Title

Examining the Prospects for Democratic Change in Belarus

Tuesday, December 04, 2007
1539 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Alcee Hastings
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Mr. Aleksandr Milinkevich
Title: 
Leader
Body: 
Movement for Freedom
Name: 
Mr. Anatoly Lebedka
Title: 
Chair
Body: 
United Civic Party of Belarus
Name: 
Ms. Enira Bronitskaya
Title: 
Human Rights Activist

The briefing focused on the prospects for change in Belarus, a country that is widely considered to have Europe’s worst record with respect to human rights and democracy.  The presence of the OSCE at the March 2006 Presidential elections was briefly mentioned, as were the fundamental flaws observed during these elections.

The witnesses testifying at this briefing evaluated the obstacles that pro-democratic activists face in Belarus. Violent and repressive tactics of the authorities were cited as major issues for good governance in the country. Several suggestions for improving the democratic quality of the government were proposed, including increasing activity through diplomatic channels.

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats

    The hearing focused on the current situation in Ukraine and discussed how the United States, along with the including EU and the OSCE, could best assist Ukraine and deters further Russian aggression. Since November of 2014, Ukraine has been in turmoil, with a deteriorating economy, public unrest by millions of protesters against human rights abuses and corruption. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland discussed the geopolitical complications from Russia’s illegal referendum and annexation of Crimea, and stated that Russia's actions in Ukraine are an affront to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. The United States' approach to the situation includes four pillars: bilateral and multilateral support for Ukraine's democratic future, the costs imposed on Russia for its aggressive actions, efforts to de-escalate the crisis diplomatically, and unwavering commitment to the security of NATO allies. The hearing also highlighted the work of the Commission’s delegation sent to monitor Ukraine’s May 25th elections.

  • Cardin Praises Bipartisan Unity in Support of Ukraine, Sanctions Against Russia

    WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), praised the full Senate passage of a package of loan guarantees for the new Ukraine government and economic sanctions on those responsible for the invasion of Crimea. “With today’s vote the Senate sent a clear message of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and indignation for those responsible for the invasion of the Crimea. Russia must be held accountable for its blatant violations of international agreements. The sanctions leveled by Congress are intended to show that Mr. Putin’s inability to conform to international norms, and honor Russia’s agreements, will come at a heavy price. The government in Kyiv has the full support of United States and we will use all available diplomatic and economic tools to return stability to Ukraine,” said Senator Cardin. “I am disappointed that H.R 4152 does not include essential reforms that would strengthen the International Monetary Fund. Despite the omission this bill is a firm and confident step towards returning the region to normalcy. ”

