Title

Elections, Democratization, and Human Rights in Azerbaijan

Thursday, May 25, 2000
2255 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C., DC 20515
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Christopher Smith
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Ambassador Daniel Fried
Title: 
Principal Deputy Special Advisor to the Secretary of State
Body: 
Department of State
Name: 
H.E. Hafiz Pashayev
Title: 
Ambassador
Body: 
Republic of Azerbaijan
Name: 
Abulfaz Elchibey
Title: 
Former President of Azerbaijan
Body: 
Chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front
Name: 
Nazim Imanov
Title: 
Deputy Chairman
Body: 
National Independence Party of Azerbaijan
Statement: 
Name: 
Rasul Gouliev
Title: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Azerbaijan Democratic Party
Statement: 
Name: 
Cathy Fitzpatrick
Title: 
Executive Director
Body: 
International League for Human Rights
Statement: 
Name: 
Isa Gambar
Title: 
Former Speaker
Body: 
Chairman of Musavat Party
Statement: 

The hearing will outline recent developments in Azerbaijani elections. Azerbaijan government officials announced Thursday that Azerbaijan’s government has accepted proposals to agree with the opposition about independent members of the Central Election Commission in advance of the November parliamentary election. The announcement was made during a hearing of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, accompanied by several experts who arrived from Baku for the hearing, said that negotiations between the sides, with the active mediation of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), would continue about the Central Election Commission and the election law. How these electoral developments effect Azerbaijan will be outlined.

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Relevant countries: 
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  • H.Con.Res. 433 Regarding Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to cosponsor House Concurrent Resolution 433, a resolution introduced on Monday by my colleague on the International Relations Committee, Mr. Gejdensen, concerning the recent parliamentary elections in Belarus. The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European institutions, as well as the State Department, all concluded that these elections were not free, fair and transparent and that they failed to meet the international norms for democratic elections.   Unfortunately, the Lukashenka regime did not meet the four conditions that the OSCE setback last spring – namely, a democratic election law, an end to human rights abuses, access by the opposition to the state media, and genuine powers to be granted to the parliament. Instead, in the run-up to the elections, we witnessed the denial of registration to many opposition candidates; detentions and fines of individuals advocating a boycott of the elections; confiscation of 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper among other examples of harassment of the opposition; rampant governmental interference in the election process and extensive irregularities on election day itself. These elections represent a continuing pattern of violations of human rights and the erosion of democracy which has haunted Belarus throughout the last six years of Alexander Lukashenka’s rule.   The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, has monitored and chronicled developments in Belarus, holding hearings which have included Belarusian democratic opposition leaders and leaders of the 13th Supreme Soviet, the legitimate parliament which Lukashenka disbanded in 1996. In July, I led the US delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Bucharest where the deteriorating situation in Belarus was high on our agenda. Importantly, this resolution includes language reaffirming Congress’ recognition of the 13th Supreme Soviet as the sole democratically elected and constitutionally legitimate legislative body in Belarus, which is also important, especially as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly continues to recognize and to seat the 13th Supreme Soviet as well. In the last few years, I have made numerous direct and indirect intercessions, including through various OSCE institutions, to draw attention to the deplorable situation in Belarus and to encourage the establishment of democracy in Belarus and I assure you that the Helsinki Commission will continue its efforts.   Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be an original cosponsor of this resolution, and am eager for the House to go on record in support of the restoration of democracy in Belarus. I am especially pleased that the resolution urges the Lukashenka regime to provide a full accounting of the disappearances of several prominent opposition members and urges the release of those imprisoned in Belarus for their political views. I look forward to working with my colleagues to keep the spotlight on Belarus and to encourage the Belarusian government to comply with its freely undertaken OSCE and other international commitments.

  • Report on the Russian Presidential Elections March 2000

    On March 26, 2000, Acting President of the Russian Federation Vladimir V. Putin, running with the backing of the “Unity” party, was elected by a sizable margin to a full 4-year term. As reported by the Central Election Commission, Putin received almost 53 percent, with 39,740,434 votes out of a field of 11 candidates and the option of voting “against all candidates.” His nearest competitor, Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, tallied a little under 30 percent with almost 22 million votes. The rest of the field showed single-digit percentages. More than 75 million people took part in the election, for a 68.74 percent turnout. A comparatively small number of voters, about 1.5 million, chose the “none of the above” option. Details of the election results are listed below. The presidential election was occasioned by the abrupt resignation of President Boris Yeltsin on New Year’s Day, 2000, and his appointment of Prime Minister Putin as Acting President. Yeltsin had been elected to a second term in 1996. As Acting President, Putin had promoted a no-compromise policy in pressing the war against Chechnya, and created an image of returning Russia to stability after the economic and social uncertainties of the Yeltsin presidency. Putin ran an almost “above it all” campaign, refusing to issue a platform or make significant election-oriented policy statements. In its March 27, 2000 press release, the elections were characterized by the International Election Observation Mission (a joint effort of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  Office of Human Rights and Democratic Institutions, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Council of Europe) as "[marking] further progress for the consolidation of democratic elections in the Russian Federation.”" Both the Communist Party and Yabloko leadership claimed to have “evidence of blatant violations in several regions.” The final report of the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission also found that “Notwithstanding the CEC effort to enforce the law vigorously, candidates, campaign organizations and supporters circumvented the law in some cases.”

