remains about the applicability of the Helsinki process to the Mediterranean region and beyond.  In other words, would such a multidimensional process work specifically within the region to reduce tensions and advance human rights and democracy? If so, how best should such a process evolve, especially considering the cultural determinants of the region?  Which countries should be involved in such a process? Regional Efforts toward Acceptance of Democracy Public expressions of the progress toward acceptance of these universal values within the non-European portion of the Mediterranean region have been best expressed throughout 2004 at the: OSCE Mediterranean Seminar held November 18-19, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt; Priorities and Mechanisms of Reform in the Arab World Conference, Cairo, Egypt, July 5-7; First Civil Forum in Beirut, Lebanon, March 19-22; and, the Arab Reform Issues Conference, March 14, Alexandria, Egypt. During the OSCE Mediterranean Seminar in Sharm El Sheikh, several participating States, including the United States, supported the proposal from the Algerian delegation that the OSCE provide election observers for the January 9, 2005, Palestinian elections. Subsequently, on November 27, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission formally invited the OSCE to observe the elections, citing, in part, the OSCE’s “wealth of experience in electoral observation.” While a full-fledged observation mission was not sent due to the crush of end-of-year activity, especially the Ukrainian elections, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was represented by a smaller election delegation. The Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as other international NGOs, also sent teams of observers. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has also requested OSCE Partner status. There is no consensus on this issue, with some participating States questioning whether the PA constitutes a state. What is most notable about both of these requests is that they are from one of the West’s shrillest critics, the Palestinian Authority. To request a seat with other states endeavoring to adhere to OSCE commitments, and to submit an election to the critique of the OSCE, may indicate the acceptance by the PA of universal standards and the realization that these are not “Western” values being imposed on the organization’s participants. The “Priorities and Mechanisms of Reform in the Arab World Conference,” sponsored by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and Al Siyassa Al Dawlia Journal was arguably one of the most notable pro-democracy and reform meetings in the Arab sector of the Mediterranean region. The conference, convened in Cairo July 5-7, 2004, was attended by 100 participants from 15 Arab states who discussed international reform initiatives in the Arab world arising from the recent G-8, EU-US and NATO summits. They also evaluated the Alexandria Document produced at the March “Arab Reform Issues” meeting, and the “Second Independence” initiative produced earlier in Beirut. They also discussed and critiqued the pretexts under which Arab governments refuse reform, setting forth schemes for follow up and government accountability.  The Conference in addition discussed visions and priorities for political reform in eight Arab countries:  Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria and gave particular attention to the Moroccan experience. As important as these discussions were, the recognition by conference participants that while democratic and intellectual forces in the Arab world have constantly pushed for reform since 1967, the collective responsibility for the failure of such reform rests with the Arab governments was most important. This was made shockingly evident at the Arab League Summit in May.  There the majority of Arab governments outright rejected calls for reform while issuing a statement that linked reform with resolution of the Palestinian problem. Thus the attendees of the Cairo “Priorities” conference concluded that human rights would continue to be suppressed regardless of statements such as thiers, and that such statements by the Arab League and other joint-government declarations were only issued to placate the West. Earlier, in response to the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative of the United States, the First Civil Forum was organized by the CIHRS in Beirut, Lebanon, March 19-22, 2004, in cooperation with the Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms (ADL), Palestinian Human Rights Organization (Rights) and in coordination with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Eighty-seven participants representing 52 NGOs from 13 Arab states issued “Second Independence: Towards an Initiative for Political Reform in the Arab World, The recommendations of the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit.” This initiative contains sections with recommendations addressing: fundamental principles for reform; fundamental demands for reform; nationalities and minorities; renewing religious discourse; women’s rights; rights of migrant laborers and refugees; reform priorities in states in transition (which addresses Sudan and Iraq); the Palestinian issue; which charter for human rights and peoples in the Arab world is best to be considered (such as, among others, the Regional Security Charter for the Middle East developed by the Regional Security Charter Working Group); civil society and reforming the regional regime; and, new responsibilities for the human rights movement. This is a comprehensive anti-statist approach to reform across the Arab world, recognizing for the first time in a major document that the primary responsibility for such problems as economic stagnation, poverty and illiteracy, coupled with systemic human rights abuses, lie with each and every government in the region--NOT an outside boogeyman, i.e. the West. Just a week earlier, the “Arab Reform Issues” conference was held in Alexandria, Egypt, March 12-14. Their final product is called the “Alexandria Document” which calls upon Arab governments’ reform in four areas: political reform including power sharing, respect for human rights, free media, independent political parties, and constitutional separation of powers; economic reform including privatization programs in banking and property rights, empowerment of women, and small business development; social reform that reevaluates values that have a negative effect on Arab life; and, cultural reform that uproots fanaticism from some religious curricula, mosque sermons and official and non-official media. In the past, any one of these meetings would have been noteworthy.  