Title

Georgia in 2008: Elections or Street Politics?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008
B-318 Rayburn 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
Name: 
Hon. Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Ranking Minority Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Sam Brownback
Title Text: 
Ranking Minority Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Lloyd Doggett
Title Text: 
Member of Congress
Body: 
United States House of Representatives
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Mr. Matthew Bryza
Title: 
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia
Body: 
Department of State
Statement: 
Name: 
H.E. Vasil Sikharulidze
Title: 
Ambassador of Georgia to the U.S.
Name: 
Ms. Salome Zourabichvili
Title: 
Chairwoman
Body: 
The Way of Georgia Party

This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and attended by Commissioners Cardin, Smith, and Brownback, focussed on Georgia and the recent violence within the country.

Over the last few months, Georgia has experienced considerable turmoil, with the violent confrontation between riot police and protesters in November, the imposition of a state of emergency, the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the holding of a snap presidential election in early January. Although President Saakashvili narrowly won re-election in the first-round, opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and have pledged to launch another round of protests beginning on February 15 unless their extensive list of demands are met. The hearing will examine the ramifications of these developments for Georgia, the United States and NATO, which Georgia is hoping to join.

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Relevant countries: 
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  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. 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.

  • Turkey: After the Election

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

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

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

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my congratulations to the people of Turkey for their elections held on November 3. Witnessing the peaceful change of government is a change that is significant for both Turkey's citizens and for their neighborhood. Many of Turkey's neighbors need to see that such a transfer of power is possible, for the people of these countries have for too long suffered under the illusion that they must live with their repressive regimes that maintain power through undemocratic means.   It is also important to keep in mind that the Turks, seen by some as a model for the countries of Central Asia, are not new kids on the block--former President Demirel was an original signer of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I have followed closely the developments in Turkey . With a particularly keen interest in the protection of human rights which has such an impact on the lives of individual men, women and children, I continue to be concerned about the ongoing use of torture, violations of religious freedom and threats to civil society.   Through the ballot box, the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, received 34.3 percent of the vote, giving them a clear majority of 363 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. This entitles the AKP, led by former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to govern without sharing political power. He will not be without challenges to his authority though.   On November 8, the anniversary of the death of the Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, General Hilmi, Ozkok issued a statement vowing "to protect the republic against all types of threats, especially fundamentalism and separatist activities,'' reiterating strongly the military's view of itself as the historical guarantor of Turkey's secular system. Mr. Speaker, while the transition appears peaceful, it is not without its strains and stresses, even with the potential of the military stepping in like it has done repeatedly in the past. We can only hope that is not the outcome of this transition.   As an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has accepted a broad range of human rights obligations. As head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have worked with my parliamentary colleagues from Turkey to encourage protection for these commitments. With a new government not obligated to continue the ways of the old, there is a welcome opportunity for such initiatives to be undertaken.   There are a few specific matters that I urge the incoming government to address without delay. Four Kurdish members of the Grand National Assembly have been in prison since March 1994. I call upon the new government to free Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak and remove the trumped-up charges from their records. They were convicted for, among other things, speaking their mother tongue in and out of the parliament building. As Mr. Erdogan himself has said, such convictions should not stand.   Also, past efforts to return the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kurds to their homes in southeastern Turkey have proven ineffectual. The government should take concrete steps to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their own homes in safety and dignity, which may well require the clearing of land mines and repairing of villages.   Mr. Speaker, without reciting the lengthy list of Turkey's human rights violations, including the use of torture, it is fair to say that Turkey's record of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments remains poor. While progress has been made, the authority of police officials must be checked by the rule of law. All claims of torture must be seriously investigated, no matter where the investigation leads. It is important that anyone who commits torture--especially police, the security forces or other agents of the state--must be taken to court and tried for high crimes. The Forensic Medical Association should be allowed to carry out its professional responsibilities and act without fear in its attempts to document torture. Victims of torture should be paid due recompense by the state.   I am very concerned about the continuing difficulty no-governmental organizations face throughout Turkey, particularly the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Human Rights Foundation exists in an uncertain environment, with arbitrary shutdowns and having its officials harassed, intimidated or arrested. Property has been seized and not returned.   Religious freedom in Turkey, whether for Muslims or other religious communities, had suffered from heavy-handed government involvement and control. The government allows Turkish Muslims to only attend state-approved mosques, listen to state-funded Imams, and receive religious education from state-funded schools. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regulates all of Turkey's 75,000 mosques and employs Imams, has been criticized for only promoting Sunni branch of Islam. I would encourage the new government to bring to a close its regulation of all religious institutions.   The wearing of headscarves has also been regarded as quite controversial since it is seen as a religious totem in a secular state. Women who choose this expression of religious conviction are denied the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public building, including schools and hospitals. The public sharing of religious belief in Turkey with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view is severely curbed for both Muslims and Christians. A number of evangelical Protestant groups throughout Turkey have reported being targeted because of their religious free speech, which contradicts OSCE commitments on religious liberty and freedom of expression.   Turkey's Office of Foundations has contributed its own difficulties for faith communities, as it has closed and seized properties of "official'' minority religious groups and unrecognized faith communities. Several religious groups, most notably the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches report difficulties, particularly on the local level, in repairing and maintaining existing buildings or purchasing new buildings. The continued closure of the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island remains a concern.   Furthermore, religious groups not considered "official minorities'' under the Lausanne Treaty are provided no legal route to purchase or rent buildings to meet, and are thereby forced to hold meetings in private apartments. In response, provincial governorships, after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs last year, have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant communities without any options. The lack of official recognition is an insurmountable hurdle for minority religious groups wishing to practice their faith as a community.   Turkey is at a critical crossroads. I am hopeful that the new government will take this opportunity to move forward, and craft policies which are consistent with OSCE commitments and protective of all peoples living in Turkey.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