  • Democracy Denied in Belarus

    Mr. President, I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution introduced by my colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, to address the continuing constitutional crisis in Belarus. As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, during the 106th Congress I have worked on a bipartisan basis to promote the core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus in keeping with that country's commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   Back in April the OSCE set four criteria for international observation of parliamentary elections held this past weekend: respect for human rights and an end to the climate of fear; opposition access to the state media; a democratic electoral code; and the granting of real power to the new parliament. Regrettably, the Lukashenka regime responded with at best half-hearted measures aimed at giving the appearance of progress while keeping democracy in check. Instead of using the elections process to return Belarus to the path of democracy and end the country's self-isolation, Mr. Lukashenka tightened his grip on power launching an intensified campaign of harassment against the democratic opposition and fledgling independent media.   Accordingly, a technical assessment team dispatched by the OSCE concluded that the elections ‘fell short of meeting minimum commitments for free, fair, equal accountable, and transparent elections.’ The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE confirmed the flawed nature of the campaign period.   We recently saw how Slobodan Milosevic was swept from power by a wave of popular discontent following years of repression. After his ouster, Belarus now has the dubious distinction of being the sole remaining dictatorship in Europe. Misguided steps toward recognition of the results of Belarus's flawed parliamentary elections would only serve to bolster Mr. Lukashenka in the lead up to presidential elections slated for next year.   This situation was addressed today in an editorial in the Washington Times. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of this editorial be printed in the Record following my remarks. I commend Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue and will continue to work with my colleagues to support the people of Belarus in their quest to move beyond dictatorship to genuine democracy.   There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: From the Washington Times, Oct. 19, 2000- Battle for Belarus: In Belarus last weekend, the opposition leaders did not light their parliament on fire as their Yugoslavian counterparts had the week before. They did not crush the walls of the state media outlet with bulldozers or leave key sites in their capital in shambles. No, the people living under the last dictator of Europe met this weekend's parliamentary elections with silence. Opposition parties rallied the people to boycott, and what they didn't say at the polls, the international community said for them. The U.S. State Department declared the results ‘not free, fair, or transparent’ and replete with ‘gross abuses’ by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European parliament and the European Union said the same.   The dictator's allies got most of the 43 seats in districts where the winner received a majority of the vote. Where no candidate received a majority of the vote, run-offs will occur Oct. 26, another opportunity for the dictator to demonstrate his unique election methods. However, a record-low turnout in many towns, claimed as a victory by the opposition, will force new elections in three months.   What will it take for the people to push Mr. Lukashenko to follow Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic into political oblivion in next year's presidential election? Nothing short of war, if one asks the international coordinator for Charter '97, Andrei Sannikov. `I don't know how the country survives. [Approximately] 48.5 percent live below the poverty level,' Mr. Sannikov told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. `That increases to 60 percent in rural areas. It would provoke an extreme reaction anywhere else. Here, they won't act as long as there is no war'.   But the people of Belarus are getting restless. Out of the 50 percent of the people who don't know who they support, 90 percent are not satisfied with Mr. Lukashenko and with their lives in Belarus, Mr. Sannikov said. The dictator's behavior before last weekend's elections didn't help any.   In his statement three days before the elections, Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the OSCE, listed just a few reasons why the people should take to the streets: `Since August 30, the Lukashenko regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds, detained, fined or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections, burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party, and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper.'   Mr. Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, was himself a victim last year when he was beaten unconcious, and three ribs and his nose were broken, in what he said was a government-planned attack. He and the rest of the opposition don't want to be victims in next year's election. If the opposition can rally behind one formidable leader, war won't have to precede change, nor will Mr. Lukashenko again make democracy a fatality.

  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 - Expressing the Sense of Congress with Respect to the Parliamentary Elections Held in Belarus on October 15, 2000, and for Other Purposes

    Mr. DURBIN (for himself, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Helms) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations: S. Con. Res. 153 Whereas on October 15, 2000, Aleksandr Lukashenko and his authoritarian regime conducted an illegitimate and undemocratic parliamentary election in an effort to further strengthen the power and control his authoritarian regime exercises over the people of the Republic of Belarus; Whereas during the time preceding this election the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko attempted to intimidate the democratic opposition by beating, harassing, arresting, and sentencing its members for supporting a boycott of the October 15 election even though Belarus does not contain a legal ban on efforts to boycott elections; Whereas the democratic opposition in Belarus was denied fair and equal access to state-controlled television and radio and was instead slandered by the state-controlled media; Whereas on September 13, 2000, Belarusian police seized 100,000 copies of a special edition of the Belarusian Free Trade Union newspaper, Rabochy, dedicated to the democratic opposition's efforts to promote a boycott of the October 15 election; Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime denied the democratic opposition in Belarus seats on the Central Election Commission, thereby violating his own pledge to provide the democratic opposition a role in this Commission; Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime denied the vast majority of independent candidates opposed to his regime the right to register as candidates in this election; Whereas Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime dismissed recommendations presented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for making the election law in Belarus consistent with OSCE standards; Whereas in Grodno, police loyal to Aleksandr Lukashenko summoned voters to participate in this illegitimate election for parliament; Whereas the last genuinely free and fair parliamentary election in Belarus took place in 1995 and from it emerged the 13th Supreme Soviet whose democratically and constitutionally derived authorities and powers have been undercut by the authoritarian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko; and Whereas on October 11, the Lukashenko regime froze the bank accounts and seized the equipment of the independent publishing company, Magic, where most of the independent newspapers in Minsk are published: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), Congress hereby-- (1) declares that-- (A) the period preceding the elections held in Belarus held on October 15, 2000, was plagued by continued human rights abuses and a climate of fear for which the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko is responsible; (B) these elections were conducted in the absence of a democratic electoral law; (C) the Lukashenko regime purposely denied the democratic opposition access to state-controlled media; and (D) these elections were for seats in a parliament that lacks real constitutional power and democratic legitimacy; (2) declares its support for the Belarus' democratic opposition, commends the efforts of the opposition to boycott these illegitimate parliamentary elections, and expresses the hopes of Congress that the citizens of Belarus will soon benefit from true freedom and democracy; (3) reaffirms its recognition of the 13th Supreme Soviet as the sole and democratically and constitutionally legitimate legislative body of Belarus ; and (4) notes that, as the legitimate parliament of Belarus , the 13th Supreme Soviet should continue to represent Belarus in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It is the sense of Congress that the President should call upon Aleksandr Lukashenko and his regime to--(1) provide a full accounting of the disappearances of individuals in that country, including the disappearance of Viktor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky; and (2) release Vladimir Kudinov, Andrei Klimov, and all others imprisoned in Belarus for their political views. The Secretary of the Senate shall transmit a copy of this resolution to the President.  

