Title

Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region

Thursday, June 13, 2013
562 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington D.C., DC 20002
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Benjamin Cardin
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Alcee hastings
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Michael Burgess
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Anne Richard
Title: 
Assistant Secretary
Body: 
Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State
Name: 
Yassar Bittar
Title: 
Government Relations and Advocacy Associate
Body: 
Coalition for a Democratic Syria
Name: 
Michel Gabaudan
Title: 
President
Body: 
Refugees International
Name: 
H.E. Namik Tan
Title: 
Ambassador to the United States
Body: 
Turkey
Name: 
Dr. Zaher Sahloul
Title: 
President
Body: 
Syrian American Medical Society

This hearing will focus on the more than 1.6 million Syrian civilians who have fled the ongoing violence in their country, their impact on the countries that are hosting them, and international efforts to support these refugees as well as the more than 5 million Syrians who are displaced in their own country. The countries that have opened their borders, and in many cases their homes, to the Syrian refugees include Turkey, an OSCE participating State, Jordan an OSCE Mediterranean Partner Country, and Lebanon, a country that has been historically engaged in the OSCE process. OSCE Partner, Egypt, and Iraq have been impacted by this crisis as well.

The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2013 there will be one million refugees each in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.  After more than two years, a resolution to the conflict remains elusive and the suffering of the Syrian people continues unabated. The hearing will examine the U.S. and international response to this unprecedented and expanding humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilize the entire region. 

Relevant countries: 
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  • Resolution on Kalmyk Settlement in America

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution congratulating the Kalmyk people in the United States on the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in this country. The resolution also encourages continuing scholarly and educational exchanges between the Russian Federation and the United States to encourage better understanding and appreciation of the Kalmyk people and their contributions to the history and culture of both countries. The Kalmyks were originally an ethnic Mongolian nomadic people who have inhabited the Russian steppes for around 400 years. The present Kalmyk Republic of the Russian Federation is located north of the Caspian Sea in southern Russia. During World War II, the Kalmyk people were one of the seven “punished peoples'' exiled en masse by Stalin to “special settlements'' in Siberia and Central Asia for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. There were about 170,000 deportees. After World War II, several hundred Kalmyks who managed to escape the Soviet Union were held in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. For several years, they were not allowed to emigrate to the United States because of prejudice against their Mongolian ethnicity. However, on July 28, 1951, the Attorney General of the United States issued a ruling which cleared the way for the Kalmyk people in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany to enter the United States. In the fifty years since their arrival, the Kalmyk emigres and their descendants have survived and prospered. Moreover, they are the first community of Tibetan Buddhists to settle in the United States. While adapting to much of America's diverse and modern culture, the Kalmyk have also sought to preserve their own unique traditions. Many continue to practice the Tibetan Buddhist religion. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kalmyk community of the United States has been able to re-establish contact with the Kalmyk people in the Russian Federation. For the past ten years, a wide exchange has been developed between relatives, students and professionals. Mr. Speaker, our country is so much richer for the presence of our Kalmyk-American citizens. I urge my colleagues to join me and my colleagues Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Wamp, and Mr. Hastings, in congratulating the Kalmyk-American community on the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in the United States by cosponsoring and supporting this resolution.

