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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Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) 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  • Human Rights in Iran: Prospects and the Western Response

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director In response to ongoing developments in Iran, on June 9 the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing entitled, “The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response,” to examine the continuing pattern of serious human rights violations in Iran and consider how to formulate an effective transatlantic response. The hearing is part of a series to explore emerging threats to countries in the OSCE region. Iran shares borders with several OSCE participant States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan and also borders Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) focused squarely on the deteriorating human rights climate in Iran: “Across the border, Iran's human rights record is dismal and getting worse. The Iranian regime employs all of the levers of power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, even so far as execution. No effort is spared to silence opposition.” “Freedom denied” sums up the regime’s approach to fundamental human rights across the board, observed Chairman Brownback, “the tyrants in Tehran time and time again have shown a zeal for crushing outbreaks of free thought. Having come down hard on vestiges of independent media, the regime has pursued those who sought refuge on the Internet as a domain for democratic discussion.” Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew attention to the extensive economic ties between many European countries and Iran, suggesting that such interests influence policy toward Tehran. Smith also questioned the effectiveness of existing UN human rights structures and the need for major reform of the system. Dr. Jeff Gedmin, Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, testifying before the Commission, noted the paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “It’s changed our thinking about democracy, not only for the moral reasons, but because, as the president and others have said, the old realism, the old stability sort of policies didn't keep us safe, either. They weren’t fully moral, and they didn’t keep us safe.” Gedmin urged a more assertive approach toward Iran that would link the security approach and the human rights and democracy approach, and warned against concentrating on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Gedmin called for ensuring that promotion of democracy is part of any dialogue with the regime, while admitting that European commercial interests could complicate matters. In his testimony, Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, focused on the dynamics of democracy promotion more generally and efforts to foster related U.S. and European cooperation through the Trans-Atlantic Democracy Network initiative involving senior government officials and NGO activists from both sides of the Atlantic. He admitted that there are a variety of European perspectives on how best to encourage democratic change, contrasting “the more traditional Western European officials around Brussels and the newly arrived officials from Central and Eastern Europe….who are willing to be strong allies.” Citing the recently released report How Freedom is Won, Melia noted that broad civic engagement can speed democratic reform and that the absence of opposition violence in the struggle for change ultimately enhances the prospects for consolidation of democracy. Turning to Iran, he noted that the June 17th elections in that country “are not about filling the offices that matter in Iran.” Ms. Goli Ameri, Co-Founder of the Iran Democracy Project, addressed the complexities faced by Iranian-Americans who have thrived in the freedom and opportunity offered in the United States, and who hope that such liberties will be seen in Iran itself. She explained some of the differing approaches advocated within the community: “In my experience, there are three different views on U.S. policy towards Iran amongst Iranian-Americans. One group believes that the U.S. needs to take an active role and make regime change an official U.S. policy. The second group believes that freedom from decades of oppression can only come from the Iranian people themselves without any type of outside involvement.” Ameri continued, “In my travels, the majority of Iranian-Americans I met have a third, more considerate way in mind. They speak as concerned citizens of the United States and independent of political opposition groups or extremist political doctrines. They care about U.S. long-term interests as much as they care for their compatriots in Iran…Iranian-Americans support the promotion of a civil society and a civil movement in Iran. However, they want to ascertain that the format of support does not hurt the long-term security and interests of the United States, as well as not sully the mindset of the Iranian people towards the United States.” Ameri emphasized that Iranian-Americans, “differentiate between support for civic organizations and support for opposition groups, with the latter being of zero interest.” Dr. Karim Lahidji, an Iranian human rights activist since the late 1950s who fled Iran in 1979, pointed to contradictions that exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the “farce” that the regime is somehow based on popular sovereignty. He noted that “power itself is dual in the sense that, on one hand, there is this [unelected] supreme guide, who is kind of a Superman, who supersedes over the other branches of government” and exercises “100 percent real executive power.” Under the current structures in place in Iran, Lahidji stressed, “the underlying and governing principle, it's not equality. It is discrimination that really rules” in which “the rights of the common citizen are different from the rights of Muslims, or the rights of non-Muslims are different from the rights of Muslims. Women don't have the same rights as men. But common people don't have the same rights as the clergy.” He concluded, “Under the present constitution, any reform of the power structure in the country that would lead to democracy or respect of human rights is impossible.” Manda Ervin, founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women, focused on the daily difficulties facing the average Iranian, including rising unemployment, unpaid workers, and other hardships that have spawned manifestations of civil disobedience that are in turn repressed by security and paramilitary forces. Hunger strikes and sit-ins by university students and journalists are common and are met with repression by the authorities. Citing arrests of activists, including members of the Alliance of Iranian Women, Ervin stated, “The regime of Iran practices gender apartheid and legal abuse of children. The constitution of this regime belongs to the 7th century and is unacceptable in the 21st century.” In an impassioned conclusion Ervin said, “the people of Iran need our support, our moral support, our standing in solidarity with them. They don't want words any more. They don't trust words. They want actions. They want United States and Europe to stand together against the regime of Iran.” The panelists repeatedly cited Iranian youth and the efforts of NGO activists as key elements in building a brighter future for Iran. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Meeting the Demographic Challenge and the Impact of Migration

