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Briefings

The Helsinki Commission organizes both public and staff briefings with expert witnesses on OSCE-related issues ranging from human rights and fundamental freedoms to terrorism and corruption.

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  • Religious Freedom in Turkey

    Helsinki Commission Staff Advisor, Elizabeth Pryor, presented an opportunity for discussion on the situation faced by Muslims, Protestants, members of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Jewish community in the Republic of Turkey. Numerous injustices that occurred in spite of significant steps taken by the government to improve conditions for the enjoyment of religious liberty were addressed. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Marve Kavakci, Former Member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly; Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, Pastor of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church and Representative of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Van Krikorian, Founding Member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission; Jeff King, President of the International Christian Concern; and Barry Jacobs, Director of Strategic Studies for the Office of Government and International Affairs  American Jewish Committee – presented testimonies regarding personal experiences with religious injustice in an effort to encourage Congress to urge Turkish officials to adhere to principles of religious freedoms.

  • Albania’s 2005 Parliamentary Elections: How Free and Fair Will They Be?

    Robert Hand reviewed Albania’s preparatory efforts and the prospects for free and fair parliamentary elections scheduled for the summer of 2005, raising the question of possible corruption during the election process. Hand examined Albania’s growth, with support from the international community, and its growing integration into European and broader Western institutions. Witnesses from various backgrounds - the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems – drew on their extensive experiences with Albania and Eastern Europe’s transition from communism to democracy to discuss the likelihood for free and fair elections in 2005.  One of the major issues discussed was the novelty of democratic elections in Albania, which was evident in the lack of trust between key political players and in the general confusion of constituent mapping and vote counting.

  • 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.

  • Ukraine’s Presidential Election: The Turning Point?

    This briefing examined the pre-election conditions in Ukraine ahead of the country’s presidential election run-off set for November 21. The contest, pitting democratic opposition leader Victor Yushchenko against Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych in a November 21 run-off, represented a potential turning point for Ukraine. The OSCE Election Observation Mission, with more than 600 international observers, concluded that the October 31 first round, in which no candidate garnered the required majority, did not meet a considerable number of OSCE standards for democratic elections, representing a step backward from the 2002 elections. Both the election campaign and vote were seriously flawed. Panelists who spoke at this briefing identified violations that included, but by no means were limited to, overwhelming media bias against Yushchenko; the abuse of administrative resources; obstruction of opposition campaign events; and untoward pressures on state employees, students, and voters to support government candidates. Voting day itself saw significant problems with voter lists, pressure on election commissions and even outright ballot stuffing. The consequences of a bad election process were addressed.

  • Roma in Russia

    Ms. Elizabeth B. Pryor, Senior Advisor for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing on the Romani minority in Russia. The Roma in Russia were a particularly vulnerable minority, and since they constituted a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight was often overlooked. They were invisible, and they had not the subjects of detailed reports by human rights organizations and almost no legal cases defending their rights had been taken by domestic and international human rights lawyers. Ms. Pryor was joined by Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant of Open Society Institute. The witnesses presented their view about historical and social background, abuse of Roma rights by State and Non-State actors, access to social and economic rights, access to education, appearances in the media about Roma issues, and discrimination in the criminal justice service.

  • The Romani Minority in Russia

    The Helsinki Commission examined the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Reports by Roma of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement agents were also points of discussion. Panelists – including Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant for Open Society – provided background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Religious Freedom in the Caucasus

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Chris Smith and Commission Staff Advisors Elizabeth Pryor and Knox Thames evaluated issues regarding religious freedom in the Caucasus states. In Azerbaijan, unregistered religious communities experienced harassment from authorities; in Armenia, government policy regarding registration restriction for religious groups conflicted with the government’s commitment to human rights; and Georgian authorities needed to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violent assaults against religious minorities. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Eric Rassbach, Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; Andre Carbonneau, Attorney for Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Dr. Paul Crego, Senior Cataloging Specialist for the Library of Congress – focused on the violations of religious freedom perpetrated by the governments of each of these three states and emphasized the potential role of the international community, and specifically the United States government, in resolving these violations.

  • The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society

    This briefing was held in light of recent verbal attacks by President Putin and other Russian officials on human rights organizations and their funding sources that raised concerns about the future of Russian NGOs that may be viewed by the government as politically hostile.  Regarding Moscow’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, the Commission recognized Russia’s right to defend its territorial integrity, but asserted that territorial integrity can be preserved without resorting to the brutal methods employed by some members of the Russian military and the pro-Moscow Chechnya militia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and Natalia Zhukova, Chairperson of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers testified at this briefing. The “Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers” has become the largest NGO in Russia as an umbrella organization embracing nearly 300 groups and thousands of members. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have opposed the Kremlin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and have accused the Russian Government of consistently under-reporting the number of Russian military casualties in the conflict.

  • Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?