  • Serbia Democratization Act of 2000

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding me this time and for his work in helping to bring this legislation to the floor today. Mr. Speaker, as we wait to see if opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica will be allowed to secure the election, which by all accounts he seems to have secured and won, it is important for this Congress to support those seeking democratic change in Serbia as well as those undertaking democratic change in Montenegro. This bill does just that. Introduced by myself and several other cosponsors in February of 1999, and updated in light of events since that time, the bill before us today includes language to which the Senate has already agreed by unanimous consent. The State Department has been thoroughly consulted, and its requested changes as well have been incorporated into the text. Throughout there has been a bipartisan effort to craft this legislation. In short, the bill authorizes the provision of democratic assistance to those in Serbia who are struggling for change. It also calls for maintaining sanctions on Serbia until such time that democratic change is indeed underway, allowing at the same time the flexibility to respond quickly to positive developments if and when they occur. Reflective of another resolution, H. Con. Res. 118, which I introduced last year, the bill supports the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including Slobodan Milosevic, to justice. The reasons for this bill are clear, Mr. Speaker. In addition to news accounts and presentations in other committees and other venues, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, has held numerous hearings on the efforts of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic to stomp out democracy and to stay in power. The Commission has held three hearings specifically on this issue and one additional hearing specifically on the threat Milosevic presents to Montenegro. Of course, in the many, many hearings the commission has held on Bosnia and Kosovo over the years, witnesses testify to the role of Milosevic in instigating, if not orchestrating, conflict and war. Mr. Speaker, the regime of Milosevic has resorted to increasingly repressive measures, as we all know, to stay in power in light of the elections that were held yesterday in the Yugoslav Federation, of which Serbia and Montenegro are a part. Journalist Miroslav Filipovic received, for example, a 7-year sentence for reporting the truth about Yugoslav and Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. The very courageous Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Fund, faces similar charges for documenting these atrocities. Ivan Stambolic, an early mentor but now a leading and credible critic of Slobodon Milosevic, was literally abducted from the streets of Belgrade. Authorities have raided the headquarters of the Center For Free Elections and Democracy, a civic, domestic monitoring organization; and members of the student movement Otpor regularly face arrest, detention and physical harassment. Political opposition candidates have been similarly threatened, harassed, and physically attacked. As news reports regularly indicate, Milosevic may also be considering violent action to bring Montenegro, which has embarked on a democratic path and distanced itself from Belgrade, back under his control. Signs that he is instigating trouble there are certainly evident. It is too early for the results of the elections to be known fully. However, this bill allows us the flexibility to react to those results. Assistance for transition is authorized, allowing a quick reaction to positive developments. Sanctions can also be eased, if needed. On the other hand, few hold hope that Milosevic will simply relinquish power. A struggle for democracy may only now just be starting and not ending. The human rights violations I have highlighted, Mr. Speaker, are also mere examples of deeply rooted institutionalized repression. Universities and the media are restricted by Draconian laws from encouraging the free debate of ideas upon which societies thrive. National laws and the federal constitution have been drafted and redrafted to orchestrate the continued power of Slobodan Milosevic. The military has been purged, as we all know, of many high-ranking professionals unwilling to do Milosevic's dirty work, and the place is a virtual military force of its own designed to tackle internal enemies who are in fact trying to save Serbia from this tyrant. Paramilitary groups merge with criminal gangs in the pervasive corruption which now exists. Sophisticated and constant propaganda has been designed over the last decade to warp the minds of the people into believing this regime has defended the interests of Serbs in Serbia and throughout former Yugoslavia. As a result, even if a democratic change were to begin in Serbia, which we all hope and pray for, the assistance authorized in this bill is needed to overcome the legacy of Milosevic. His influence over the decade has been so strong that it will take considerable effort to bring Serbia back to where it should be. Bringing democratic change to Serbia and supporting the change already taking place in Montenegro is without question in the U.S. national interest. We may differ in our positions regarding the decision to use American forces in the Balkans either for peacekeeping or peacemaking. Nothing, however, could better create the conditions for regional stability which would allow our forces to come home with their mission accomplished than a Serbia on the road to democratic recovery. There is, however, an even stronger interest. Indeed, there is a fundamental right of the people of Serbia themselves to democratic governance. They deserve to have the same rights and freedoms, as well as the opportunity for a prosperous future, that is enjoyed by so many other Europeans and by our fellow Americans. The people of America, of Europe, the people of Serbia all have a strong mutual interest in ending Milosevic's reign of hatred and thuggery. This bill advances that cause.      