    By Erika Schlager, Commission Counsel for International Law The thirteenth meeting of the Economic Forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convened in Prague, the Czech Republic, from May 23-27, 2005.  This year, Forum participants from 52 of the 55 OSCE participating States met under the broad theme of “Demographic Trends, Migration and Integrating Persons belonging to National Minorities:  Ensuring Security and Sustainable Development in the OSCE Area.” [1] Stephan Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, summarized the factors that drove the meeting’s focus on demographic, migration and related population issues: “Given current demographic trends in much of the OSCE space, an increasing number of states will have to deal with migration on a larger scale.  In many countries, the decline in workforce due to aging and shrinking populations cannot be arrested or reversed quickly enough through increased fertility.  To maintain quality of life, sustainable development and support pension schemes, many countries will have to open their labor markets, and quickly.  Inviting immigrants will force states not only to integrate them, but also to evaluate their immigration policies . . . .” The Economic Forum, replicating what has been a growing trans-Atlantic public debate, gave particular attention to efforts to increase birthrates and to enhance migration from other regions that – for now – are experiencing population growth (at least relative to job availability). With respect to the goal of increasing the birthrate, no single policy prescription emerged from the discussions.  The Norwegian delegation described grass-roots driven policy changes that contributed to raising the birth rate in Norway – although it was only raised to 1.8 percent, still below replacement levels.  A number of other speakers highlighted the need to develop policies to help women juggle both careers and parenting.  In closing remarks, the U.S. delegation observed, “[w]hile we do not dispute this need, we believe that it is equally critical to keep in mind the parenting role of men as well.” Conspicuously absent from the discussion was consideration of data on ethnic groups within countries.  In several countries, for example, the demographic trend in the Romani minority differs from the ethnic majority: Romani communities often have a higher birth rate, shorter life-span and higher infant mortality.  Nevertheless, although there is a Europe-wide demographic crisis, a few public officials in several countries, perhaps reflecting widespread social antagonisms toward the Romani community, argued for targeted programs to reduce the Romani birth rate. In the discussion of migration trends, the economic and environmental factors that lead people to migrate were examined, as well as the implications of such migrations for both the countries that send and receive migrant populations.  A few countries, including Albania, Armenia and Tajikistan, spoke from the perspective of a sending country, touching on both the positive (e.g., remittances) and negative (e.g., brain drain) aspects of population outflows. Other sessions of the Prague Forum addressed population developments, including: Environment and migration; Providing services for migrants; Awareness raising and economic integration in countries of destination; Economic and social integration of national minorities; and Principles of integration of national minorities. Four side events were held concurrently with the working sessions.  They were: Migration and economic development of the sending countries (an event held with the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation); Implementing the Roma and Sinti Action Plan (economic and social aspects); The OSCE’s Anti-trafficking Program; and The Labor Migration Project in Armenia. In his closing remarks, a representative of the Slovenian Chair-in-Office (CIO) noted a few suggestions that might serve as the basis for further OSCE work, including: Developing an action plan on migration issues; Formulating a statement of principles that might be adopted at the OSCE Ministerial in December; Developing a handbook on managing migration;  and, Establishing an advisory group on migration issues under the umbrella of the OSCE  Economic and Environmental Activities Coordinator.  The CIO representative noted that some of the recommendations went beyond the OSCE’s framework and mandate.  In addition, during the discussions, a few countries (notably Turkey and France) noted that some speakers had advocated policy approaches that would not be acceptable to their capitals.  Accordingly, it remains to be determined whether a consensus will be established for moving forward on any of these specific suggestions. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. U.S. DELEGATION: Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Susan F. Martin, Professor at Georgetown University and Executive Director of the Institute for             the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University Ellen Thrasher, Associate Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration Katherine A. Brucher, Deputy Political Counselor, U.S. Mission to the OSCE Robert Carlson, Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the OSCE Susan Archer, OSCE Desk Officer, U.S. Department of State Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe  [1] (The three countries which had no representation during the course of the week were Andorra, Macedonia and Uzbekistan.)