  • Senator Cardin’s Floor Statement on Ukraine

    Mr. President, tomorrow we are going to have an opportunity to vote on S. 2124, and I am pleased to learn that it looks as if there is going to be overwhelming support in the Senate for the passage of S. 2124. This is the legislation that helps Ukraine in dealing with the invasion by Russia. Russia's illegal actions of using its military to overtake Crimea, a part of Ukraine, violate numerous international obligations that Russia has committed to. I have the honor of chairing the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Accords were entered into in 1975. Russia was one of the leading forces for forming the OSCE. Russia's taking over of Crimea violates its commitments it made under the Helsinki Final Act. It violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Russia, that guaranteed basically Ukraine's integrity of its land. It violates the 1997 Ukraine-Russia bilateral treaty. It violates the U.N. Charter. The list goes on and on and on. So I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a strong voice in standing with the people of Ukraine. There was absolutely no justification whatsoever for Russia's action. There was no threat to any of the ethnic communities in Ukraine. All the rights of the people were being protected. The country was in transition from a corrupt government to a government that respected the rights of its citizens. If there was any provocation whatsoever of any unrest, it was caused by Russia's presence in Ukraine. We got reports from the chief rabbi in Kyiv that Russia was staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea, and the list goes on and on as to what Russia was doing in order to try to give some justification for its actions. Russia's thinly veiled land grab, cloaked in the cloth of self-determination, must not go unchallenged. Here is what I think is critically important: This is a dangerous precedent. We saw Russia use a similar action in Georgia, and now in Crimea in Ukraine. There are other territorial issues involved around the world. If this goes unchecked, if we do not speak with a unified voice, it just encourages more irresponsible action by Russia in other countries. We know that we have concerns about the South China Sea. We know we have concerns about Moldova. There are many other areas where Russia could be involved in its border areas. So all of these issues are matters for us to speak with a strong unified voice. S. 2124 does that. It does it in two principal ways. First, it imposes the sanctions against those responsible for  Russia's invasion into Crimea, Ukraine. It provides sanctions so that these individuals are not permitted to come to the United States. There are economic sanctions in regard to the use of our banking system. These are similar sanctions to what are now being imposed by our European allies. We need to isolate Russia. As we all know, the G8, which included Russia, is now a G7 without Russia. Russia needs to know that there will be sanctions imposed, and they will be stronger sanctions unless they stop this aggressive action. In addition, the legislation provides economic assistance to the new Government of Ukraine. Just 2 weeks ago the Prime Minister of Ukraine was here and met with Members of the Senate. I tell you, it was inspirational to listen to his vision for Ukraine as a democratic, independent state, with full integration into Europe. That is important. He is preparing for a May 25 election for the Presidency of Ukraine. These are all very, very positive steps. But if Ukraine does not have the economic foothold to be able to develop the type of economy and strength in their country, it will be difficult for Ukraine to be maintained as a viable independent state. Here is where the United States and our European allies, and I hope the global community, come together, as we have in this legislation, to provide economic help on a restructured economic plan for Ukraine that will help them move forward in a very constructive way. Mr. President, I must tell you I am disappointed, though, that the reforms of the IMF will be eliminated from this legislation. I think that is regrettable. We are entering into a plan for Ukraine that very much depends upon the IMF's--the International Monetary Fund's--plan to make sure that the moneys we are spending, Europe is spending, and other countries are loaning and providing to Ukraine are based upon a sound economic plan that will work. That is why the IMF is there. And they will be there. But the United States needs to be a full participant in the IMF. We are out of compliance, and here is another opportunity lost for us to be in full compliance with the IMF. I am disappointed about that. But as I said as I took the floor, we must speak with one voice--the Obama administration; the House, the Senate; the Congress--as we stand with the people of Ukraine for their integrity, for their independence, and for the adherence to international principles, which Russia has clearly violated.