  • Turkey and Possible Military Equipment Sales

    Mr. Speaker, the United States has a longstanding dynamic relationship with our NATO ally, the Republic of Turkey, and I believe that the strength of that relationship relies on forthright candor. I have willingly recognized positive developments in Turkey, and I have sought to present fairly the various human rights concerns as they have arisen. Today, I must bring to my colleagues' attention pending actions involving the Government of Turkey which seem incongruous with the record in violation of human rights. I fear the planned sale of additional military aircraft to Turkey could potentially have further long-term, negative effects on human rights in that country. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I presided over a hearing in March of 1999 that addressed many human rights concerns. The State Department had just released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices covering 1998. Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold Hongju Koh noted in testimony before the Commission that ‘serious human rights abuses continued in Turkey in 1998, but we had hoped that the 1998 report would reflect significant progress on Turkey's human rights record. Prime Minister Yilmaz had publicly committed himself to making the protection of human rights his government's highest priority in 1998. We had welcomed those assurances and respected the sincerity of his intentions. We were disappointed that Turkey had not fully translated those assurances into actions.’ I noted in my opening statement, ‘One year after a commission delegation visited Turkey, our conclusion is that there has been no demonstrable improvement in Ankara's human rights practices and that the prospects for much needed systemic reforms are bleak given the unstable political scene which is likely to continue throughout 1999.' Thankfully, eighteen months later I can say that the picture has improved- somewhat. A little over a year ago the president of Turkey's highest court made an extraordinary speech asserting that Turkish citizens should be granted the right to speak freely, urging that the legal system and constitution be ‘cleansed,’ and that existing ‘limits on language’ seriously compromised the freedom of expression. The man who gave that speech, His Excellency Ahmet Necdet Sezer, is the new President of the Republic of Turkey. Last summer several of us on the Commission congratulated President Sezer on his accession to the presidency, saying, in part: We look forward to working with you and members of your administration, especially as you endeavor to fulfill your commitments to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and commitments contained in other Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documents. These human rights fundamentals are the bedrock upon which European human rights rest, the solid foundation upon which Europe's human rights structures are built. It is worth remembering, twenty-five years after the signing of the Final Act, that your predecessor, President Demerel, signed the commitments at Helsinki on behalf of Turkey. Your country's engagement in the Helsinki process was highlighted during last year's OSCE summit in Istanbul, a meeting which emphasized the importance of freedom of expression, the role of NGOs in civil society, and the eradication of torture. Your Presidency comes at a very critical time in modern Turkey's history. Adoption and implementation of the reforms you have advocated would certainly strengthen the ties between our countries and facilitate fuller integration of Turkey into Europe. Full respect for the rights of Turkey's significant Kurdish population would go a long way in reducing tensions that have festered for more than a decade, and resulted in the lengthy conflict in the southeast. Your proposals to consolidate and strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey will be instrumental in ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity in the Republic. The Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE documents can serve as important guides in your endeavor. We all recall the pending $4 billion sale of advanced attack helicopters to the Turkish army. I have objected to this sale as leading human rights organizations, Turkish and western press, and even the State Department documented the use of such helicopters to attack Kurdish villages in Turkey and to transport troops to regions where civilians were killed. Despite repeated promises, the Turkish Government has been slow to take action which would hold accountable and punish those who have committed such atrocities. And we recently learned of the pending sale of eight even larger helicopters, S-80E heavy lift helicopters for Turkey's Land Forces Command. With a flight radius of over three hundred miles and the ability to carry over fifty armed troops, the S-80E has the potential to greatly expand the ability of Turkey's army to undertake actions such as I just recounted. Since 1998, there has been recognition in high-level U.S.-Turkish exchanges that Turkey has a number of longstanding issues which must be addressed with demonstrable progress: decriminalization of freedom of expression; the release of imprisoned parliamentarians and journalists; prosecution of police officers who commit torture; an end of harassment of human rights defenders and re-opening of non-governmental organizations; the return of internally displaced people to their villages; cessation of harassment and banning of certain political parties; and, an end to the state of emergency in the southeast. The human rights picture in Turkey has improved somewhat in the last several years, yet journalists continue to be arrested and jailed, human rights organizations continue to feel pressure from the police, and elected officials who are affiliated with certain political parties, in particular, continue to be harassed. Anywhere from half a million to 2 million Kurds have been displaced by the Turkish counter insurgency campaigns against the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK. The Turkish military has reportedly emptied more than three thousand villages and hamlets in the southeast since 1992, burned homes and fields, and committed other human rights abuses against Kurdish civilians, often using types of helicopters similar to those the Administration is seeking to transfer. Despite repeated promises, the Government of Turkey has taken few steps to facilitate the return of these peoples to their homes, assist them to resettle, or compensate them for the loss of their property. Nor does it allow others to help. Even the ICRC has been unable to operate in Turkey. And, finally, four parliamentarians, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogÿan, and Selim Sadak, continue to serve time in prison. We cannot proceed with this sale, or other sales or transfers, when Turkey's Government fails to live up to the most basic expectations mentioned above. Mr. Speaker, I think it is also time that the United States establishes an understanding with Turkey and a credible method of consistent monitoring and reporting on the end-use of U.S. weapons, aircraft and service. An August 2000 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) entitled ‘Foreign Military Sales: Changes Needed to Correct Weaknesses in End-Use Monitoring Program’ was a cause for concern on my part regarding the effectiveness of current end-use monitoring and reporting efforts. While we had been assured that end-use monitoring was taking place and that the United States was holding recipient governments accountable to the export license criteria, the GAO report reveals the failure of the Executive Branch to effectively implement monitoring requirements enacted by Congress. For example, the report points out on page 12: “While field personnel may be aware of adverse conditions in their countries, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency has not established guidance or procedures for field personnel to use in determining when such conditions require an end-use check.” For example, significant upheaval occurred in both Indonesia and Pakistan within the last several years. As a result, the State Department determined that both countries are no longer eligible to purchase U.S. defense articles and services. However, end-use checks of U.S. defense items already provided were not performed in either country in response to the standard. DSCA officials believed that the State Department was responsible for notifying field personnel that the criteria had been met for an end-use check to be conducted. However, DSCA and State have never established a procedure for providing notification to field personnel. Currently, the end-use monitoring training that DSCA provides to field personnel consists of a 30-minute presentation during the security assistance management course at the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management. This training is intended to familiarize students with end-use monitoring requirements. However, this training does not provide any guidance or procedures on how to execute an end-use monitoring program at overseas posts or when to initiate end-use checks in response to one of the five standards. In the past there have been largely ad hoc attempts to report on the end-use of U.S. equipment. Therefore, I was pleased to support the passage of H.R. 4919, the Security Assistant Act of 2000 that was signed by the President on October 6. Section 703 of this Act mandates that no later than 180 days after its enactment, the President shall prepare and transmit to Congress a report summarizing the status of efforts by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to implement the End-Use Monitoring Enhancement Plan relating to government-to-government transfers of defense articles, services, and related technologies. I want to commend House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman for his efforts in trying to make our end-use monitoring and reporting programs effective and accurate. I look forward to working with him and others to ensure that an effective and credible monitoring program is put in place without further delay. We must be consistent in our defense of human rights, and our relations, including our military relations, must reflect that commitment. For this reason, Mr. Speaker, I am not prepared to support the sale of additional weaponry and aircraft to Turkey at this time.