    The Helsinki Commission briefing occurred in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit and focused on the status of democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The consequences of President Putin’s ascent to power and elements of his government determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies were among several topics that were discussed. Four prominent Russian human rights activists – including Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and President, International Helsinki Commission for Human Rights; Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Experts – gave their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest.

  • Religious Freedom in Turkmenistan

    Deputy Chief of Staff of the Helsinki Commission Ronald J. McNamara, in cooperation with the U.S. Commission on International Religious freedom, assessed the prospects for religious freedom in Turkmenistan in light of a strong critique of the repressive practices of Saparmurat Niyazov’s regime in the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Najia Badykova, Research Associate for the George Washington University Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Lawrence Uzzell, President of the International Religious Freedom Watch; and Felix Corley, Editor of Forum 18 News Service – presented testimonies regarding the implementation of “legislative improvements” that only further restricted freedom of religion. These testimonies provided a basis on which to assess developments in Turkmenistan as the State Department considered designating Turkmenistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its ongoing, systematic violations of religious freedom.

  • OSCE Police-Related Activities

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

  • The Path to Justice in Southeastern Europe

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

  • Democracy and Human Rights in the Mediterranean Partner States of the OSCE: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia

    Ronald J. McNamara , Deputy Chief of Staff at the Commission, held this briefing in advance of a series of meetings that took place a week later in Rome in conjunction with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Since its inception, the OSCE has included a Mediterranean dimension -   Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia are currently  designated as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, a special status similar to that of observer status in other multilateral organizations.  Lebanon, Libya, and Syria had status in the OSCE through the mid-1990s. Joined by panellists Joe Stork, Karen Hanrahan, and Frank Smyth, McNamara highlighted the Mediterranean Partners’ disregard for the OSCE’s human dimension. The Panelist commented upon democracy and human rights violations within the members of the Mediteranean Partners, including media restrictions, freedoms of religion and speech, torture, trafficking, anti-Semitism, due process, and minority rights and torture.

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

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

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

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

  • Democracy, Human Rights and Justice in Serbia Today

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

  • Bringing Justice to Southeastern Europe

    Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey spoke on behalf of the Commission on the Yugoslav conflicts and its tumultuous impact on the development of post-Cold War Europe, as it exposed flaws in the United Nations and the European Union, whilst simultaneously inspiring the OSCE and NATO to act. The briefing addressed the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the understanding that justice must be part of a post-conflict recovery. The speaker – Honorable Carla del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 1999 – was responsible for ensuring that those individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in contemporary Southeast Europe were held accountable. She spoke of the limitations and successes of the Tribunal, referring to two decades of experience as a prosecutor.

  • The Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Chechnya

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

  • Parliamentary Forum: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region

    This briefing, which Commissioner Christopher Smith (NJ – 04) presided over, was a follow-up to an earlier Commission conference in Berlin, which focused on the rising tide of anti-Semitic violence and, subsequently, catalyzed so much of what the Commission had been doing on the issue of rising anti-Semitism. The conference in Berlin took place in July of 2001. The “Parliamentary Forum: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region” briefing was held on International Human Rights Day, and was part of an ongoing effort by the Commission to address anti-Semitic violence, more specifically necessitated by vandalism against Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, cultural property, mob assaults, firebombing, and gunfire. Witnesses and participants of the briefing included members of the German Bundestag.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Turkey: After the Election

    Mr. Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, on behalf of Chairman Hon. Campbell and Co-Chairman Hon. Smith, moderated this briefing on  Turkey's post-election future. The briefing promoted the U.S. partnership with Turkey in the post-election environment. The elections had all the characteristics of what could be described in the United States as political earthquake. New political forces, led by Mr. Recep Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party), had won a decisive victory, while long-term fixtures on the Turkish political scene had been obliged to relinquish political power. The process in which these changes have taken place appeared to be totally consistent with the fundamental principles of democracy that both Turkey and the United States strongly endorse, yet the changes were so sweeping that the Commission also felt the need to make a special effort to determine their meaning for Turkey and its future relationship with US. Mr. Kursh was joined by Mr. Abdullah Akyuz, Mr. Sanar Yurdatapan, and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, an expert on Turkish affairs with Human Rights Watch.

  • Intolerance in Contemporary Russia

    Donald Kursch, senior advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, led this briefing regarding the emergence of bigotry and anti-semitic rhetoric in Russia. Kursch emphasized that the Russian Federation pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.  In the then open environment that prevailed in Russia, proponents of bigotry were more at ease to propagate their unwelcome messages. Experts discussed current trends as well as prospects for fostering a climate of tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, presented the group’s recent report entitled “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia.”  Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union presented its compilation on “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions.”