  • Intolerance in Contemporary Russia

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

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2002

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be an effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia where corruption threatens the development of democratic institutions.

  • Human Rights and Security Issues in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. Speaker, on September 24, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on democracy, human rights and security in the Republic of Georgia. Despite the progress that country has made in the development of civil society, in the last few years much of the optimism about Georgia's future has dissipated. Last year, a Georgian official devoted a large part of his public address in Washington to refuting the notion--which was being discussed at the time--that Georgia is a "failed state.'' I reject that characterization, but the hearing offered a good opportunity to discuss the serious problems Georgia does face.                                                Preeminent among them is systemic, rampant corruption, which has impeded economic reforms and sickened the body politic. Despite lectures from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. Government, the Georgian Government has proved incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to stamp out this multidimensional problem--even though President Shevardnadze himself has called corruption a threat to Georgia's security. There are also grounds for concern about democratization. The last few elections have clearly not met OSCE standards, which raises questions about the important parliamentary election scheduled for 2003, and the 2005 presidential election that will usher in the post-Shevardnadze era in Georgia, with all the attendant uncertainties. Meanwhile, the media and NGOs have been under severe pressure. Last fall, a foolish ploy by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to intimidate Rustavi-2 Television backfired, resulting instead in the fall of the government. While society's response was heartening--thousands of people came out into the streets to defend the station--the attempt to silence one of the country's most popular media outlets indicated that some Georgian officials are still mired in Soviet patterns of thinking. Especially appalling is the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, which Georgian authorities have tolerated. Occasionally, policemen have even participated in attacks on defenseless men, women and children who have congregated for the purpose of worship. Attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice have foundered, as throngs of fanatics hijack the trial proceedings. If such travesties are allowed to continue, the country's entire judicial system is at risk of falling victim to mob rule. Though Jehovah's Witnesses have borne the brunt of this savagery, other religious minorities have suffered as well, including Baptists, Pentecostals and Catholics. Earlier this year, for example, a mob invaded a Baptist warehouse, threw the religious literature outside and burned it. How awful to think that events in Georgia today remind us of Germany in the 1930s! Georgians have a long tradition of religious tolerance, of which they are rightly proud. It is all the more puzzling, therefore, why religiously-based violence has erupted and continued only in Georgia, of all the post-Soviet states. The leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other Members of the House and Senate have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze about this disturbing trend. He has assured us that the problem will be corrected and the perpetrators arrested. Georgia's Ambassador, Levan Mikeladze, testified at the September 24 hearing and suggested that Georgia has so little experience with religious persecution that it has been difficult to cope with its sudden emergence. He too offered assurances that Georgia fully recognizes the gravity of the problem and that legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks. Alas, extremists in Georgia must not have been listening. Since the September 24 hearing, more assaults have taken place. The next day, some 15 extremists of the ultra-Orthodox "Jvari'' organization in Rustavi forcibly entered a private home where Jehovah's Witnesses and their non Witness guests had gathered for Bible study. Two Witnesses and one non-Witness visitor were physically assaulted. On September 26, in the village of Napareuli, masked men with firearms burst into a private home where meetings were underway, beating those in attendance and ransacking the house. Most striking, eyewitnesses claim the attack was led by the village administrator, Mr. Nodar Paradashvili, who beat one of the victims into unconsciousness. In a third incident, on September 29, a mob gathered outside the residence of a Jehovah's Witnesses in Tbilisi. They refused to let others enter the premises where a meeting was to be held, seized Bibles and literature from the group, verbally abusing those arriving for the meeting and assaulting at least one person. In all three cases, police reportedly refused to intervene after learning that the incidents involved attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses--as has often been the case in Georgia. Mr. Speaker, there may be many explanations for this peculiar phenomenon but there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now. Though such attacks have been one reason for Georgia's prominence in the news lately, more attention has been focused on Moscow's campaign of intimidation against Georgia. Russia has been leaning on pro-Western, strategically-located Georgia for years, but the temperature has in the last few weeks approached the boiling point. President Putin's request for United Nations backing for Russian military action against Georgia was not any less objectionable for having been anticipated. I have been watching with growing alarm as Russia ratchets up the pressure on its small neighbor. Georgian parliamentarians on September 12 unanimously approved an appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO for protection from anticipated Russian military aggression. Georgian lawmakers should know that their American colleagues have heard their appeal and stand with them. While we are cooperating with Russia in the war against terrorism, we have in no way given Moscow leave to attack Georgia, nor will we do so. The United States is now more than ever directly engaged in the Caucasus and is stepping up military cooperation with the region's governments, especially Georgia. While we have many issues of concern to raise with Georgia's Government, when it comes to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no more ardent supporter than the United States. That has been the case for the last ten years, and it will be the case in the future as well.