But here three were convened in a nine-month period--Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria--each of which puts forth significant plans for reform in the future of the Arab world. These plans share common objectives, are built upon each other in some ways, and are basically arising from outside of governments.  These efforts are somewhat similar to the Helsinki Monitoring Groups of the 70s and 80s which called upon governments to adhere to their international obligations and monitored their compliance. Helsinki Commission Initiatives In November 1995, the Commission publicly explored questions concerning the region through a two-day seminar:  “The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions.” Periodic contacts with representatives of Mediterranean Partners at various OSCE meetings, such as Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, Ministerial Meetings and various seminars, indicated that any progress in the region along the Helsinki model, or any other “western” security framework, was inexorably tied to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Additionally, however, Arab representatives, most notably from Egypt and Morocco, expressed irritation at what they described as “conflicting signals” from the West, especially the United States. They viewed the simultaneous approaches across the region from different Western organs, i.e. NATO, the EU (through the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership) and the OSCE as working at cross purposes by approaching the regional security issue with differing proposals and expectations.  The view from Cairo and other capitals was that since these approaches were neither coordinated nor consistent, none of them should be taken seriously--a view that unfortunately came to be shared across much of the region. Most recently, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 15, 2004, addressing possible roles of the OSCE in the Middle East, and, more importantly, examining the applicability of the Helsinki model writ large in the region. Witnesses included Ambassador Max Kampelman, former Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs; Dr. Peter Jones, Research Associate at the Munk Center for International Studies, University of Toronto, and project leader of the Middle East Security and Arms Control Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; and, Ambassador Craig Dunkerley (ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor; and Professor Michael Yaffe, both of the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University. The objectives of the hearing were to examine the wide range of ideas concerning the OSCE and the broader Middle East region and to seek ideas for processes whereby the states of the Middle East could create an indigenous Helsinki process, to include the human dimension.  This would be especially problematic as none of the regimes in the region currently have committed to the legal reforms necessary for such human rights commitments.  The hearing also considered what role the West should play, especially the United States. Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) set the tone of the hearing by defining the Middle East as the region from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east, and from Sudan in the south to Turkey in the north, “trapped today in the polar opposite of the OSCE process.  Instead of democratic principles pushing democratic progress, state repression breeds resentment and poverty.”  He pointed out that leaders from Israel, Egypt and other countries in the region had testified before the Commission as early as 1995 on the need for a regional security system like the OSCE, and yet no progress toward such a system was in evidence. Former Commissioner and current Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) reminded all that the Commission first examined the possibility of a Helsinki-type process for the Middle East in an October 14th, 1993, hearing. Since, commissioners have continued to raise this possibility with Middle East leaders, believing such a process was relevant then, and is perhaps even more so now. Mr. Hoyer proposed that the very substantial gulf that existed between the Soviet Union and the West when the Helsinki process began and the existing gulf between many of the countries in the Middle East are analogous. Hoyer explained that as the West and East were, in 1975, bitterly divided, they came together and agreed on certain principles.  Some, perhaps, agreed on them rhetorically, while some agreed philosophically.  In any event, the agreement had great power and that could apply in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the deep differences that existed then, the process established a regional forum for discussion of certain principles which may not be universally followed, but are now universally accepted. “Clearly, the governments and the peoples of the Middle East must embrace for themselves such a process in order to achieve lasting peace, stability and prosperity,” he said. Ranking House Commissioner Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) noted the uniqueness of the OSCE working through voluntary compliance to commitments by the participating States, not treaty obligations. He also said in some respects the OSCE is stronger than other multilateral organizations due to the use of consensus which requires active diplomacy for results. Originally Cardin strongly supported the effort to expand the OSCE process in the Middle East, specifically a CSCME (Commission for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East). Over the years when he has raised this with leaders in the region, they have supported such a process for the Middle East, without any reservation at all. They have seen this as the right way to try to resolve regional conflicts by creating a forum in which to discuss differences in an open manner where every state is given equal respect in dealing with the issues. However, Mr. Cardin’s position has changed, accepting Ambassador Kampelman’s proposal to expand the existing organization to include the Middle East diaspora: since there exists the OSCE, and it could take decades, perhaps, for the different states in the region to develop their own commitments, why not just expand the OSCE with stronger participation from the countries in the Middle East? He noted that the OSCE is looking at ways too expand its Mediterranean partners within the OSCE, using the partnership structure as a framework to deal with regional issues. Ambassador Kampelman proposed the extension of the existing 55-nation OSCE to include the current Mediterranean Partners, noting that the Helsinki Final Act included several references to Mediterranean states, dealing specifically with the “geographical, historical, cultural, economic, and political relationship between Europe and the Mediterranean.”  