  • Serbian Democratization of 2000

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding me this time and for his work in helping to bring this legislation to the floor today. Mr. Speaker, as we wait to see if opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica will be allowed to secure the election, which by all accounts he seems to have secured and won, it is important for this Congress to support those seeking democratic change in Serbia as well as those undertaking democratic change in Montenegro. This bill does just that. Introduced by myself and several other cosponsors in February of 1999, and updated in light of events since that time, the bill before us today includes language to which the Senate has already agreed by unanimous consent. The State Department has been thoroughly consulted, and its requested changes as well have been incorporated into the text. Throughout there has been a bipartisan effort to craft this legislation. In short, the bill authorizes the provision of democratic assistance to those in Serbia who are struggling for change. It also calls for maintaining sanctions on Serbia until such time that democratic change is indeed underway, allowing at the same time the flexibility to respond quickly to positive developments if and when they occur. Reflective of another resolution, H. Con. Res. 118, which I introduced last year, the bill supports the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including Slobodan Milosevic, to justice. The reasons for this bill are clear, Mr. Speaker. In addition to news accounts and presentations in other committees and other venues, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, has held numerous hearings on the efforts of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic to stomp out democracy and to stay in power. The Commission has held three hearings specifically on this issue and one additional hearing specifically on the threat Milosevic presents to Montenegro. Of course, in the many, many hearings the commission has held on Bosnia and Kosovo over the years, witnesses testify to the role of Milosevic in instigating, if not orchestrating, conflict and war. Mr. Speaker, the regime of Milosevic has resorted to increasingly repressive measures, as we all know, to stay in power in light of the elections that were held yesterday in the Yugoslav Federation, of which Serbia and Montenegro are a part. Journalist Miroslav Filipovic received, for example, a 7-year sentence for reporting the truth about Yugoslav and Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. The very courageous Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Fund, faces similar charges for documenting these atrocities. Ivan Stambolic, an early mentor but now a leading and credible critic of Slobodon Milosevic, was literally abducted from the streets of Belgrade. Authorities have raided the headquarters of the Center For Free Elections and Democracy, a civic, domestic monitoring organization; and members of the student movement Otpor regularly face arrest, detention and physical harassment. Political opposition candidates have been similarly threatened, harassed, and physically attacked. As news reports regularly indicate, Milosevic may also be considering violent action to bring Montenegro, which has embarked on a democratic path and distanced itself from Belgrade, back under his control. Signs that he is instigating trouble there are certainly evident. It is too early for the results of the elections to be known fully. However, this bill allows us the flexibility to react to those results. Assistance for transition is authorized, allowing a quick reaction to positive developments. Sanctions can also be eased, if needed. On the other hand, few hold hope that Milosevic will simply relinquish power. A struggle for democracy may only now just be starting and not ending. The human rights violations I have highlighted, Mr. Speaker, are also mere examples of deeply rooted institutionalized repression. Universities and the media are restricted by Draconian laws from encouraging the free debate of ideas upon which societies thrive. National laws and the federal constitution have been drafted and redrafted to orchestrate the continued power of Slobodan Milosevic. The military has been purged, as we all know, of many high-ranking professionals unwilling to do Milosevic's dirty work, and the place is a virtual military force of its own designed to tackle internal enemies who are in fact trying to save Serbia from this tyrant. Paramilitary groups merge with criminal gangs in the pervasive corruption which now exists. Sophisticated and constant propaganda has been designed over the last decade to warp the minds of the people into believing this regime has defended the interests of Serbs in Serbia and throughout former Yugoslavia. As a result, even if a democratic change were to begin in Serbia, which we all hope and pray for, the assistance authorized in this bill is needed to overcome the legacy of Milosevic. His influence over the decade has been so strong that it will take considerable effort to bring Serbia back to where it should be. Bringing democratic change to Serbia and supporting the change already taking place in Montenegro is without question in the U.S. national interest. We may differ in our positions regarding the decision to use American forces in the Balkans either for peacekeeping or peacemaking. Nothing, however, could better create the conditions for regional stability which would allow our forces to come home with their mission accomplished than a Serbia on the road to democratic recovery. There is, however, an even stronger interest. Indeed, there is a fundamental right of the people of Serbia themselves to democratic governance. They deserve to have the same rights and freedoms, as well as the opportunity for a prosperous future that is enjoyed by so many other Europeans and by our fellow Americans. The people of America, of Europe, the people of Serbia all have a strong mutual interest in ending Milosevic's reign of hatred and thuggery. This bill advances that cause.

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

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

  • Milosevic’s Crackdown in Serbia and Threat to Montenegro

    At this hearing, with Commissioners Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) in attendance, witnesses testified on the atrocities committed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Foremost on people’s minds was the conviction and sentence of years in prison of a Serbian journalist for committing “espionage” after he wrote about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. More broadly, the hearing examined Milosevic’s efforts to perpetuate his power by forcing changes to the Yugoslav constitution and cracking down on forces in Serbia.  Also in attendance were Branislav Carak of the Serbian Independent Trade Union; Stojan Cerovic, fellow at the U.S. Institute of peace; Dr. David Dasic, head of the Trade Mission of the Republic of Montenegro; and Bogdan Ivanisevic, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