  • The Republic of Georgia: Democracy, Human Rights and Security

    This Commission hearing focused on democracy, human rights, and security in Georgia. The discussion reviewed the serious challenges that have been facing Georgia. In particular, the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the systematic rampant corruption which has impeded economic reforms. In addition, the Commission touched on concerning religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there have been many assaults against members of minority faiths, particularly the Jehovahs Witnesses.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

    Mr. Speaker, I am introducing today the Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal – it has the worst record of any European state. Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The fledgling democratic opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. There are credible allegations of Lukashenka regime involvement in the disappearances – in 1999 and 2000 – of opposition members and a journalist. There is growing evidence that Belarus is a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to rogue states. A draft bill is making its way in the Belarusian legislature that would restrict non-traditional religious groups. Several days ago, on June 24, two leading journalists were sentenced to two and 2 ½ years, respectively, of “restricted freedom” for allegedly slandering the Belarusian President. Despite efforts by Members of Congress, the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair, the State Department, various American NGOs, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people. One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards – in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which most assuredly did not meet democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country’s self-imposed isolation. In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states. Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails.

  • Hearing Addresses Dramatic Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Across Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22, 2002 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Shimon Samuels, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris; Mark B. Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA; Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Kenneth Jacobson, Director of International Affairs Division for the Anti-Defamation League. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing with an urgent appeal to combat increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism – including synagogue fire bombings, mob assaults, desecration of cultural property and armed attacks. He detailed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s strong position on anti-Semitism, but voiced dismay that some participating States have not taken appropriate measures to combat acts of violence and incitement. “Anti-Semitism is not necessarily based on the hatred of the Judaic faith, but on the Jewish people themselves,” Smith said. “Consequently, the resurfacing of these . . . acts of violence is something that cannot be ignored by our European friends or the United States.” In a submitted statement, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell stated, “The anti-Semitic violence spreading throughout the OSCE region gives cause for deep concern for its scope and viciousness.” Senator Campbell insisted “no longer can these acts of intolerance and violence be viewed as separate occurrences.... [Such] manifestations of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated, period, regardless of the source.” Senator Voinovich expressed consternation over the increasing number of attacks in Europe. He stated he was “saddened and deeply disturbed by reports of anti-Semitism that have taken place recently in some of the world’s strongest democracies: France, Germany, Belgium.” Senator Voinovich added, “Many of Europe’s synagogues have become targets of arson and Molotov cocktails.” Senator Clinton added, anti-Semitism “is something for which all of us have to not only be vigilant but prepared to take action.” She urged President Bush to raise the issue during his planned trip to Europe, and expressed hope that the OSCE commitments undertaken by European governments, in reference to anti-Semitism, would be “followed up by action.” Rep. Cardin, in his opening statement, hoped the hearing would “remind OSCE participating States that they have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those committing such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Cardin also expressed his disappointment that European governments had not taken a more aggressive stand. Dr. Samuels presented chilling testimony on the extent of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the