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Lebanon: Development and Prospects

    This briefing, which CSCE Staff Advisor Chadwick R. Gore moderated, was held to discuss the latest developments in Lebanon following the withdrawal of Syrian troops. According to Sen. Sam Brownback, who was CSCE Chairman at the time of the briefing, “With the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, we have entered a whole new phase in the history of the Middle East.” The briefing’s witnesses, then, were utilized to offer unique insights on what the implications were for Lebanon’s and the region’s future. The witnesses in this briefing were Dr. Walid Phares and Joe Baini. Dr. Walid Phares was the senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as well as a delegate of the Lebanese Diaspora (WLCU) to the United Nations. Joe Baini was the president of the World Lebanon Cultural Union. A hearing that was held the same year and addressed the Russia-Syrian connection and its effect on Lebanon predated the briefing.

  • Religious Freedom in Turkey

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

  • Ankara's Efforts to Undermine the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey

    By Chadwick R. Gore Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission briefing, “The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation” was held on March 16, 2005. The ecumenical panel of experts included: Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle; and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the briefing and Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor moderated. Co-Chairman Smith described the issue of the status of the Orthodox Church in Turkey as “black and white.” Turkey’s practice of property seizures, continuous impediments to land ownership and church repairs, and the denial of legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate are all in direct contradiction to Ankara’s OSCE commitments. While the current government has initiated a broad regime of reforms, Co-Chairman Smith encouraged the government to do more. “Turkey has a proud history of religious tolerance, but current government policies appear targeted to bring about the eventual exodus of Greek Orthodoxy from Turkey entirely,” said Rep. Smith. “I urge the Government of Turkey to continue with its good reform program, take actions to support its Orthodox citizens, and to bring its laws and policies into conformity with OSCE commitments.” Archbishop Demetrios provided a detailed account of the maltreatment of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey. Since the government-provoked riots against the Greek Orthodox minority in 1955 – when the community numbered around 100,000 – the Church has been reduced to its present day remnant of 3,000 believers or less. The survival of this minority has been threatened by the continued closure of the Halki Theological School. This seminary, which was closed in 1971 on the pretext that privately run institutions were no longer legal, was the only school in the country for the training of Orthodox clergy. The continued closure means the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey is unable to train new clergy in-country. The Archbishop also detailed cases of government confiscation of other church property. The two most significant accounts of such seizure are a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing the government to take possession of an historic orphanage on the island of Pringipo, and the expropriation of 152 properties of the Balukli Hospital in Istanbul. In addition, Demetrios noted that the government does not recognize the word “ecumenical” in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thus denying the principal body of the church legal status. Rabbi Schneier relayed his experiences from multiple trips to Turkey speaking in support of the Greek Orthodox Church in crisis. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey was thought to be a model of peaceful, religious coexistence for countries of Central Asia. In 1991, Rabbi Schneier met with the Patriarch and proposed a “Peace and Tolerance Conference.” The conference, which occurred in 1994, was widely supported by various religions and seemed to set a new tone for religious tolerance in Turkey and the region. Schneier urged the Turkish Government to take advantage of the world-wide respect that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has gained as a religious institution that preaches tolerance and fosters inter-religious cooperation. In conclusion, Rabbi Scheiner admonished the Turkish Government “to live and let live.” Dr. Limberakis detailed the various religious liberty violations he had personally witnessed on several trips to Turkey. He provided charts, showing that in 1936 the Greek Orthodox Church owned