  • Azerbaijan's Parliamentary Elections

    Mr. Speaker, today I introduce a resolution calling on the Government of Azerbaijan to hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November. After a series of elections marred by irregularities, the upcoming election will help define the country's political orientation and its international reputation. Is Azerbaijan developing towards Western-style electoral democracy or mired in the Soviet pattern of controlled voting results? The answer to that question is important for the United States, which has significant strategic and economic interests in Azerbaijan.   At age 77, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev is the most experienced politician in the former Soviet space. Since returning to power in 1993, he has created a semi-authoritarian political system that features highly centralized, hands-on presidential rule, with constant positive coverage in the state-run media. President Aliev controls all branches of government and the state's instruments of coercion. His implicit bargain with Azerbaijan's citizens offers stability in return for unquestioned predominance. While Azerbaijan's constitution enshrines separation of powers, neither the legislature, judiciary, press, nor opposition parties may challenge President Aliev's hold on power. Indeed, in an interview published in last Sunday's New York Times, he openly said, `I will always be president here.' Opposition parties function, publish newspapers and have some representation in parliament. But they have no access to state media, which portray them negatively, and their opportunities to influence the political process, let alone actual decision-making, are carefully restricted.   With respect to elections, Azerbaijan's record has been poor. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) monitored the 1995 and 1998 parliamentary and presidential elections, and concluded that they did not meet OSCE standards. Council of Europe observers harshly criticized the first round of the local elections in December 1999, though they noted some improvements in the second round. These flawed elections have exacerbated the deep distrust between the government and opposition parties.   On May 25, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on the upcoming election, in which Azerbaijani Government representatives and opposition leaders participated. At that time, the main bone of contention between them was the composition of the Central Election Commission. During the hearing, a government spokesman announced that Baku was prepared to let government and opposition members veto the other side's nominees for the Commission posts set aside for independents, a major step forward. In fact, that assurance subsequently turned out to be not entirely reliable when the hard bargaining began in Baku, with the mediation of the ODIHR. Nevertheless, the agreement eventually reached did give opposition parties an opportunity to block decisions taken by the pro-presidential majority and was acclaimed by ODIHR as a fair and necessary compromise.   Since then, unfortunately, the process has collapsed. Azerbaijan's parliament passed an election law on July 5 that did not include amendments recommended by the ODIHR to bring the legislation into accord with OSCE standards. The law excludes an opposition party registered in February 2000 from fielding a party list; other problematic aspects include territorial and local election commissions which are effectively under government control, the restriction of voters' rights to sign petitions nominating more than one candidate or party, and the right of domestic observers to monitor the election. President Aliev claims that he proposed modifications to the election law but parliament refused to accept them. This assertion, considering his hold on the legislature, where a loyal, pro-presidential party controls over 80 percent of the seats, is simply not plausible. In any case, if he did not approve of the law, he could have vetoed it. Instead, he signed it.   On July 7, the ODIHR issued a press release `deploring' shortcomings in the election law. Opposition parties refused to participate in the work of the Central Election Commission unless the law is changed. In response, parliament amended the Central Election Commission law, depriving the opposition of the ability to block decisions. On July 20, 12 political parties, among them the leading opposition parties, warned that if parliament refuses to amend the election law, they will boycott the November ballot. Most recently, the State Department issued a statement on July 24, regretting the recent actions of Azerbaijan's parliament and urging the government and parliament in Baku to work with ODIHR, the opposition and non-governmental organizations to amend the election law in accordance with OSCE standards. Mr. Speaker, this turn of events is extremely disappointing. The last thing Azerbaijan needs is another election boycott by opposition parties. The consequences would include a parliament of dubious legitimacy, deepened distrust and societal polarization, and a movement away from electoral politics to street politics, which could threaten the country's stability.   November's election offers a historic opportunity to consolidate Azerbaijani society. It is essential for the future development of Azerbaijan's democracy and for the legitimacy of its leadership that the election be free and fair and the results be accepted by society as a whole. This resolution calls on the Administration to remind President Aliev of the pledge he made in August 1997 to hold free and fair elections, and urges Azerbaijan's Government and parliament to accept ODIHR's recommendations on the election law, so that it will meet international standards. I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Pitts and Mr. Cardin in this effort, and we welcome their support.

  • 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.

  • Report on the Presidential Election in Georgia

    On April 9, 2000, Georgia held a presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission, turnout was almost 76 percent. Incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze won reelection with about 80 percent of the vote. Former Communist Party boss Jumber Patiashvili came in second, with 16.6 percent. The other candidates on the ballot were largely irrelevant. Though Shevardnadze’s victory was anticipated, it remained unclear until election eve whom he would defeat. Batumi Alliance leader Aslan Abashidze, boss of the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria, had announced last year plans to mount a presidential race, but many expected him to drop out, as he had no real chance of winning. By threatening a boycott, Abashidze won concessions from the CUG on the election law, but his overall strategy collapsed when his Batumi Alliance colleague, Jumber Patiashvili, announced plans to run against Shevardnadze no matter what. One day before the election, Abashidze withdrew, leaving Patiashvili as Shevardnadze’s only serious contender. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission began its assessment by stating that “considerable progress is necessary for Georgia to fully meet its commitments as a participating state of the OSCE.” Among the problems in the election, ODIHR noted, inter alia, the authorities’ support for the incumbent, the failure of state media to provide balanced reportage, and the dominant role of the CUG in election commissions at all levels. While voting was generally conducted “calmly,” the “counting and tabulation procedures lacked uniformity and, at times, transparency.” The ODIHR also observed ballot stuffing and protocol tampering. Shevardnadze’s prospects for resolving the conflict in Abkhazia are bleak and he has little reason to expect help from Russia. Since the beginning of Russia’s latest campaign against Chechnya, Moscow has accused Tbilisi of allowing or abetting the transit of Chechen fighters through Georgian territory. These allegations also aim to pressure Georgia in negotiations about the withdrawal of Russia’s four military bases. High-level Russian political and military figures have made it plain that Moscow will try to retain the bases and will reassert its interests in the region to counter gains by Western countries, especially the United States. Tbilisi will need help from the United States in resisting a newly aggressive Moscow. Eduard Shevardnadze has long enjoyed good relations with Washington, which gratefully remembers his contribution as Soviet Foreign Minister to ending the Cold War peacefully. The United States has provided substantial assistance to Georgia and backed Shevardnadze morally as well. Presumably the congratulations tendered at the beginning of the State Department’s April 10 statement reflected appreciation for his past services, rather than acceptance at face value of the election’s results. President Clinton noted the election’s shortcomings in a post-election letter to Shevardnadze, reiterated Washington’s longstanding exhortation to attack corruption, and pressed him to implement urgent economic changes.