failure of European governments and the international community to respond effectively. “Every Jewish building in Paris requires protection,” Samuels testified, reading from a January 16, 2002 Le Monde article. “Any child leaving school may be beaten because he is Jewish, only because he is a Jew.” Among the hundreds of attacks in France just this year, Samuels cited several compelling stories: An eight-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet when a Jewish school bus came under fire in suburban Paris. A rabbi’s car was defaced by graffiti that read “Death to the Jews.” Rather than documenting these incidents as anti-Semitic violence, the French Government identified them as a broken windshield and an act of vandalism, respectively. In effect, there exists what Dr. Samuels called a “black box of denial.” The perpetrators often go unpunished. Mr. Levin addressed anti-Semitism in the former Soviet states, urging appropriate criticism of countries’ shortcomings and recognition of their successes when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Enforcing existing laws, using the bully pulpit, outreach to the general public, furthering understanding through education, and encouraging a role for religious leaders are all important steps, Levin testified. He concluded, “It is our hope and it is our expectation that when President Bush meets with President Putin in Moscow. . . he will carry this message.” Ms. Arriaga testified that Amnesty International strongly condemns the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. “These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity,” she said. Ms. Arriaga made two recommendations. One, President Bush should raise issues of law enforcement accountability and other steps toward combating racist and anti-Semitic attitudes with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the late-May U.S.-Russia summit. Two, Congress should consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a means of leveraging discussions. Rabbi Baker made a compelling statement that further highlighted the severity of anti-Semitism. Like Samuels, Baker outlined three sources of hatred that have converged to create the situation in which Europe now finds itself. They include radicalized Muslims, incited by the scathing coverage of Israel in the Arabic press; the surge in popularity of Europe’s far right wing; and a growing hatred of Israel on Europe’s left wing. “The image of an Israeli who is frequently portrayed as an aggressive violator of human rights is quickly conflated with the Jew,” Baker testified. Taking this one step further, Baker continued, cartoonists have depicted Israeli leaders with gross physical exaggerations just as the Nazis depicted the Jewish “villain.” Baker observed the need for U.S. political leaders to approach European leaders “in measured and sober tones.” Concluding his testimony, Baker acknowledged that the U.S. has been European Jewry’s strongest ally in the fight against anti-Semitism. Mr. Jacobson’s testimony framed the issue of anti-Semitism as a national security matter for the United States. Anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments often go hand-in-hand, he said. Typically, this sort of hatred spreads from one region in the Middle East to another in Europe, in large part, because of anti-Jewish invective spewed by Al Jazeera television, anti-Israel media coverage in France, and trans-ideological Internet propaganda. Appealing for action, Jacobson recommended that Congress and the OSCE work to place this issue on the international diplomatic agenda. He also suggested the international community convene a conference on anti-Semitism. Finally, anti-bias education can help combat anti-Semitism, Jacobson said. Commissioners pledged to raise the issue of anti-Semitism at the upcoming OSCE Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting in early July. Among the initiatives discussed was the introduction of a free-standing resolution on anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region for consideration in Berlin. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses can be found on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. 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. Helsinki Commission intern Derek N. Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Commission Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

      United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA),Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism, ” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.”Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. An un-official transcript of the hearing is accessible through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at http://www.csce.gov. 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.