  • 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.

  • Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries

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

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

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

  • Bosnia’s Future under the Dayton Agreement

    There has been insufficient progress in implementing the Dayton Agreement, according to members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission)  regarding Bosnia’s future under the agreement which, in late 1995, ended almost four years of conflict in that country, marked by aggression and ethnic cleansing. The hearing witnesses called for the arrest and prosecution of those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, including Bosnian Serb extremist leader Radovan Karadzic, his military sidekick Ratko Mladic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the mastermind of the conflict.

  • 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.

  • Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned (Pts. 1 – 3)

    This hearing focused on former residents of Kosovo who were forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. Slobodan Milosevic was identified as a key figure in the displacement and the commissioners and witnesses discussed the possibility of the end of his regime.

  • Hearing Announced on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned Monday, February 28 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Room B-318, Rayburn House Office Building   Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled to testify: Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska Andrzej Mirga, Co-Chair of the Council of Europe Specialists Group on Roma and Chairman of the Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Board Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group Approximately two years ago, a decade of severe repression and lingering ethnic tensions in Kosovo erupted into full-scale violence, leading eventually to NATO intervention in early 1999 and UN administration immediately thereafter. The conflict in Kosovo was ostensibly between the Serbian and Yugoslav forces controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—since indicted for war crimes—on the one hand, and the Kosovo Liberation Army which arose from more militant segments of Kosovo’s Albanian majority on the other. As with previous phases of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the primary victims have largely been innocent civilians. Over one million ethnic Albanians were displaced during the conflict, as well as over one hundred thousand Serbs and tens of thousands of Roma in the aftermath of the international community’s intervention. Senseless atrocities were frequently committed throughout this process of forced migration. Many remain unable to return, and the recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica demonstrates the continued volatility of the current situation. Meanwhile, a large number of Kosovar Albanians, removed from the region while it was still under Serbian control, languish in Serbian prisons to this day. The February 28 hearing intends to focus on the plight of these displaced and imprisoned people from Kosovo, as well as the prospects for addressing quickly and effectively their dire circumstances.