He stressed the value of providing Middle Eastern countries with a standard for human rights and democracy through becoming OSCE participating States and voluntarily accepting the considerable body of related Helsinki commitments. Minister Sharansky also supported extending the OSCE to the Middle East, arguing an analogous comparison between the lack of human rights in the region today and the repression of the Soviet regime during the Cold War.  Sharansky argued that just as the Helsinki process in the Cold War used the spotlight of world opinion to expose Soviet human rights violations and their treatment of political dissidents, a similar approach to human rights abuses in the Middle East which would be focused on specific dissidents and prisoners, as well as the linkage of military and economic aid to human rights issues, would work through the OSCE. Dr. Peter Jones contended that while the OSCE represents an appropriate model for a Middle Eastern regional security organization, he disagreed with Kampelman and Sharansky.  He argued that the OSCE should not be extended or replicated in the Middle East because the people and governments of the region need to have a significant stake in the establishment of a regional organization, and that stake would not exist in an organization brought in from abroad.  Jones emphasized the need to discuss the meaning of “democracy” and “secularism” given the regional cultural, historical, and political context, suggesting that if such discussions were ongoing, they could eventually result in some form of regional charter laying out the basic “norms of conduct” for governments and civil society in the region. Ambassador Dunkerley and Dr. Yaffe testified in the same vein as Dr. Jones, each emphasizing different points.  Dunkerley stressed that since organizations imposed from outside the region, or perceived to come from outside the region, would fail, reform must be perceived to be genuinely owned by the people of the Middle East.  Reform in the region, he said, is a long-term prospect and that it would involve both regional and bi-lateral relations.  He also emphasized, as Dr. Jones had, that developments in Iraq and the Palestinian issue would play an important role in the establishment of a regional security organization. Yaffe shared some of the insights he had gained from his previous work on regional security in the Middle East.  Yaffe argued against a broad regional organization because not all of the countries in the region are focused on the same issues.  In particular, he said, a pan-regional approach would mean that the Israeli-Palestinian issue would dominate the new organization’s agenda, perhaps at the expense of progress on less polemical issues. Besides a sub-regional approach, Dr. Yaffe also urged that bilateral programs tailored to support civil society and democracy in individual countries served as perhaps the best means to advance reform.  Finally, he suggested, as Jones and Dunkerley had, that “Middle East ownership” of the security and development process was extremely important.  The success of that process also depended, he added, on a comprehensive approach to other regional problems, such as the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In conclusion, Chairman Smith voiced concern about possible isolation of Israel within a strictly Middle Eastern organization.  Dr. Jones responded that Israel might be rhetorically isolated in a regional security system, but in terms of actual security concerns, would not.  Dunkerley added that if the Middle East were simply added to the OSCE in order to prevent Israel’s isolation, the Israeli-Palestinian question would bog down progress on other issues central to the work of the current OSCE, especially given the consensus rule.  Yaffe seconded those thoughts and emphasized that progress throughout the region depends on the ebb and flow of the peace process. An October 23, 2003, Commission briefing “Democracy and Human Rights in the Mediterranean Partner States of the OSCE: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia” with presentations by experts from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch set the tone for future Commission efforts in the region. Expert panelists participating in the briefing were: Frank Smyth, Washington Representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists; Karen Hanrahan, Director of Advocacy for Middle East and North Africa, Amnesty International USA; and, Joe Stork, Washington Director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. Unfortunately the general outcome of the briefing was rather negative. Torture and ill treatment of detainees were described as serious problems within the Mediterranean Partners, as well as arbitrary detentions, lack of due process, and limits on religious practice. Such restrictions have been exacerbated in the name of anti-terror initiatives since the attacks of September 11. It was reported that unrest in the Mediterranean region, as well as repression, had given rise to an increase in human rights violations, with torture in varying degrees remaining a problem in all six countries. Journalists attempting to work in the region faced difficulties as well with several in jail. The briefing pointed out the stark reality that Mediterranean Partners are not  participating States of the OSCE and have not accepted the OSCE commitments. This picture had several present wondering if there could ever be a Helsinki process with governments so far from accepting basic human rights criteria. The Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative Coincidentally, two weeks after the Commission briefing on the Mediterranean Partner States, President Bush delivered what many consider a clarion call for reform in the Middle East in his November 6, 2003 speech on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. Rejecting the common western cultural condescension of many who believe that democracy and representative government cannot succeed in Islamic Arab States, the President pointed out that champions of democracy in the region understand that while democracy is not perfect nor a path to utopia, it is the only path to national success and dignity.  After delineating the details of successful democracies, President Bush announced the United States had adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This Greater Middle East Initiative, which has become the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) was at first viewed skeptically by the region and much of Europe. The initial practical application of the BMENA was to be the Forum for the Future which first met in December, 2004. European and OSCE Initiatives The European Union’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), announced on November 10, 2004, invites adjacent states of the EU to share peace, stability and prosperity, with the aim of creating a secure ring of friendly States around the borders of the newly enlarged EU.  