more than 8,000 properties. By 1999, its holdings had been reduced to about 2,000 places and today that number is less than 500. For the properties the church retains, the government has been slow or non-responsive in issuing building permits and allowing for repairs. The Church of the Virgin Mary, which was severely damaged in the 2003 terrorist bombings in Istanbul, waited more than a year for the building permits to rebuild. Limberakis categorized this as “emblematic of the modus operandi of the Government of Turkey.” Limberakis also discussed the Balukli Hospital and Home for the Aged. In addition to having some of its properties seized, the government has recently informed the hospital that it is subject to a 42% retroactive tax dating back to 1999. He recounted how he was assured by government leaders in February 2004 that the Halki Seminary would reopen and that it would possibly be operational for the 2004-2005 school year. September 2004 came and no progress was made. In a meeting in December 2004, the issue was discussed with Turkish officials but no further assurances were given. Dr. Edgar began his testimony by stressing the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarch, not only to Orthodox believers, but to Christians around the world for thousands of years. Istanbul has retained “its place of ecclesiastical prominence among the Orthodox Churches and its place of honor throughout the entire Christian world.” Edgar lauded the Ecumenical Patriarch as the “symbolic leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.” Edgar discussed how the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which formally recognized the Greek Orthodox community as a minority in Turkey, guarantees the community’s rights. The Turkish Constitution states that religious liberties are to be enjoyed by all. Though the government has made promises, the implementation is lacking. Cardinal McCarrick agreed with others in saying that the Turkish Government greatly misunderstands the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He said, “Turkey, one would hope, would be so proud to have among its citizens and among its religious leaders one whose influence is felt not only beyond its borders, but throughout the world.” He discussed Pope John Paul II’s tremendous respect and honor for Patriarch Bartholomew, the current Ecumenical Patriarch and leader of the Orthodox Church. McCarrick briefly mentioned Turkey’s Law on Foundations which has created difficulties for non-Muslim religious communities. He reported that revenues from property transactions were often frozen and that religious institutions were often required to pay corporate taxes. Over the years members of the Helsinki Commission have been consistent and vocal advocates for the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as other religious groups experiencing problems in Turkey, be they Muslim, Christian or other. The briefing made it clear the Government of Turkey needs to take several positive steps to fulfill the Helsinki commitments regarding freedoms of religion and assembly which it has freely accepted. First, the apparent systematic expropriation of the properties of the Greek Orthodox Church ascribed as legal under the foundation laws of Turkey must cease. While such actions may be legal they are clearly wrong and prevent Turkey from fulfilling its basic Helsinki commitments. One can easily perceive sinister motives in the application of these laws regarding religious institutions—they appear to have as their goal the eradication of the Greek Orthodox from all of Turkey. Turkey needs to remove religious institutions from under these laws and free religious institutions from their burden. Second, Turkey needs to appreciate that freedom of the spirit is not a threat to the state. Allowing such freedom actually enhances one’s commitment to and love of country. The current system erodes the fundamental glue that keeps citizens proud of their lineage. And, finally, Turkey needs to look outward to the modern world to realize that the great democracies not only allow freedom of religion and assembly, accompanied by speech rights, but encourage them. Both the state and the citizen will grow better in the light of openness, acceptance and tolerance. This briefing was the first in a series of three, with the second briefing focusing on the Turkish Government’s treatment of other religious communities in the country. The last event will be with representatives of the Turkish Government in Ankara, addressing a variety of issues including those discussed in the first two briefings. United States Helsinki Commission intern Alesha Guruswamy contributed to this article.

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

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

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