  • Torture in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, in a matter of days President Clinton and the leaders of the OSCE participating States will gather in Istanbul, Turkey for the final summit of the century. Among the important issues to be discussed will be a charter on European security. As the leaders of our countries assemble on the banks of the Bosphorus, few are likely to realize that the torturers continue to ply their trade, crushing the lives of countless men, women, and even children. In recent days I have received disturbing reports that highlight the fact that torture continues in Turkey despite Ankara's stated zero tolerance policy. Once again, we see that those who attempt to heal the physical and emotion scars of victims of torture are themselves often victimized by the so-called “Anti-Terror Police.” A case in point involves Dr. Zeki Uzun, a medical professional volunteering his services to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey's Izmir Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Uzun was reportedly forced from his clinic by Anti-Terror Police and held for interrogation about past patients he had treated. During the interrogation, he was apparently subjected to various kinds of torture, including having a plastic bag placed over his head to stop his breathing. Dr. Uzun was held by the police for a period of six days during which time he was repeatedly abused. In March I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on human rights in Turkey in anticipation of the OSCE Summit that will be held in Istanbul, November 17-18. Experts testified to the continued widespread use of torture in Turkey, including the increasing use of electric shock. The gripping testimony included the case of torture against a two-year-old child. Mr. Speaker, I urge President Clinton to place the issue of prevention of torture at the top of his agenda when he meets with Prime Minister Ecevit and include these longstanding concerns in his address before the Turkish Grand National Assembly. If the Government of Turkey is serious about ending the practice of torture, it must publicly condemn such gross violations of human rights, adopt and implement effective procedural safeguards against torture, and vigorously prosecute those who practice torture. Instead of treating individuals like Dr. Uzun as enemies, Ankara should direct its resources to rooting out those elements of the security apparatus responsible for torture.

  • Chechen Crisis and its Implications for Russian Democracy

    This hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was held to discuss the renewed military action taken against Chechnya in response to terrorist bombings. There is extensive discussion on the ramification of Russian human rights violations for the state of Russian Democracy. Additionally, there are several arguments that the war could destabilize the Caucus region.

  • 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.

  • The Situation in Dagestan

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

  • Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo: The Views of Local Human Rights Advocates

    This briefing addressed the current situation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia and examined the role of the OSCE in bringing human rights to the forefront and attempting to hold governments accountable to their commitments in the post-Cold War era. Representatives from the Helsinki Committees in Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as the Director of the International Helsinki Foundation, were present at the briefing and spoke about the difficulties of raising awareness about human rights problem in each country with respect for the individual circumstances within the countries, and about the steps that might be taken in the future regarding increasing transparency within human rights.

  • Children's Day in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, later this week the Republic of Turkey will celebrate “Children's Day” as has been the custom every April 23rd since the early 1920s. Such festive occasions are important reminders of the wonderful blessing that children are to family and society alike. Regrettably, the joy of this celebration will not be shared by all children in Turkey.   Recently, I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission that reviewed human rights practices in Turkey, an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The disturbing testimony presented at that hearing underscored the vulnerability of children. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Harold Koh, cited the case of two-year-old Azat Tokmak to illustrate how terrible and dehumanizing the practice of torture is for everyone involved, including children. Azat was tortured, according to Mr. Koh, in an effort to secure a confession from her mother. He testified: “In April [1998] the Istanbul Chamber of Doctors certified that Azat showed physical and psychological signs of torture after detention at an Istanbul branch of the anti-terror police. Azat's mother, Fatma Tokmak, was detained in December 1996 on suspicion of membership in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Azat was burned with cigarettes and kicked in an effect to make her mother confess.” Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a two-year-old child, a baby, being tortured by police.   At the same March 18th hearing, Stephen Rickard, Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International USA, observed, “There is something Orwellian about calling units that torture and beat children and sexually assault their victims “anti-terror” police.” Mr. Rickard displayed a photograph of Done Talun, a twelve-year-old girl from a poor neighborhood in Ankara, to give a human face to the problem of torture in Turkey. “For five days, she was beaten and tortured while her frantic family asked for information about her whereabouts and condition,” Rickard said. Done was accused of stealing some bread. Her torture reportedly occurred at the Ankara Police Headquarters. “Is this young girl's case unique? Unfortunately, it is not,” he concluded. Mr. Rickard presented the Commission with a recent AI report: “Gross Violations in the Name of Fighting Terror: The Human Rights Record Of Turkey's ‘Anti-Terror’ Police Units.” The report includes a section on the torture of children.   Mr. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, testified that there are thirty-seven different forms of torture practiced in Turkey today. Addressing the torture of children, Johnson observed, “twenty percent of our clients over the years were tortured when they were children, and usually that was to use them as a weapon against their parents,” similar to the case of two-year-old Azat Tokmak.   Mr. Speaker, I urge the Clinton Administration to press the Government of Turkey to eliminate the climate of impunity that has allowed children like Azat and Done to be subjected to such gross abuse at the hands of the police. Then, and only then, will children such as these, “the least of these,” be able to fully partake in the joy of this special Children's Day set aside to celebrate their lives and those of all children in Turkey.