  • Change in Croatia

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

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

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

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that the House schedule did not permit consideration of my resolution, H. Con. Res. 204, which has been co-sponsored by Representative Hoyer, Representative Forbes and Representative McKinney. The resolution voices concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, in particular, substantial noncompliance with OSCE commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections. Among the countries of the former Soviet Union, only in Ukraine and Moldova have sitting presidents lost an election and peacefully left office. We will yet see what happens in Russia, where President Yeltsin has launched another war in Chechnya. It may be too much, given the historical differences between our respective societies, to hope the post-Soviet states could find among their political leaders a George Washington, who could have been king but chose not to be, and who chose to leave office after two terms. But it is not too much to hope that other post-Soviet leaders might emulate Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk or Moldova's former President Mircea Snegur, not to mention Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, who all allowed a peaceful transfer of power. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders give every indication of intending to remain in office for life. Their desire for unlimited and permanent power means that they cannot implement all OSCE commitments on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as doing so would create a level playing field for challengers and allow the media to shine the light on presidential misdeeds and high-level corruption. The result has been an entire region in the OSCE space where fundamental OSCE freedoms are ignored while leaders entrench themselves and their families in power and wealth. To give credit where it is due, the situation is least bad in Kyrgyzstan. President Akaev, a physicist, is the only Central Asian leader who was not previously the head of his republic's Communist Party. One can actually meet members of parliament who strongly criticize President Akaev and the legislature itself is not a rubber stamp body. Moreover, print media, though under serious pressure from the executive branch, exhibit diversity of views and opposition parties function. Still, in 1995, two contenders in the presidential election were disqualified before the vote. Parliamentary and presidential elections are approaching in 2000. Kyrgyzstan's OSCE partners will be watching carefully to see whether they are free and fair. Until the mid-1990s, Kazakstan seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. But President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments and single-mindedly sought to accumulate sole power. In the last few years, the regime has become ever more authoritarian. President Nazarbaev has concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. A constitutional amendment passed in October 1999 conveniently removed the age limit of 65 to be president. The OSCE judged last January's presidential elections, from which a leading opposition contender was barred as far short of OSCE standards. Last month's parliamentary election, according to the OSCE, was “severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities in the electoral process.” In response, President Nazarbaev has attacked the OSCE, comparing it to the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo for trying to “tell Kazakstan what to do.” Tajikistan has suffered the saddest fate of all the Central Asian countries; a civil war that killed scores of thousands. In 1997, the warring sides finally ceased hostilities and reached agreement about power-sharing, which permitted a bit of hopefulness about prospects for normal development and democratization. It seems, however, that the accord will not ensure stability. Tajikistan's Central Election Commission refused to register two opposition candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The sole alternative candidate registered has refused to accept the results of the election, which, according to official figures, current President Emomaly Rakhmonov won with 97 percent of the vote, in a 98 percent turnout. Those numbers, Mr. Speaker, say it all. The OSCE properly declined to send observers. Benighted Turkmenistan practically beggars description. This country, which has been blessed with large quantities of natural gas, has a political system that combines the worst traits of Soviet communism with a personality cult seen today in countries like Iraq or North Korea. No dissidence of any kind is permitted and the population enjoys no human rights. While his impoverished people barely manage to get by, President Niyazov builds garish presidential palaces and monuments to himself. The only registered political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov. In late October he said the people of his country would not be ready for the stresses and choices of a democratic society until 2010, adding that independent media are “disruptive.” On December 12, Turkmenistan is holding parliamentary “elections,” which the OSCE will not bother to observe. Finally, we come to Uzbekistan. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan on October 18. Despite the best efforts of Uzbekistan's Ambassador Safaev to convince us that democratization is proceeding apace in his country, the testimony of all the other witnesses confirmed the widely held view that after Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the most repressive country in Central Asia. No opposition political activity is allowed and media present only the government's point of view. Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Since 1997, a massive government campaign has been underway against independent Muslim believers. In February of this year, explosions rocked Tashkent, which the government described as an assassination attempt by Islamic radicals allied with an exiled opposition leader. Apart from elections, a key indicator of progress towards democratization is the state of media freedom. On October 25-27, an International Conference on Mass Media in Central Asia took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not surprisingly, Turkmenistan did not allow anyone to attend. The other participants adopted a declaration noting that democratization has slowed in almost all Central Asian states, while authoritarian regimes have grown stronger, limiting the scope for genuine media freedom as governments influence the media through economic means. I strongly agree with these sentiments. The concentration of media outlets in pro-regime hands, the ongoing assault on independent and opposition media and the circumscription of the media's legally-sanctioned subject matter pose a great danger to the development of democracy in Central Asia. Official statistics about how many media outlets have been privatized cover up an alarming tendency towards government monopolization of information sources. This effectively makes it impossible for citizens to receive unbiased information, which is vital if people are to hold their governments accountable. Mr. Speaker, it is clear that in Central Asia, the overall level of democratization and human rights observance is poor. Central Asian leaders make decisions in a region far from Western Europe, close to China, Iran and Afghanistan, and they often assert that “human rights are only for the West” or the building democracy “takes time.” But delaying steps towards democracy is very risky in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious region of Central Asia, where many people are highly educated and have expectations of faster change. If it does not come, tensions and conflicts could emerge that could endanger security for everyone. To lessen these risks, continuous pressure will be needed on these countries to move faster on democracy. Even as the United States pursues other interests, we should give top priority to democracy and respect for human rights, or we may live to regret not doing so.