  • Commission Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

    United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism,” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.” Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. 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.

  • Developments in the Chechen Conflict

    Since renewal of the Chechen war in late 1999, the conflict has been characterized by brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, especially on the part of the Russian military with its greater firepower. Hundreds of Chechens, especially males of military age, have been killed or have disappeared as a result of Russian military “sweeps.” An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 civilians have been forced to relocate to neighboring refugee camps. Moscow contends that the war in Chechnya is an integral part of the war against international terrorism, and the U.S. Government has confirmed links between some insurgents in Chechnya and “various terrorist organizations and mujahidin.” The U.S. Government has called upon Chechnya’s leadership to “immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups,” while calling for “accountability for human rights violations on all sides” and a political solution to the conflict.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel Over the past two years, mob violence against minority religious groups has plagued the Republic of Georgia, a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992. A country of five million people, Georgia has seen more than its share of sectarian violence, as individuals propagating religious chauvinism conduct a campaign of brutality against other religious communities. Adding to this, police units have reportedly participated in violence against minority religious groups, or have failed to respond to attacks in an adequate fashion. As a result, a number of minority religious communities remain at risk in Georgia today as depredations continue with impunity. As an OSCE participating State, Georgia pledged to uphold freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief for all individuals, without distinction. As stated in the 1983 Madrid Concluding Document, participating States “agree to take the action necessary to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Since 1999, organized mob brutality against minority religious groups has gradually escalated, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses being a repeated target. As stated by the Department of State’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report, local “police and security officials at times harassed nontraditional religious minority groups and were complicit or failed to respond to attacks by Orthodox extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other nontraditional religious minorities.” Despite the inability of Georgian authorities to incarcerate the perpetrators, the 1995 Georgian Constitution does guarantee protection. Despite constitutional protections, over the past two years, approximately 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, mostly led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, the director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. While victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, the authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Reports give startling examples of individuals being dragged by their hair into a group, only to be pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses taking Jehovah’s Witnesses to various events have been stopped by police, and then attacked by Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob. In September 2001, Bluashvili led an attack during a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, with some of his militants brandishing firearms. In addition, Mkalavishvili, viewing himself as a pugilist defending Georgian Christianity, reportedly declared Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Soon thereafter, with the violence steadily increasing and the government declining to intervene, Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted their activities in private, and for four months no violence occurred. However, in April of this year, that calm was shattered when Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob attacked on two separate occasions private homes that were hosting meetings. Considering the brutality Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili have displayed, it is astonishing that to date no fatalities have occurred. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of these attacks, other minority religious communities have also suffered under this vigilantism. Last year, during choir practice of a Pentecostal church, Mkalavishvili’s militants raided the building, seriously injuring twelve church members. A mob exceeding 100 hooligans targeted an Evangelical church two days before Christmas 2001, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili’s mob tried to raze a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union, burning Bibles and religious materials. Mkalavishvili organized approximately 150 followers in three buses to accomplish this goal. In addition, Mkalavishvili has targeted the offices of government ombudswoman Nana Devdariani, the Tbilisi based NGO Liberty Institute, and the Rezonansi newspaper. The police have consistently refused to restrain the attackers, with only a few exceptions to note. Unfortunately, the judicial system has proven equally inept. On January 25th, prosecutors commenced legal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his lieutenants for two mob attacks, although the minor charges brought do not reflect the gravity of their crimes. Yet, since the first hearing, the commitment of Georgian officials to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili has been evanescent. The case has been postponed five times, most recently due to the prosecutor failing to appear. These delays can be attributed to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, maintaining a menacing presence both outside and inside the Didube-Chugureti District Court. At several hearings, large numbers have crashed into the court while carrying wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Obviously feeling immune from government action, Mkalavishvili has used the courtroom itself as a platform, reportedly threatening lawyers and victims through a megaphone. Evidence of these events is readily available as local television stations are usually tipped in advance, airing footage of the attacks and interviews of Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili on the nightly news. Despite fervent appeals by victims and their lawyers, the police have refused to provide adequate courtroom security. Attorneys for the victims even petitioned the court for assistance, only for the judge to decide no more than 10 police officers would be permitted. Inexcusably, the judge put no limit on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers granted access to the courtroom. In a stark contradiction, more than 200 police and a SWAT team were ordered to protect officials from the Ministry of Interior when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. In sum, the Georgian Government is proving ineffective in ameliorating the situation and protecting its citizens, regardless of their religious faith, from mob violence. Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has held meetings with faith communities to demonstrate religious tolerance. He has also issued a presidential decree calling for the Ministry of Interior to take action, but by allowing lawless bands of militants to attack peaceful gatherings, his illusory actions are speaking louder than his words. By allowing the strength of the police and judicial systems to become a farce, it will only further encourage contravention of Georgian laws. However, despite actions demonstrated to date, the Georgian Government can end the attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutality.