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia

    This briefing was moderated by CSCE Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), and witnesses included Vitaly Pononaryov, Director of the Central Asia Program; Abdusalom Ergashev at the Head Ferghana Branch of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan; Pulat Akhunov, Director of the Central Asian Association of Sweden; and Michael Ochs, Senior Staff Advisor at the Helsinki Commission. As a briefing that took place shortly after the events on September 11, 2001, it was noted that ties between the United States and Central Asian states had become a lot closer to strategically adapt to the changing circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Presidents Karimov and Bush signed a declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation. Unfortunately, though, Central Asian republics, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, do not have very good human rights records, which were discouraging for the case of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with these countries, something that the Bush Administration had intended to commit to.

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • Ukraine Parliamentary Elections

    This briefing examined the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections on March 31. Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara noted commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of the nations. The potential impact of the elections was underscored, as the parliamentary elections, along with local elections taking place on the same day, would chart Ukraine's course over the next four years, including on the presidential elections scheduled for 2004. Three experts testifying at this briefing – former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, Ambassador Nelson Ledsky of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute (IRI) – addressed both positive and negative features of the election process and campaign. All three highlighted the importance of these elections being free and fair.

  • The Status of Cyprus

    Ronald J. McNamara, Chief of Staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing on developments in Cyprus. The nation of Cyprus was an original participating State in the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The focus was the human dimension and other basic human rights issues, such as freedom of movement. Mr. McNamara was joined by Ambassador Thomas G. Weston, who had, since August 1999, served as the United States Special Coordinator for Cyprus.  

  • The Situation in Cyprus

    This briefing explored the renewal of talks on Cyprus between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. President Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash had agreed to meet in Nicosia on Tuesday, December 4, 2001 with talks reportedly aimed toward resolution of the longstanding conflict on the island. United States Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas G. Weston discussed the developing talks between the two leaders; the current status of the United Nations sponsored talks; implications of European Union expansion; and the leadership on both sides of the Cyprus issue and where the respective leaders stand on the issues.

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • Religious Registration in the OSCE Region

    This briefing discussed religiuos registration policies throughout the 55-country OSCE region. Chairman Christopher Smith noted that registration laws limiting religious freedom were not only being passed in former Soviet states, but in Western European states such as Austria. Dr. Bijsterveld outlined the OSCE's position that an international response would be required to limit the spread of policies restricting religious freedom. Mr. Thames provided a detailed analysis of one such policy, a Greek law that effectively banned non-Orthodox broadcasting.  Finally, Col. Baillie gave a firsthand account of how the issue of religious registration in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, and Russia had impacted the operations of the Salvation Army in those countries. These impediments ranged from bureaucrtic obstacles in Ukraine to a flat-out denial to operate in Moscow.  

  • Serbia after Milosevic: A Progress Report

    This Helsinki Commission briefing assessed the progress made in the five months since democratic forces came to power in Serbia following the December 2000 elections. The briefing evaluated conditions for bolstering democratic development, enhancing economic recovery, and maintaining long-term stability in Serbia and southeastern Europe as a whole. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Daniel Serwer, Director of the Balkans Initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Sonja Biserko, Chair of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights; Nina Bang-Jensen, Executive Director of the Coalition for International Justice; James M. Lyon, Political and Economic Analyst for the International Crisis Group; and Milan Protic, Yugoslav Ambassador to the United States  – focused in particular on Yugoslav cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Belgrade’s evolving stance toward Bosnia and other neighbors, and the effect of internal reform measures in correcting Milosevic abuses, including the continued imprisonment of hundreds of Kosovar Albanians in Serbia.

  • Briefing with Alexandr Nikitin

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

  • Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries

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

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

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

  • Chechen Parliamentarians

    Representative Chris Smith, Chairman of the Commission, addressed the “war of destruction” in Chechnya and the Russian government’s claim of it being an anti-terrorist operation. Smith condemned Russia’s actions on behalf of the Commission and highlighted its application of indiscriminate force on an entire population to punish a handful of guilty. In response to concern from the international community, the Russian Government and military simply claim that the conflict is an internal matter. The witnesses – Seilam Bechaev, Vice President of the Chechen Praliament and Mr. Tourpal-Ali Kaimov, Chairman of the Budget Committee of the Chechen Parliament – discuss the current state of Chechnya and its deterioration since declaring independence in 1997.

  • The Situation in Dagestan

    This briefing addressed the security challenge face by Russia in the Northern Caucasus in light of an outbreak of fighting in Dagestan in response to unemployment and rampant crime. The potential role of the OSCE in achieving peace in Dagestan in a similar manner to its mission in Chechnya was discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Robert Bruce Ware, a professor in the Department of Philosophical Studies at Southern Illinois University, and Dr. Zulfia Kisrieva-War a native from Dagestan – evaluated potential responses to several questions, including who the combatants in Dagestan are; their aims; why the region is such a volatile area; and whether Moscow has a coherent broad-based strategy for achieving peace and prosperity in the region. Historical background on the conflict and strategies for the international community to pursue moving forward were also topics of discussion.

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