  • Central Asia: The “Black Hole” of Human Rights

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a resolution on the disturbing state of democratization and human rights in Central Asia. As is evident from many sources, including the State Department's annual reports on human rights, non-governmental organizations, both in the region and the West, and the work of the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, Central Asia has become the “black hole” of human rights in the OSCE space. True, not all Central Asia countries are equal offenders. Kyrgyzstan has not joined its neighbors in eliminating all opposition, tightly censoring the media and concentrating all power in the hands of the president, though there are tendencies in that direction, and upcoming elections in 2000 may bring out the worst in President Akaev. But elsewhere, the promise of the early 1990's, when the five Central Asian countries along with all former Soviet republics were admitted to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has not been realized. Throughout the region, super-presidents pay lip service to OSCE commitments and to their own constitutional provisions on separation of powers, while dominating the legislative and judicial branches, crushing or thwarting any opposition challenges to their factual monopoly of power, and along with their families and favored few, enjoying the benefits of their countries' wealth. Indeed, though some see the main problem of Central Asia through the prism of real or alleged Islamic fundamentalism, the Soviet legacy, or poverty, I am convinced that the essence of the problem is more simple and depressing: presidents determined to remain in office for life must necessarily develop repressive political systems. To justify their campaign to control society, Central Asian leaders constantly point to their own national traditions and argue that democracy must be built slowly. Some Western analysts, I am sorry to say, have bought this idea, in some cases, quite literally, by acting as highly paid consultants to oil companies and other business concerns. But, Mr. Speaker, building democracy is an act of political will above all. You have to want to do it. If you don't, all the excuses in the world and all the state institutions formed in Central Asia ostensibly to promote human rights will remain simply window dressing. Moreover, the much-vaunted stability offered by such systems is shaky. The refusal of leaders to allow turnover at the top or newcomers to enter the game means that outsiders have no stake in the political process and can imagine coming to power or merely sharing in the wealth only be extra-constitutional methods. For some of those facing the prospect of permanent exclusion, especially as living standards continue to fall, the temptation to resort to any means possible to change the rules of the game, may be overwhelming. Most people, however, will simply opt out of the political system in disillusionment and despair. Against this general context, without doubt, the most repressive countries are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan's President Niyazov, in particular, has created a virtual North Korea in post-Soviet space, complete with his own bizarre cult of personality. Turkmenistan is the only country in the former Soviet bloc that remains a one-party state. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, has five parties but all of them are government-created and controlled. Under President Islam Karimov, no opposition parties or movements have been allowed to function since 1992. In both countries, communist-era controls on the media remain in place. The state, like its Soviet predecessor, prevents society from influencing policy or expressing its views and keeps the population intimidated through omnipresent secret police forces. Neither country observes the most fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, or permits any electoral challenges to its all-powerful president. Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has played a more clever game. Pressed by the OSCE and Western capitals, he has formally permitted opposition parties to function, and they did take part in the October 10 parliamentary election. But once again, a major opposition figure was not able to participate, and OSCE/ODIHR monitors, citing many shortcomings, have criticized the election as flawed. In general, the ability of opposition and society to influence policymaking is marginal at best. At the same time, independent and opposition media have been bought, coopted or intimidated out of existence or into cooperation with the authorities, and those few that remain are under severe pressure. Tajikistan suffered a devastating civil war in the early 1990's. In 1997, war-weariness and a military stalemate led the disputants to a peace accord and a power-sharing agreement. But though the arrangement had promise, it now seems to be falling apart, as opposition contenders for the presidency have been excluded from the race and the major opposition organization has decided to suspend participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Speaker, along with large-scale ethnic conflicts like Kosovo or Bosnia, and unresolved low-level conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, I believe the systemic flouting of OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights in Central Asia is the single greatest problem facing the OSCE. For that reason, I am introducing this resolution expressing concern about the general trends in the region, to show Central Asian presidents that we are not taken in by their facade, and to encourage the disheartened people of Central Asia that the United States stands for democracy. The resolution calls on Central Asian countries to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on democracy and human rights , and encourages the Administration to raise with other OSCE states the implications for OSCE participation of countries that engage in gross and uncorrected violation of freely accepted commitments on human rights . Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, and Mr. Forbes in this effort and we welcome their support.

  • Report on Georgia's Parliamentary Elections: October 1999

    On October 31, 1999, Georgia held its third parliamentary election since gaining independence in 1991. President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ruling party, the Citizens Union of Georgia, scored a convincing victory. According to the Central Election Commission, in the first round, the CUG won 41.85 percent of the party list voting, or 85 seats, along with 35 single districts. The opposition Batumi Alliance, led by Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, came in second, with 25.65 percent of the vote and seven districts, gaining 51 seats. Industry Will Save Georgia was the only other party to break the sevenpercent threshold for parliamentary representation, managing 7.8 percent and 14 seats. In second-round voting on November 14, the CUG increased its lead, picking up ten more seats, and then won another two in a November 28 third round, for a total of 132. The Batumi Alliance’s final tally was 59. Overall, the CUG has an absolute majority in Georgia’s 235-seat legislature, improving on the position it held from 1995-1999. The outcome did not indicate how tense the race had been between the CUG and the leftist, proRussian Batumi Alliance. A win by the latter threatened to move Georgia into Russia’s orbit and away from market reforms. The election also offered a foretaste of next year’s presidential contest, when Abashidze runs against Shevardnazde. With such high stakes and relations so confrontational between the contending forces, charges of widespread fraud dogged the elections. Of the Central Election Commission’s 19 members, only 13 signed the document announcing the results. Nevertheless, OSCE’s observation mission called the first round of the election a “step towards” compliance with OSCE commitments, adding that most of the worst violations occurred in Ajaria. OSCE’s verdict after the November 14 second round was more critical, noting violence at some polling stations and vote rigging and intimidation at others. OSCE’s initial cautiously positive judgement, however, allowed Eduard Shevardnadze to claim that democratization is proceeding in Georgia and that the country’s admission to the Council of Europe was well deserved.