Specifically, for the Mediterranean neighbors the ENP is to build on the 10-year experience of the Barcelona process, thereby continuing to emphasize economic integration and deepening political cooperation. Europeans have also accepted the June, 2004, G-8 summit declaration titled “Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa” regarding the BMENA with commitments to pursue political, economic and social reform in the BMENA. The EU will support it on a dual track with the ENP.  The G-8 Forum for the Future, held in Rabat, Morocco, December 10-11, at the ministerial level, is the first step in the development of the BMENA. Previously, in October 2003, the Regional Security Charter Working Group met in Copenhagen to discuss a Draft Regional Security Charter for the Middle East. This experts group has convened periodically for several years under the direction of Dr. Peter Jones.  The Middle East is defined for purposes of this Charter as the States of the Arab League; the Islamic Republic of Iran; the State of Israel; and Turkey.  The Charter is an evolving document which is being developed on a Track 2, i.e. non-governmental, level for eventual consideration by the states involved. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on October 1, 2004, and the OSCE on November 18-19 held Mediterranean Seminars in Rhodes, Greece and Sharm El Shiekh, Egypt, respectively. The October 1 Parliamentary Forum, led by OSCE PA President and U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL),  focused primarily on combating terrorism in the Mediterranean, although economic security, trade and co-operation in the region were discussed by some speakers. Speakers included: Special Representative for the Mediterranean and recent-past OSCE PA President Bruce George, M.P.; OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, and Chairman of the OSCE Mediterranean Contact Group Janez Lenarcic.  Particularly poignant remarks were delivered by Dr. Thanos P. Dokos, Director of Studies at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Athens, and Mr. Sotiris Roussos, Lecturer, Institute of International Relations, Panteion University of Athens.  Both discussed the role of Islam in the region, Dokos from the historic perspective, Roussos the economic. In both cases cause for concern about radical Islam was shown to be well founded, yet Islamic States were shown, in the long term, to be necessary and acceptable.  And yes, each believed, democracy was the road these states need to follow in the future.  While some important points were presented, the seminar would have benefited by the broader participation of representatives of Mediterranean Partners. The well-attended Sharm El Shiekh seminar produced some very positive results for the future. There was a welcome addition of members of the civil society, including a senior Egyptian general and a female parliamentarian. As previously mentioned, Algeria suggested that the OSCE observe the January 9 Palestinian elections, a move that immediately gained widespread support. Not only would this help to insure a free election but could show the region how an organization like the OSCE might be a positive security structure.  Along the same vein, Ambassador Craig Dunkerley proposed linking OSCE conflict prevention and human dimension resources with regional institutions that are beginning to explore the development of civil society--such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms (ADL), Palestinian Human Rights Organization (Rights)--reinforcing local efforts rather than superimposing European institutions. Most of the discussions concerned threats to security, confidence and security-building measures (CSBM) and migration. A key address from Mohamed Kadry Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo, laid out the current situation and where the region needs to head for security.  After describing the deterioration of mutual security in the region as the fault of both the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, he called for the Mediterranean Partners to redefine cooperation, threats and the Mediterranean, rejecting unilateral action in the meantime.  His emphasis on cooperation in the region, and the need for expanding the region’s security space to include Afghanistan and possibly beyond laid a basis to consider security architecture for the area.  He also described an evolving Arab-Islamic-Western-Global anti-terrorism perspective, which could be part of the basis for such architecture. Conclusion For more than a decade, the lack of and need for a regional security structure in the Middle East has been examined and discussed, primarily outside the region yet focused inward to the Arab states. Momentum toward such a framework seems to be gaining strength, both in the West through NATO, the G-8, EU, and OSCE and through the actions of certain governments willing to fund and act upon such initiatives.  Notably, regional civil society actors are engaged in Track 2, and regional governments are slowly being included in such discussions. Regarding BMENA and ENP, however, there may be room for concern.  This duality of mutual effort between the United States and the European Union potentially presents a cross-Atlantic confrontation, and not unlike the confusion of multiple regional approaches from the West in the past as cited by the representatives of Mediterranean Partners.  Since the goals of the BMENA are to bring about regional political and economic reformation versus the intent of the ENP, which is to build accommodation with existing regimes for economic and political stability, the two approaches are in conflict.  The Europeans and the Americans need to agree to some common standards regarding regional stability while encouraging political change.  At the same time, the governments of the region will need to strive to be flexible and perceptive enough for both initiatives.  The alternatives to such cooperation are either for little or no progress to be made, or for the competition in the region between the United States and the EU to become the Great Game of the 21st century. It is clear that there is much ongoing effort on which to build.  However, two points must be made concerning the situation today.  First, the West must be aware of the potential conflict between BMENA and ENP.  Second, regional governments must become the primary actors in their own interest. When discussions concerning the broader Middle East region take place in forums such as the OSCE, every effort must be made to significantly expand the number and role of speakers and attendees from the region. The day of talking at, instead of listening to, is passé.