  • THE ROAD TO THE OSCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY

    The hearing focused specifically on the human rights situation in the Republic of Turkey, an original signatory of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. These two issues, OSCE and Turkey, intersected in this hearing due to the decision taken in Oslo the previous December by the OSCE Ministerial Council to convene a summit Meeting of Heads of State or Government in Istanbul in November 1999. The Commissioners expressed concern over Ankara’s failure to implement a wide range of OSCE human dimensions commitments, the United States labored to secure a consensus in support of Turkey’s bid to host the OSCE Summit in Istanbul. The hearing touched on how the U.S. should respond to make improved human rights implementation in Turkey a priority. Though, one year after a Commission delegation visited Turkey, the Commission’s conclusion is that there has been no demonstrable improvement in Ankara’s human rights practices and that the prospects for much needed systemic reforms are bleak given the unstable political scene that seemed likely to continue.

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • Report on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

    On October 11, 1998, Azerbaijan held presidential elections. The contest pitted incumbent President Heydar Aliev, the former Communist Party leader who returned to power in 1993, against moderate opposition leader Etibar Mamedov, political maverick Nizami Suleimanov, and three other candidates with little recognition or following. While no one seriously expected Aliev to lose, the opposition candidates were hoping for a second round. Five leading opposition politicians—Abulfaz Elchibey, Isa Gambar, Rasul Guliev, Ilyas Ismailov and Lala Shovket—boycotted the vote, unwilling to legitimize by their participation an election they believed would be unfair. Negotiations that took place in August between the government and the boycotting opposition over the most controversial aspect of the election—the composition of the Central Election Commission—proved unsuccessful, with the authorities rejecting the opposition’s demand for equal representation on the CEC. The five leaders, joined by numerous other parties and groups in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, urged voters not to go to the polls. The authorities minimized the boycott’s significance, arguing that the opposition leaders knew they had no chance in a fair election and therefore preferred to claim fraud and not participate. Beginning August 15, the boycotting parties organized a series of rallies and demonstrations to pressure the government and call for fair elections. These were the first mass street actions in Azerbaijan in years. The authorities refused to let the opposition hold a demonstration in Freedom Square, in the center of Baku, offering alternative venues instead. On September 12, protesters clashed with police, resulting in arrests and injuries. Afterwards, authorities and opposition tried to reach agreement on the demonstrators’ route, and most pre-election rallies, some of which drew big crowds, were largely peaceful. The increasingly tense relations between the government and boycotting opposition parties were one factor in the OSCE/ODIHR’s appraisal of the election.  In ODIHR’s view, these failings outweighed the positive aspects of the election, such as the election law, which all sides acknowledged as acceptable, the freedom for candidates to speak openly on television, the abolition of censorship and provisions for domestic observers. The OSCE/ODIHR assessment was that the election fell short of meeting international norms. With the OSCE assessment placing in question the official results, the CEC’s failure to publish election protocols until long after the stipulated time period heightens doubts about President Aliev’s standing. The election was largely a referendum on his five-year presidency. Since his return to power in 1993, he has not solved the major problems besetting the country. The NagornoKarabakh conflict remains unsettled; Azerbaijani territory is still under Armenian occupation and no refugees have returned to their homes. Living standards for the great majority of the population have declined precipitously, though it is widely known that a tiny stratum of corrupt officials and businessmen have become rich. Moreover, the predominance of people from Nakhichevan - Aliev’s home region - in positions of power exacerbates general discontent.

  • Repression and Violence in Kosovo and Hearing on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Perspective

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Alfonse D’Amato, discussed the dire circumstances in Kosovo, specifically Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population. In this hearing, D’Amato called for the U.S. to step up and prevent another outbreak of ethnic cleansing and achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. More specifically, to facilitate a lasting peace, the Commissioner called on U.S. leadership to make Slobodan Milosevic believe that the world would not stand by while the atrocities in Kosovo and Serbia continued. In addition, any settlement reached between Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanian leadership, D’Amato, continued, must be respected and protect the human rights of all individuals in Kosovo, without preconditions. Witnesses in this hearing discussed these human rights violations and the predicament of the Kosovar Albanians.

  • Bosnia

    During this briefing, Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia has slow and challenging due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations. The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall - have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republica Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, they state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords.

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