  • Ukraine on the Eve of Elections

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

  • Baptist Church Targeted by Azerbaijan Authorities

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I rise today to highlight a disturbing incident involving governmental harassment of religious believers in Azerbaijan. We have received reports of religious liberty violations perpetrated by governmental authorities. As a participating State of the OSCE, Azerbaijan has committed to insuring the freedom of individuals to profess and practice their religion. These recent governmental actions are a clear violation of Azerbaijan's OSCE commitment to the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.   On September 5th, government officials in Baku forced their way into a legally-registered church, Baku Baptist Church, and arrested sixty members of the religious group. The pastors of the church as well as a dozen foreigners were among those arrested and interrogated. The arrested Azeri religious believers were detained and asked to sign a statement affirming that they had attended an “illegal meeting” and promising not to attend the religious meetings in the future. Ultimately, two leaders of the church were sentenced to 15 days in prison on charges relating to resisting police. Likewise, then other foreign members of the religious group were charged with “engaging in religious propaganda” and “propagating against the Muslim faith,” in violation of an Azeri law that forbids such activity. On September 8th, all ten foreigners were deported and more deportations are likely. These events are alarming, Mr. Speaker.   While there had been reports of governmental harassment in the past, especially of unregistered religious minority groups, these current events are especially problematic because the target of these actions was a legally registered religious group. Mr. Speaker, these actions are in direct violation to Azerbaijan's OSCE commitments, including section 16 of the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document, which explicitly delineates the wide scope of activities protected, including the right to establish and maintain places of worship and granting them status under law to both profess and practice their faith. In the 1990 Copenhagen Concluding Document Article 9.1, Azerbaijan has reaffirmed “that everyone will have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to communication. This right will include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.'' The actions by Azerbaijani officials clearly violate these commitments.   I truly hope that these government actions are merely an aberration and will be dealt with accordingly and are not the signal of even more repression of religious believers in Azerbaijan. I would like to commend to my colleagues the work of our Embassy in Baku on religious liberty. Embassy personnel have taken this recent incident very seriously and have followed the situation from the start. I urge those of my colleagues who interact with Azerbaijani Government officials to raise religious liberty issues in their discussions, stressing the essential role that religious liberty--and indeed human rights in general, play in maintaining a free, stable, and democratic civil society.

  • Report on Armenia's Parliamentary Elections

    On May 30, 1999, Armenia held its second parliamentary election since gaining independence. Twenty-one parties and blocs contested 56 seats set aside for party voting and over 700 individual candidates competed in 75 majoritarian races to fill the legislature’s 131 seats. According to official results, turnout was almost 56 percent. The big winner in the election was the Unity bloc, an alliance of the Republican Party, headed by Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, and the People’s Party of Karen Demirchian, Armenia’s last Communist leader. OSCE observation missions had criticized Armenia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 1995, 1996 and 1998, so Yerevan had to hold better elections to restore its damaged reputation. The May 30 election was also supposed to formalize the shift of power in early 1998, when the governing party—the Armenian National Movement (ANM)—collapsed as its leader, Levon Ter-Petrossyan, was forced out and Vazgen Sarkissian came openly to the fore. Though Armenia’'s May 30 election was a clear improvement over previous elections, concerns persist about overall political trends. Armenia is unique among former Soviet republics in that its president, despite broad constitutional prerogatives, is not the most powerful political actor. Vazgen Sarkissian, as Defense Minister, had already gained a remarkable hold on the military, the executive branch and even the legislature, while also heading a veterans’ organization that controls most local authorities. Such concentration of authority in the hands of one politician bodes ill for separation of powers and the development of civil society. Even more troubling, Sarkissian’s record does not inspire confidence in his commitment to democracy. He now has to overcome his reputation and manage his own transition to a democratic statesman. Following the lead of the OSCE, the U.S. State Department noted the improvements over past elections but emphasized the need for further progress to bring Armenia’s elections up to OSCE standards and raise public trust in the process. With the OSCE’s assessment having at least been better than in past elections, Yerevan can hope for the first official visit to Washington of President Kocharian this fall.  

  • Kazakstan's Parliamentary Elections

    The Helsinki Commission compiled a report on Kazakstan’s parliamentary election in 1999. It noted that the election did mark some forward movement; the registration of opposition political parties -- specifically the Republican People’s Party (RPP) and Azamat, along with the already registered Communist Party -- promised to give voters an opposition alternative on October 10 and to institutionalize the involvement of opposition parties in Kazakstan’s political life beyond the election. Other positive steps included the CEC’s lowering of the candidates’ deposit, the law’s provision for domestic observers and the sanctioned experiment with exit polling. The accreditation of over 2,500 non-partisan domestic observers throughout Kazakhstan was also a significant development. Even more important was an October 6 live, televised debate, which allowed voters to familiarize themselves with parties and candidates and gave some opposition figures who had not received free air time, such as Communist Party leader Serokbolsyn Abdildin, their only opportunity to campaign on television.

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