  • Senate Floor Statement on Ukraine

    Madam President, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is one of the most serious breaches of the OSCE principles since the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. These principles are at the foundation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia, as a participating state, agreed to hold these principles, including territorial integrity of states, inviolability of frontiers, refraining from the threat of use of force, peaceful settlements of disputes, and others. With this invasion, which is based, as Secretary Kerry has stated, on a completely trumped-up set of pretexts, Russia has shown its utter contempt for these core principles, indeed, for the entire OSCE process--not only the OSCE but the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Ukraine that provides security assurances for Ukraine, and the 1997 Ukraine -Russia bilateral treaty, and the U.N. charter, and other international agreements. Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is also a gross violation of the Vienna Document's confidence and security building mechanisms which govern military relations and arms control. So let's examine Vladimir Putin's justification for this unprovoked invasion. He claims there is a need to protect Russian interests and the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. They characterize it as a human rights protection mission that it clearly is not. Russian officials fail to show any real evidence that the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea--where they actually constitute a majority and have the most clout politically--and Ukraine at large have been violated. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that the protests in some Ukrainian cities are being stoked by the Russians. Putin and other Russian officials make all sorts of unfounded accusations, including that masked militia are roaming the streets of Kyiv, although the Ukrainian capital and most of Ukraine has been calm for the last few weeks. Mr. Putin claims there is a “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine.'' Yet Kyiv's chief rabbi and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress on Monday accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea.  Mr. Putin accuses Ukraine's new legitimate transition government--not yet 2 weeks old--of threatening ethnic Russians. Yet there is a myriad of credible reports to the contrary. Indeed, although there has been unrest in some cities, there has been no serious movement in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions to join with Russia. The clear majority of Ukrainians wants to see their country remain unified and do not welcome Russian intervention. All Ukrainian religious groups have come out against the Russian intervention and stand in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders, as have minority groups such as the Crimean Tatars and the Roma. I submit that the real threat posed by the new government is that it wants to assertively move Ukraine in the direction of political and economic reforms and in the direction of democracy, respect for how human rights, the rule of law--away from the unbridled corruption of the previous regime and the kind of autocratic rule found in today's Russia. As for protecting Russian interests in Crimea, the Russians have not produced one iota of evidence that the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, is under any kind of threat. Indeed, when the Ukrainians reached out to the Russians to try to engage them peacefully, they have been rebuffed. Russian authorities need to send their troops back to the barracks and instead engage through diplomacy, not the threat or use of force. The Russian actions pose a threat beyond Ukraine and threaten to destabilize neighboring states. I pointed out at a hearing we had this week in the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in a hearing of the Helsinki Commission, that if Russia can use force to try to change territories, what message does that send to the South China Sea, what message does that send to the Western Balkans? Just as Poland has already invoked article 4 NATO consultations, the Baltic States and others in the region are wary of Russian goals. As chairman of the Helsinki Commission and a former vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I am encouraged to see active and wide-ranging engagement of the OSCE to deescalate tensions and to foster peace and security in Ukraine. The OSCE has the tools to address concerns with regard to security on the ground in Crimea, minority rights, and with regard to preparations for this democratic transition to lead to free and fair elections. In response to a request by the Ukrainian Government, 18 OSCE participating states, including the United States, are sending 35 unarmed military personnel to Ukraine. This is taking place under the Vienna Document, which allows for voluntary hosting of visits to dispel concerns about unusual military activities. Various OSCE institutions are activating, at the request of the Ukrainian Government, including the OSCE's human rights office, known as the ODIHR, to provide human rights monitoring as well as election observation for the May 25 Presidential elections. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the head of the Strategic Police Matters Unit, among others, are all in Kyiv this week conducting fact-finding missions. A full-scale, long-term OSCE Monitoring Mission is being proposed, and this mission needs to go forward. All of these OSCE efforts are aimed at deescalating tensions, fostering peace and stability, ensuring the observance of OSCE principles, including the human dimension, helping Ukraine in its transition, especially in the run-up to the May elections. These OSCE on-the-ground efforts are being thwarted by the Russian-controlled newly installed Crimean authorities. The OSCE Unusual Military Activities observers have been stopped from entering Crimea by unidentified men in military fatigues. Also, the OSCE Media Freedom Representative and her staff were temporarily blocked from leaving a hotel in Crimea where she was meeting with journalists and civil society activists. The U.N. special envoy was accosted by unidentified gunmen after visiting a naval headquarters in the Sevastopol. The blocking of international monitors--who were invited by the Ukrainian Government and who clearly are trying to seek peaceful resolutions to the conflict--is completely unacceptable and we should hold Russia responsible for their safety. Russia is a member of the OSCE--one of the founding members--and they are openly violating the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act. Russia signed on to the institutions that are available under OSCE for this exact type of circumstance--to give independent observation as to what is happening on the ground. Sending this mission, at the request of the host country, into Crimea is exactly the commitments made to reduce tensions in OSCE states, and Russia is blocking the use of that mechanism. The United States and the international community are deploying wide-ranging resources to contain and roll back Russia's aggression and to assist Ukraine's transition to a democratic, secure, and prosperous country. Both the Executive and the Congress are working around the clock on this. President Obama has taken concrete action and made concrete recommendations.  As the author of the Magnitsky Act, I welcome the White House sanctions announced today, including visa restrictions on officials and individuals threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and financial sanctions against those "responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine .'' It was just a little while ago that we passed the Magnitsky Act. We did that in response to gross human rights violations within Russia against an individual named Sergei Magnitsky. What we did is say that those who were responsible for these gross violations of internationally recognized rules should be held accountable, and if they are not held accountable, the least we can do in the United States is not give them safe haven in our country, not allow the corrupt dollars they have earned to be housed in America--no visas, no use of our banking system. The President is taking a similar action against those responsible for the invasion and military use against international rules in Ukraine. These steps are in addition to many other actions, including the suspension of bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, stopping United States-Russia military-to-military engagement, and suspending preparations for the June G8 summit in Sochi. Both Chambers are working expeditiously on legislation to help Ukraine in this delicate period of transition. We also need to work expeditiously with our European friends and allies, and I am encouraged by the news that the EU is preparing a $15 billion aid package. Ukraine has exercised amazing restraint in not escalating the conflict, particularly in Crimea. I applaud their restraint and their action. The people of Ukraine have suffered an incredibly difficult history, and over the last century they have been subjected to two World Wars, 70 years of Soviet domination, including Stalin's genocidal famine. They certainly do not need another senseless war. Nothing justifies Russia's aggression--nothing. Our political and economic assistance at this time would be a testament to those who died at the Maidan just 2 weeks ago and a concrete manifestation that our words mean something and that we do indeed stand by the people of Ukraine as they make their historic choice for freedom, democracy, and a better life. I yield the floor.