  • Religious Freedom in Southeastern Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel While the free practice of religion is generally enjoyed in Southeastern Europe, problematic policies exist that run counter to commitments made when countries from the region joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Issues range from discriminatory legal schemes denying small religious communities registration to harsh government actions against unpopular religious groups and their leaders. As will be discussed, having a legal mechanism for religious groups to achieve juridical personhood is important in ensuring religious freedom for all. Furthermore, this does not necessitate the creation of special religion laws, as legal status can be established through tax or corporation laws. Albanian and Bosnian Examples Despite shortcomings in other areas, Albania’s system for conferring registration and legal status to religious communities could serve as a model to others in the region. All religious groups with at least five members and meeting minimal criteria may obtain legal and non-profit status under the Law on Associations, the same status given to any applicant group, whether religious or secular. Albania’s neutral approach avoids the problematic entanglements of special religion laws common elsewhere in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina missed an opportunity to lead by example, as many parts of its recently passed Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities are well constructed, explicitly protecting manifestations of religious belief while limiting the ability of the government to interfere in the internal affairs of a religious group. Unfortunately, the law also contains troubling provisions which include penalties against free speech while setting numerical thresholds for obtaining legal status. For unregistered groups to qualify for official status, they must meet a membership threshold of at least 300 citizens. The law could be brought into harmony with OSCE commitments, should the Bosnian parliament amend the law, either expunging or significantly reducing this numerical requirement. While there has been marked improvement in recent years, the lack of physical security for minority religious communities and their places of worship as well as ineffective law enforcement and judicial action remain real problems. Police and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina have proven slow or unwilling to protect minority groups in some areas. The answer is not a specially crafted religion law with novel criminal penalties, but better enforcement of current laws by police and determined prosecutions by authorities. OSCE Leadership: Bulgaria and Slovenia Despite Bulgaria’s status as OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2004, religious freedom conditions took a turn for the worse when, in July, the authorities seized properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years. The 2002 Law on Religions blatantly favors the Bulgarian Orthodox Church over the alternative Orthodox synod and other religious groups, thereby providing legal cover for the church seizures. While there is no numerical threshold for registration, the legal system established by the law appears open to manipulation and arbitrary decisions. Additionally, the sanctions available under the Law on Religions are also ambiguous yet far-reaching, potentially restricting a variety of religious freedom rights. It is not too late for Bulgarian authorities to erase this dark spot by immediately reinstating to the alternative synod full control of the seized properties until the courts settle the dispute. The overall situation for religious freedom is good in Slovenia, which became Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on January 1, 2005. The registration system for religious communities is simple, and there are no numerical thresholds or formal requirements to overcome. While the small Muslim community in Ljubljana has experienced problems in obtaining permission to build a mosque, it appears the matter is being resolved. One city counselor successfully initiated a referendum in May opposing the zoning regulation change to allow the building of the mosque. However, the Constitutional Court found the referendum to be unconstitutional, thereby removing this hurdle to construction. It is hoped there will be no further bureaucratic delays, so construction can begin as Slovenia takes up the OSCE chairmanship. Law and Practice in Croatia and Macedonia While the freedom to practice religion is generally respected in Croatia, the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities passed in July 2002 falls short of OSCE commitments, establishing a discriminatory, tiered system of registration. For a new religious group to enjoy the rights and benefits available with the higher Religious Communities status, it must demonstrate a membership of at least 500 individuals and be registered under the lesser Religious Association status for five years. Benefits explicitly given to Religious Communities include: freedom to operate independently; capacity to determine their internal organization; freedom to conduct religious meetings in their own or leased space; tax exemptions; the right to establish schools; and ability to receive state funding. Considering Croatia’s candidacy for the European Union, current EU members France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia do not use membership thresholds in conferring registration. In addition to the excessive numerical threshold and the five-year prohibition on registering new groups as Religious Communities, the law declares that the name and insignia of a religious group may not contain the official names and insignia of other countries. Doing so will cause the denial of registration. In addition, it is unclear under the law whether Religious Communities or Associations may legally conduct meetings in private homes or apartments. To lessen the likelihood of problems in the future and to set a positive example for others, Croatia should correct these deficiencies, as well as eliminate or significantly reduce the 500-member threshold. The legal framework governing religious freedom in Macedonia is ambiguous, due to Constitutional Court decisions striking down provisions of the 1997 Law on Religious Communities and Religious Groups, such as the numerical threshold for registration. Since religious groups are required to register, the lack of a clear mechanism can be problematic. Adding to the confusion, the U.S. State Department reports that the remaining provisions of the religion law are not consistently applied, leading to arbitrary delays in granting registration. The government could easily close this gap by creating simple avenues to obtain equal status either through the civil or administrative code. In addition to these legal problems, concern exists about the situation surrounding Bishop Jovan (Zoran Vraniskovski). Macedonian officials, in response to the ecclesiastical dispute concerning the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, have over-reacted to Jovan’s activities on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Authorities in January 2004 arrested Jovan for conducting a church service in a private apartment. Responding to complaints of neighbors about disturbing the peace is appropriate, but sentencing him to 18 months in jail for “causing national, racial or religious hate, discord and intolerance” is excessive and unjustified. Escalating things further, police officials in October reportedly bulldozed the foundations of a new chapel Jovan’s followers had begun to build, allegedly because local authorities had not received permission to start construction. (There is also concern about reports the government intends to demolish another Serbian Orthodox Church established in the village of Luzani.) Those sympathetic to the larger issues surrounding the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its status should be among the first to defend the rights of others to participate in the church of their choosing. The government, at least, must exhibit more restraint and end these harassments, and also pay reparations for the destroyed buildings. Problematic Draft Laws Elsewhere The legal framework for Serbia remains uncertain, since the 1976 communist-era law was abandoned in 1993. A draft religion law circulated earlier this year contained numerous shortcomings, blatantly tilting the playing field in favor of seven “traditional” communities and establishing the numerical threshold of 1000 members for new groups to register. Despite improvements, the new draft micromanages the affairs of religious groups, while making contingent most of the rights and benefits available to religious communities on the meeting of the burdensome 1000-member threshold. For smaller groups, this will result in the serious limitation of their activities; the draft prohibits unregistered groups from renting or owning land for worship, using private apartments for meetings, holding public events, receiving donations or opening schools or orphanages. Registration can be revoked for vague and arbitrary reasons – if a group “destroys family” or “disrupts spiritual integrity . . . for the purpose of . . . spreading its doctrine.” The draft reaches into the internal affairs of religious groups, as all are “obliged” to “inspire understanding” of others and not “spread lies, prejudices or intolerance” against other faiths. In addition, local officials would be empowered to monitor how religious groups use voluntary contributions. Serbian authorities are urged to seek technical assistance and input from individuals on the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom or Belief, just as their predecessors at the federal, Yugoslav level did roughly two years ago, in order to develop a new draft that comports with international norms and practice. Regarding other issues, a dispute over a Romani church in Leskovac will be resolved when municipal authorities fulfill a pledge to provide some of the land nearby for an alternative site. The State Department reports the Belgrade Islamic community continues to have problems obtaining land and government approval to open an Islamic cemetery. In addition, in response to the burning of two mosques in March, reports indicate that 12 people of the 100 plus arrested have been charged with criminal offenses, and news of convictions should be forthcoming. There is also concern about religious freedom in Kosovo, as reportedly only three individuals have been found guilty for their involvement in the March violence that resulted in the destruction or damage of 30 Serbian Orthodox Churches and monasteries. The two-year prison sentences issued were suspended, making the penalties nothing more than a slap on the wrist. In addition, recent legislative initiatives are troubling, as the latest draft of the Law on Religious Freedom and Legal Status of Religious Communities falls short of international standards. The drafting process has been closed to minority religious communities, as well. The comments of minority communities should be actively sought and fully considered during the public debate. Among its many problematic portions, the draft creates the preferential status of a Religious Community, while providing virtually no rights for the lesser Union of Natural Persons. Small or new groups are prevented from obtaining Religious Community status, as they must have 500 members and have been operating in Kosovo for at least five years, but it is unclear how that time is tolled. Only Religious Communities can publish materials, either in print or electronically, or obtain funds from voluntary contributions. The draft unduly limits speech and activities of all groups, stating they shall not “disrupt other religious communities, or citizens without religious convictions, in public manifestation of religion or other conviction.” The government may also select certain religious groups to participate in the Committee for Relations with Religious Communities, thereby giving favored faiths an inappropriate degree of oversight or veto over other religious groups. Lastly, for existing Religious Communities, the law would make rights contingent on reregistering successfully within six months of passage. There is growing concern by reports coming out of Romania regarding a new draft religion law being reviewed by a parliamentary subcommittee. Reliable sources indicate this legislation is based on the highly flawed 1999 draft, which set the numerical threshold for registration at 0.5% of Romania’s population, or over 100,000 people. If reports are true, it is deeply concerning that the parliament would resurrect this seriously problematic bill rather than starting afresh and incorporating the views of interested Romanian religious communities. The OSCE Panel of Experts would be willing to provide technical assistance if invited by the government, and such a gesture would help ensure the legislation upholds all OSCE commitments on religious freedom.