  • Developments in the Western Balkans and Policy Responses

    This hearing on the Western Balkans examined the progress being made towards democratization. Commissioners Benjamin L. Cardin and Christopher H. Smith presided over the hearing, which included testimonies from: Hoyt Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs for the U.S. Department of State;  Tanja Fajon, Member for the European Parliament from Slovenia; and Kurt Volker, Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership. This hearing held great significance, not only for the members of the Commission, but the wider foreign policy community, as whilst the Western Balkans is no longer the setting for violent conflict that it was two decades ago, the United States has had to devote considerable resources—financial, diplomatic and military —to restore peace and to encourage the democratic and other reforms necessary to sustain it. However, that job is not yet done—the need to see the task of a stable, democratic and fully integrated Western Balkans is yet to be completed.   http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce030514

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Human Rights in Turkmenistan

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following briefing: Disappeared in Turkmenistan’s Prisons: Are They Still Alive?  Thursday, February 20, 2014 3:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 122 Ten years ago, the Organization for Cooperation in Europe’s Moscow Mechanism was invoked against Turkmenistan after hundreds were arrested in the wake of an alleged coup attempt. The resulting report detailed the lack of rule of law during the arrest process and subsequent trials, as well as the absence of information about the health and whereabouts of those imprisoned. And despite years of inquiries and a change in regime in Turkmenistan, the fate of many of those who have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prisons over the past ten years remains unknown. Their families deserve answers, and this briefing will take a new look at these cases. Turkmenistan has been characterized as one of the world’s most repressive countries, with virtually no freedom of expression, association, or assembly. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom again recommended in 2013 that the Secretary of State designate Turkmenistan a “country of particular concern,” and the State Department placed Turkmenistan on its “Tier 2 Watch List” for trafficking in persons - the second lowest category. Imprisonment has been used as a tool for political retaliation against those who do speak out, and Turkmenistan’s prisons – closed to outside monitoring - are notorious for torture, poor conditions, and disease. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch Catherine Fitzpatrick, Independent Expert on Eurasia Peter Zalmayev, Director, Eurasia Democracy Initiative Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability Boris Shikmuradov, Editor, Gundogar.org

  • Kyiv Ministerial Held Amid Protests

    On December 5 and 6, 2013, Kyiv hosted the 20th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe while hundreds of thousands of protestors occupied Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s central square. Although as 2013 OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ukraine had successfully shepherded a package of decisions to adoption in Kyiv, the meeting was dominated by demonstrations taking place throughout the country triggered on November 21 by the Ukrainian government’s suspension of preparations to sign integration agreements with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland represented the United States. She began the Ministerial by meeting with civil society activists, which she described as her “most important event” in Kyiv. In her opening statement at the Ministerial, she highlighted three “worrying trends” in OSCE participating States: the persecution of journalists, the rising intolerance of minorities, and “democratic backsliding” into restrictive laws and practices that violate civil liberties.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes Step Toward Justice in Serbia