  • Democratization in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, as the 108th Congress comes to an end, I want to make some observations about democratization in Central Asia, an energy-rich and geo-strategically important region. All these states are ruled by secular leaders who cooperate with Washington against terrorists. There are U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to help promote stabilization in Afghanistan. This collaboration benefits us, as well as Central Asian presidents, and should certainly continue. But unfortunately, these countries are some of the worst human rights violators in the OSCE space. Everywhere in the region, super-presidents dominate the political arena, with parliaments and judicial systems dependent on the executive branch. Media are under heavy government pressure; in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Soviet-era censorship continues in force. Equally characteristic of Central Asian states is corruption, which has not only enriched the ruling families and the favored few at the top but has impeded the development of free media and independent courts.   True, much of this characterization could be said about all the post-Soviet states to some degree, including Russia. But it is important to point out that there is a counter, or competing tendency in the region, exemplified by Georgia’s Rose Revolution of a year ago. While Georgia has a long way to go, there is no doubt about the legitimacy or popularity of its leader, President Mikheil Saakashvili. Also the peaceful protest movement he led to overturn the results of a rigged election has emboldened opposition activists throughout the former Soviet Union to believe that society may yet be able to have a voice in who governs and how.   Central Asian leaders were quick to claim that circumstances in Georgia were so different from their own that no parallels were possible. Still, the Georgian example sent shivers down their spines. That is one reason why the elections in Central Asia that have taken place this year have been, as they were in the past, carefully controlled, with predictable outcomes.   Uzbekistan, for example, is holding parliamentary elections in December. No opposition parties have been allowed to operate in Uzbekistan since 1992-1993. Despite pressure from Washington, Tashkent refused to register opposition parties this year, leaving only five pro-government parties to participate. Moreover, Uzbek authorities have contrived to keep opposition candidates from registering in single mandate races – even though officials told the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review Meeting in Warsaw in October that opposition candidates would be able to run. The result is obvious in advance: another pro-government, pocket parliament, with no dissenting voices and no capacity to perform any oversight of the executive branch. It should be noted that there have been several outbursts of popular dissatisfaction in Uzbekistan in the last few months; President Islam Karimov’s tightly-run political system may be less stable than many suppose.   In neighboring, oil-rich Kazakhstan, opposition parties are registered and were able to compete in September’s parliamentary election. Kazakhstan had previously expressed its desire to become OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2009, and many observers linked Kazakhstan’s chances to a good grade on the parliamentary election. But the assessment of OSCE and Council of Europe monitors – citing numerous infractions and an uneven playing field for pro-government parties and the opposition – was critical. Kazakhstan’s chances of winning the OSCE Chairmanship have clearly diminished. At the same time, President Nursultan Nazarbaev – who is under investigation for corruption by the U.S. Department of Justice – has announced his intention to run, yet again, for reelection in 2006. Some commentators speculate that he may hold snap elections next year, to keep his opposition off guard. Should he win and serve out another seven-year term, he will have been in office almost 25 years.   Obviously, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders do not find the responsibilities of the presidency too burdensome: Tajikistan’s President Imomaly Rakhmonov last year orchestrated a referendum on constitutional changes that could allow him to remain in office until 2020. True, Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia where Islamic political activism is tolerated. We await with interest the parliamentary elections, in which opposition and Islamic parties will participate, scheduled for next February.   As for Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries on earth, I’m pleased to note that freedom of religion advanced a bit. The government of President Saparmurat Niyazov took some steps to liberalize the process of registration for confessions – instead of 500 adult members per locality, now only five nationwide are needed to register a community. For years, only Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy were legal; now Ashgabat has registered Baptists, Adventists, Hare Krishna’s, and Baha’is. Moreover, the authorities released six Jehovah’s Witnesses, although two others remain jailed along with the former grand mufti. These steps – taken under Western and especially U.S. pressure, but which we welcome nonetheless – allowed Turkmenistan to escape designation by the U.S. Government as a Country of Particular Concern this past year. However, troubling reports continue to emerge about limitations on religious freedom and harassment of registered and unregistered religious communities. We must continue to monitor the situation closely and encourage Turkmenistan to continue moving forward with reforms, as even the improved situation is far from meeting OSCE standards on religious freedom.   In all other respects, however, democratization has made no progress. Turkmenistan remains the only one-party state in the former Soviet bloc and Niyazov’s cult of personality continues unabated. Recently, he tried to discuss holding presidential elections in 2008. But in a farcical scene, the assembled officials and dignitaries refused to hear of it. They “insisted” that Niyazov remain Turkmenistan’s leader in perpetuity; he, duly humbled by their adulation, took the issue off the table.   This brings us to Kyrgyzstan, in many ways the most intriguing of the Central Asian states. Of all the region’s leaders, only President Askar Akaev, who has held office for almost 15 years, has announced his intention not to run next year for reelection – though he has phrased the pledge carefully if he changes his mind. Kyrgyzstan is also the only Central Asian country where a large-scale protest movement has ever seemed poised to force a Head of State out of office: in summer 2002, thousands of people furious about the shootings of demonstrators in a southern district blocked the country’s main road, and threatened a mass march on the capital, Bishkek. Ultimately, the movement petered out but the precedent of public activism was set.   President Akaev’s stated intention not to run again, the upcoming parliamentary (February 2005) and presidential (October 2005) elections and Kyrgyzstan’s history of protest movements make for an interesting situation. In the next few months, Akaev must make fateful decisions: the most important is whether or not to run again. If he chooses to stay in office for another term, he risks sparking demonstrations. Though Kyrgyzstan is not Georgia, something akin to a Rose Revolution should not be excluded as a possible scenario. If Akaev opts to step down, however, we should not expect that he, his family and entourage would permit free and fair elections. More likely, he will try to select a successor – as Boris Yeltsin did with Vladimir Putin in Russia – and act to ensure his victory. But that course, too, could lead to protests.   Any decision Akaev makes – with intrusive, anxious neighbors looking over his shoulder – is risky and might have resonance beyond Kyrgyzstan’s borders. For that reason, the elections in Kyrgyzstan next year are of great interest not only to the voters of that country but to capitals near and far. Mr. Speaker, I hope to be able to report to this chamber next year that democratization has made strides in Central Asia.