    WASHINGTON—Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Representative Christopher H. Smith (NJ-4), Co-Chairman, today issued statements welcoming arrests in Serbia relating to the murder of Dnevni Telegraf editor-in-chief Slavko Curuvija on April 11, 1999. “Slavko Cutuvija was a courageous journalist who was murdered for challenging the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia,” noted Chairman Cardin. “On several occasions, I have publicly called for the perpetrators of this crime to be brought to justice. I commend the Serbian authorities for arresting former security officers for their alleged responsibility, a demonstration of political will to confront a dark period in Serbia’s history. Serbia’s judicial system will hopefully proceed with the next steps in this case and take similarly concrete actions in regard to other outstanding cases from that period, including the murders of the American-citizen Bytyqi brothers in July 1999. Serbia has my full support in that regard.” “Slavko Curuvija testified at a hearing of the Helsinki Commission I chaired just months before he was gunned down outside his apartment in Belgrade,” added Co-Chairman Smith. “His testimony showed that he fully understood the threat he faced.  He said at the hearing: ‘By making an example of me, the regime sends a message to all those who would oppose it... After all his other wars, Slobodan Milosevic appears to be preparing a war against his own people…’ I hope that today’s news of arrests brings comfort, at long last, to the family and friends of Slavko Curuvija.”

  • Troubled Partner: Growing Authoritarianism in Azerbaijan

    This briefing provided an opportunity to discuss current events in Azerbaijan and the prospects for a free and fair election. Recent political trends in Azerbaijan include reported intimidation, arrests, and use of force against journalists and human rights activists; tough new NGO registration requirements; legal restrictions on the Internet, including criminalizing online “libel” and “abuse”; restrictions on freedom of assembly, forceful dispersion of unsanctioned protests, detention of demonstrators; and unfair administration of justice, including arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, lengthy pre-trial detention, and executive interference in the judiciary. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed these trends and the overall political environment for human rights and fundamental freedom, which had worsened in recent years. They urged the government of Azerbaijan to respect universally recognized freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and not to penalize individuals for attempting to exercise these freedoms and to take concrete steps to enhance political stability during the important election year.

  • Age of Delirium

    Paul Carter, State Department Adviser at the Commission, and Kyle Parker facilitated a discussion with David Satter, the author and producer of Age of Delirium. They addressed the relevance of these personal testimonies in understanding post-communist Russia. They spoke of the “moral decay of the society” under communist rule and the detrimental effects of ideological thinking, which continues to affect post-communist, as well as Western, societies. Age of Delirium, produced by Russian scholar and former Moscow correspondent David Satter, chronicles the fall of the Soviet Union through the personal stories of those who lived this momentous transformation. The film is based on Satter's book, Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union acclaimed by the Virginia Quarterly Review as, "the finest or one of the finest psychological portraits of Russia in the 1970s and 1980s.” Delirium received the prestigious 2013 Van Gogh Grand Jury Award at the Amsterdam Film Festival and has been screened in Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand.