  • The Case of Mikhail Trepashkin

    Mr. Speaker, there is reason to fear for the fate of rule of law in Russia. I want to present one relevant example.   Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and former Federal Security Service, FSB, officer was arrested on October 24, 2003, a week before he was scheduled to represent in legal proceedings the relatives of one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Moscow. Mr. Trepashkin's American client is Tatyana Morozova of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In September 1999, Ms. Morozova's mother was killed and her sister barely survived the bombing of an apartment house in Moscow. Officially, the crime was blamed on Chechen separatists, but Mr. Trepashkin was expected to present the findings of his investigation which suggested involvement of elements of the FSB in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow as well as an aborted attempted bombing in the city of Ryazan.   Mr. Trepashkin had been a consultant to the public commission set up by prominent human rights activist and former Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev to investigate the 1999 bombings. The Kovalev commission asked many unpleasant questions but got precious few answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, in the course of his investigation Trepashkin discovered evidence that didn't track with the official version of the bombing incidents. This included events in Ryazan, where a bomb in an apartment basement was discovered by local police and safely detonated hours before it was due to explode. The two suspects in that case were released after presenting FSB identification documents. The whole incident was later declared a "readiness exercise" by Russian authorities.   Several months later, the co-chairman of the Kovalev Commission, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated in front of his home. Four persons were convicted of the murder. Another member of the Commission died of food poisoning in a hospital, another was severely beaten by thugs, and two members lost their seats in the Duma. The activities of the decimated commission came to an abrupt halt.   A week before the October 24, 2003 trial opened, the police just happened to pull Trepashkin over on the highway, and just happened to find a revolver in his car. Trepashkin claims the gun was planted. Three weeks later, he was put on trial and sentenced to 4 years labor camp by a closed court for allegedly divulging state secrets to a foreign journalist.   Mr. Speaker, I don't know all the details of this case, but it looks very much like Mr. Trepashkin was prosecuted in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding the activities of the FSB. The U.S. State Department has commented diplomatically: "The arrest and trial of Mikhail Trepashkin raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system."   Today Mr. Trepashkin is held in a Volokolamsk city jail in a 130-square foot, lice-infested cell, which he shares with six other prisoners. He suffers from asthma but reportedly has been denied health care or even medicine. These arduous conditions may be retaliation for Mr. Trepashkin's filing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.   It is difficult to believe that President Putin, given his KGB and FSB background, is unaware of the controversy surrounding the bombing investigations and the possibility that elements of the security services were involved. He must realize that corruption and personal vendettas within the FSB are dangerous commodities not only for the people of Russia, but for an entire civilized world that relies on the combined efforts of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism.   I urge President Putin to order a thorough and honest investigation of Mikhail Trepashkin's jailing and full cooperation with the Kovalev Commission. While the jury is still out on the 1999 bombings, persecution of those who want to find out the truth does not add to Mr. Putin's credibility among those in the West who so far have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  

  • Bring Paul Klebnikov’s Killers to Justice

    Mr. Speaker, I want to call the attention of my colleagues to the death of journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered on July 9 of this year outside his Moscow office. An American citizen of Russian lineage, Mr. Klebnikov was editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he was the 11th journalist killed in Russia in a contract-style murder in the past four and a half years.   Mr. Klebnikov had achieved prominence as a result of his investigative journalism which often focused on the connections between business, politics and crime in Russia. Mr. Klebnikov's investigations resulted in his writing two books, both devoted to exposing corruption within Russia's business and political sectors. Clearly, he made powerful enemies. There has been speculation that his murder was connected to a Forbes article that focused on Moscow's 100 wealthiest people. Someone, goes the theory, did not care for the publicity. Another suggestion is that Mr. Klebnikov's book Conversation with a Barbarian: Interview with a Chechen Field Commander on Banditry and Islam may have sparked a motive for the murder.   It was Mr. Klebnikov's love of Russia and his belief that reforms were advancing the nation toward a greater transparency in business and politics that motivated him to launch the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in April 2004. Mr. Klebnikov was committed to exposing and confronting corruption in the hope that such work would contribute to a brighter future for the people of Russia. He believed that accountability was an essential element to achieve lasting reforms.   Unfortunately, this hope for a better future in Russia has been dealt a serious blow by the murder of Paul Klebnikov. As I and ten other Members of the Helsinki Commission wrote to President Putin on October 5th of this year, much more is at stake than determining who killed Paul Klebnikov. The fear and self-censorship arising from the murders of journalists in Russia only serves to add to the corruption of government officials and businessmen. A cowed press cannot be the effective instrument for building the free and prosperous society that Mr. Putin purports to seek.   Mr. Speaker, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, on the occasion of "Militia Day," November 10, President Vladimir Putin told police officials that protecting the economy from crime and fighting corruption is a priority task in Russia. I would urge Mr. Putin to back up these words with action. Russian authorities should investigate to the fullest extent possible the murder of Mr. Klebnikov, no matter where the trail leads.   Only through rule of law and accountability can Russia achieve the safe, free and comfortable future that Mr. Klebnikov believed was possible.

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