  • Bulgaria Holds Early Parliamentary Elections; OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Country-Wide Street Protests Trigger Snap Elections In early 2013, 30 Bulgarian cities were rocked by demonstrations. In some instances, violence erupted between demonstrators and police. In addition, in the months immediately preceding the elections, six people committed suicide by self-immolation in acts of public protest and desperation. The street demonstrations were triggered by sharply rising electricity rates in a country widely described as the poorest of the EU’s 27 members. Discontent was further fueled by dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board and widespread corruption. In February, following the street demonstrations, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned, paving the way for May 12’s early parliamentary elections. For those elections, 8,100 candidates stood for seats in the 240-member unicameral National Assembly allocated by proportional representation from 31 multi-mandate constituencies (with a 4% threshold for both parties and coalitions to enter parliament). Altogether, 63 parties (38 outside of coalitions and 7 coalitions) were registered as well as two independent candidates. The resulting ballot was roughly a yard long. OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission The OSCE mounted a full scale Election Observation Mission (EOM) – the first in Bulgaria since 1997 and the first ever in an EU country. Eoghan Murphy (MP, Ireland) was appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office Leonid Kozhara to serve as Special Coordinator and leader of the short-term observer mission (parliamentarians and observers seconded by OSCE participating States). The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) long-term observer team was headed by Miklos Haraszti. Roberto Battelli (MP, Slovenia) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Andreas Gross (MP, Switzerland) headed the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On Election Day, there were 158 observers deployed from 39 countries. Of an estimated 6.9 million voters (a number that, in any case, the OSCE and Council of Europe Venice Commission suggest may be high), 3,541,745 went to the polls. Voter turnout was at about 50 percent – the lowest turnout since the fall of communism – reflecting the voters’ antipathy even more than apathy. Approximately 850,000 votes were cast for parties that failed to overcome the 4% threshold to get into parliament. Reportedly 107,799 Bulgarian citizens voted abroad, with 63,152 votes cast in Turkey. The Mysterious Case of the Extra Ballots The administration of the elections on E-Day was largely unremarkable. It was, however, preceded by two separate but related wiretapping scandals suggesting that the Ministry of Interior had bugged journalists and state officials. The day before the elections, an “extra” 350,000 ballots were discovered in a printing house in Sofia. (A week after the elections, it was reported that more than 2,000 extra stamps for electoral commissions had also surfaced.) In its preliminary findings, the Election Observation Mission drew particular attention to the alienation of voters, lack of confidence in the electoral process, concerns over ballot security (the “extra” ballots), and persistent allegations of vote buying or voter intimidation. (A final report from the Mission is forthcoming.) Roma and Other Minorities in the Electoral Context Bulgaria has a population of 7.36 million (from almost 8 million in the 2001 census and roughly 8.4 million in the 1992 census). This continuing drop reflects declining birth rates and labor migration to other parts of Europe. The ethnic Turkish minority comprises 8.8 percent of the population. Almost 5 percent of the population self-identified as Romani on the last census, but Roma are estimated to be roughly 10 percent of the population. Last year, the Bulgarian Government estimated that 23 percent of the working age population is Romani. The Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, which is contrary to OSCE and other international norms on freedom of assembly. The OSCE has criticized this restriction in previous reports on Bulgarian elections. The Electoral Code stipulates that the election campaign must be conducted in the Bulgarian language only, also contrary to standards on free speech and minority language use set out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. These restrictions also impede get-out-the-vote efforts. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is, de facto, an ethnic Turkish minority party, although it has largely been allowed to function with a wink and a nod from the authorities. After the elections, it was reported that Lyutvi Mestan, head of the MRF party, was fined in Sliven for campaigning in Turkish. Bulgaria's last two local and Presidential elections (which were held simultaneously in 2007 and 2011) were preceded by outbreaks of anti-Roma violence. In 2011, just a few weeks before the elections, 14 Bulgarian cities erupted into anti-Roma riots. In July 2012, the headquarters of the EuroRoma political party were firebombed, killing one man. The investigation has not produced any results. On April 8, 15 Romani civil society organizations withdrew from their advisory role with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, effectively deeming the government’s work in this area and the consultative process to be a sham. There were no Roma in electable positions on the lists for any of the leading parties. As a result, the National Assembly produced by the May 12 elections will be the first Bulgarian parliament since the fall of communism to have no Romani MPs.

  • THE OSCE OFFICE FOR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CHALLENGES

    Ambassador Janez Lenarcic testified in in front of the Commission on the human rights dimension of OSCE member countries. The hearing focused on the member countries that have not met OSCE agreed standards on defense of human rights. The discussion focused on the OSCE’s plan to establish guidelines for member countries to uphold and defend human rights. The witness and commissioners highlighted recent situations in Russia in regards to respect of human rights amidst an election. In addition, the discussion focused on the role of the United States in providing leadership on the issue.

  • THE TRAJECTORY OF DEMOCRACY – WHY HUNGARY MATTERS

    This hearing focused on recent constitutional changes to the Hungarian Constitution which has brought concerns from the United States and the European Union. Recently, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes to its constitutional framework, effectively remaking the country’s entire legal foundation. In addition to constitutional changes, there have been some bills passed without the proper democratic spirit and has brought concerns about the trajectory of democracy in that country. The witnesses raised the changes that have created the majority government into a nearly one-party rule structure and compared such actions to President Madison’s written exposé in the Federalist Papers number 47.

  • Justice In The International Extradition System, The Case Of George Wright And Beyond

    This briefing discussed the case of George Wright.  In 1963, Wright was implicated in the robbery of a gas station, during which he fatally beat and shot a man named Walter Patterson (a veteran of World War II and a Bronze Star recipient). Wright was sentenced to prison, but escaped to Algeria in the middle of his stay at Leesburg State Prison. 41 years later, Wright was discovered in Portugal. In spite of the U.S.’s and Portugal’s firm commitment regarding extradition, a court in Portugal inexplicably refused to extradite Wright. This hearing’s goal was to scrutinize what transpired in this case and what could be achieved in order to bring Wright to justice, raising the broader question about the international extradition system.

  • Commemorating Belarusian Independence by Fighting for Human Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, March 25, Belarusian-Americans commemorated Belarusian Independence Day. On that date in 1918, during World War I, the Belarusian National Republic was declared. Although independence was short-lived and Belarus forcibly subjected to Soviet rule, it did mark an historically significant milestone in the aspirations of the Belarusian people for freedom and their own unique identity. While Belarus became independent in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this independence today is under threat thanks to the dictatorial rule of Alexander Lukashenka, who has relentlessly squelched dissent, strangled democratic institutions and the rule of law, stifled human rights and political liberties, and refused to reform the Soviet-type state-dominated economy. This has made Belarus dangerously vulnerable to Russian influence and has greatly weakened its prospects for integration into the European family of nations. The brutal crackdown that began 15 months ago with the fraudulent December 19, 2010 election persists. Its most recent manifestation is the barring of numerous opposition leaders, human rights activists and independent journalists from traveling abroad--yet another in a litany of violations of Belarus' OSCE commitments. Especially egregious is the continued imprisonment of democratic opposition leaders and activists, and human rights defenders Andrei Sannikau, Mikalai Statekevich, Zmitser Bandarenka, Ales Byalyatski, Syarhei Kavalenka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, and others, many of whom face inhumane conditions in detention. I'd like to add my voice to those of countless Belarusians and Belarusian-Americans calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus. Mr. Speaker, in January the President signed into law the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, which I authored. This law strengthens, in view of Lukashenka's crackdown, two earlier laws I wrote promoting democracy and supporting the Belarusian people in their struggle to replace the Lukashenka dictatorship with a representative government that will respect human rights and democratic values. But Congress's efforts on behalf of the Belarusian people can't end there--I'd like to ask my colleagues to continue to raise Belarusian human rights issues with the administration, with foreign parliamentarians, and, whenever we encounter them, with officials of the Lukashenka dictatorship.

  • Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland

    This hearing assessed the progress towards peace made in Northern Ireland and discussed ways to ensure the sustainability of the peace.  Witnesses condemned the British government for backtracking on the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the United States for not putting enough pressure on Great Britain. Witnesses identified the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose widow Geraldine was in attendance, as an obstacle to peace.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • The Escalation of Violence Against Roma In Europe

    This hearing focused on the discrimination, exclusion, and persecution faced by the Roma people in Europe.  Witnesses discussed the E.U. countries’ various national strategies for Roma integration and their effectiveness.  The witnesses also provided recommendations for the Commissioners on how to support European countries’ integration efforts on the government-to-government level.

  • The OSCE 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Overview From September 26 to October 7, 2011, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2011, those subjects were: 1) “Democratic elections and electoral observation,” 2) “Freedom of movement,” and 3) “Enhancing implementation of OSCE commitments regarding Roma and Sinti.” U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador David Johnson. Other members of the delegation included Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Cynthia Efird, Senior State Department Advisor to the Helsinki Commission; Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Patrick Merloe, National Democratic Institute, Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, and Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, served as Public Members of the delegation, addressing democratic elections, freedom of movement, and the situation of Romani people in the OSCE region respectively. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the U.S. delegations and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. Highlights of This Year’s Meeting The severe crackdown in Belarus which followed elections last December was a focus of attention throughout the two-week meeting, both in formal sessions and special side events. During the final session, the United States delivered a statement focused on the use of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Belarus -- an OSCE tool used in exceptional circumstances to conduct fact-finding regarding extreme human rights concerns. The mechanism had been invoked in April by 14 participating States and a report was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council by the Mechanism Rapporteur, Professor Emmanuel Decaux, on May 28. NGOs also demonstrated throughout the meeting on behalf of Belarusian political prisoner Alex Bielatskiy. The United States also raised issues which remain unresolved following the 2003 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Turkmenistan. In particular, Ambassador Johnson drew attention to the continued disappearance of Ambassador Batyr Berdiev, the former representative of Turkmenistan to the OSCE. Although Turkmenistan officials did not to participate in the HDIM, human rights groups concerned with Turkmenistan were present and members of the opposition-in-exile made a statement expressing their willingness to return to Turkmenistan and participate in the February 2012 presidential elections. They also called for the OSCE to conduct a full election observation mission for those elections. In its opening statement, the United States observed that Kazakhstan had failed to fully implement the commitments on domestic reform it had made in 2007 in Madrid upon receiving the Chairmanship for 2010, that leading human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis remained in prison as a result of a trial that lacked due process, that Kazakhstan had adopted measures in a one-party parliament giving the current president continued power and immunity from prosecution for life and had held a poorly-conducted snap presidential election following an attempt to push through a referendum to obviate future elections for the incumbent. Although Kazakhstan protested the U. S. characterization of 2010 as “a year of missed opportunities for reform,” Kazakhstan’s adoption of a new restrictive religion law during the course of the human dimension meeting illustrated the very point the United States was making. In fact, of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of religious liberties was the most oversubscribed, with Kazakhstan’s new religion law generating particular criticism. As at previous meetings, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic, with speaking time at some of the sessions limited to only one or two minutes to accommodate dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Other real-time developments during the HDIM also found their way into discussions. Following the outbreak of fighting on September 27 at a Kosovo border crossing with Serbia, Serbian representatives at the meeting engaged in a sharply worded exchange with Albanian officials. (Serbia's engagement at the meeting was of particular note in light of Belgrade's bid to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2014.) The outbreak of anti-Roma rioting in every major Bulgarian town or city during the HDIM underscored the urgency of addressing the chronic human rights problems affecting Roma as well as the acute and escalating crises. Many participants also raised concern regarding continuing human rights abuses against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of widespread violence last year and in advance of Kyrgyzstani elections in October. During the formal sessions, NGOs demonstrated on behalf of Kyrgyzstani political prisoner Azhimzhon Askarov. The United States engaged fully in all aspects of the meeting, holding bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with NGOs. The United States also organized two side events. The first focused on on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Professor Louise Teitz from the Hague Permanent Bureau (an intergovernmental organization that administers this and other Hague Conventions), and Corrin Ferber from the Department of State, made presentations, with additional comments provided by Consul General Linda Hoover, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. The second event focused on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. DAS Thomas Melia moderated the discussion, which included comments by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic; Agata Waclik-Wejman, policy counsel for Google; and Nataliya Radzina, a Belarusian journalist who faces a lengthy prison sentence in Belarus. Conclusions The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting served as an important forum for the United States to raise issues of concern, both formally and informally, and to hold extensive consultations with governments, OSCE officials, and representatives of civil society. That said, this year's HDIM was somewhat diminished relative to past meetings. First, member states of the European Union appeared divided or preoccupied (or both). As a consequence, on a number of subjects – for example, the session that included migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons -- there was neither a coordinated European Union statement nor statements by individual EU member states speaking in their national capacity. This voice was missed. Second, the level of participation on the part of governments as well as civil society was reduced. This may be in part due to economic factors. But it may also reflect other factors. Prior to the HDIM, for example, Belarus and Russia dragged out the adoption of an agenda until the last possible moment, making it especially hard for NGOs to plan their participation. In addition, OSCE has, in recent years, scheduled so many human dimension meetings throughout the year that it is difficult for government and non-governmental experts to cover them all. (In addition to the discussion of tolerance and non-discrimination at the HDIM, those issues have been or will be addressed at three different ad hoc meetings, as well as one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings.) The Lithuanian Chairmanship also scheduled some meetings in Vienna during the HDIM, although the modalities call for all Vienna meetings to be suspended during the HDIM to facilitate participation by the representatives to the OSCE. Similarly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meeting overlapped with the final sessions of the HDIM. In fact, the modalities for the OSCE's human dimension activities were a dominant theme during the HDIM's closing session -- presaging the opening of discussions in Vienna on that issue held immediately after the HDIM at the insistence of Belarus. While many governments, including the U.S., believe the way in which the OSCE organizes its human dimension activities could be improved, the discussions themselves risk being held hostage by those countries inimical to the OSCE's human rights work.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

Pages