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed closely human rights developments in the participating States, especially as they have an impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In many former communist countries, local religious establishments have reacted with concern and annoyance about perceived encroachment of religions considered “non-traditional.” But in the Republic of Georgia organized mob violence against those of nontraditional faiths has escalated, largely directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For over 2 years, a wave of mob attacks has been unleashed on members of this and other minority religious communities, and it is very disturbing that the police have consistently either refused to restrain the attackers or actually participated in the violence.   Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. These violent acts have gone unpunished, despite the filing of over 600 criminal complaints. Reports cite people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses being stopped and attacked. The priest leading these barbaric actions has been quoted as saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Considering the well-documented frenzy of these depredations, it is only a matter of time before the assaults end in someone’s death.   Other minority religious communities have not escaped unscathed, but have also been targeted. Mkalavishvili coordinated an attack against a Pentecostal church last year during choir practice. His truncheon-wielding mob seriously injured 12 church members. Two days before Christmas 2001, over 100 of his militants raided an Evangelical church service, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili brought three buses of people, approximately 150 followers, to burn Bibles and religious materials owned by the Baptist Union.   Mkalavishvili brazenly holds impromptu press conferences with media outlets, often as the violence transpires in the background. With his hooligans perpetrating violent acts under the guise of religious piety, camera crews set up and document everything for the local news. The absence of a conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Mkalavishvili is not for lack of evidence.   After considerable delay, the Georgian Government did commence on January 25 legal proceedings for two mob attacks. However, considering the minor charges being brought and the poor handling of the case, I fear Mkalavishvili and other extremists will only be encouraged to continue their attacks, confident of impunity from prosecution.   Since the initial hearing in January of this year, postponement of the case has occurred four times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the Didube-Chugureti District Court. Mkalavishvili’s marauding followers brought wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Mkalavishvili himself even threatened the lawyers and victims while they were in the courtroom. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted in the courtroom. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has reportedly provided more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect officials of its office when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.   Certainly, the Georgian Government could provide adequate security so that its judicial system is not overruled by vigilante justice. Unfortunately for all Georgians, the anemic government response is indicative of its inability or worse yet, its unwillingness to enforce the law to protect minority religious groups.   As is clearly evident, Georgian authorities are not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths. With the ineptitude of the justice system now well known, Mkalavishvili has brazenly and publicly warned that the attacks will not cease.   Religious intolerance is one of the most pernicious human rights problems in Georgia today. Therefore, I call upon President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action to end the violence against religious believers, and prevent attacks on minority religious communities. Despite the meetings he held with the various faith communities intended to demonstrate tolerance, Georgian Government inaction is sending a very different message. Tbilisi’s pledge to uphold the rights of all believers and prosecute those who persecute the faithful must be followed by action.   As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge President Shevardnadze to do whatever is necessary to stop these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and ensure religious freedom without distinction. The Georgian Government should take concrete steps to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution.

  • Commission Staff Observes Ukrainian Elections

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission staff observed the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly contingent of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). Half of the deputies to the 450-member parliament were elected from party lists and the other half from single-mandate districts. Six parties passed the 4 percent threshold necessary to be seated in the party list vote, with reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc winning the most votes. In the single-mandate district voting, the pro-presidential For United Ukraine bloc obtained the largest number of seats. Both the OSCE and the U.S. State Department concluded that the March 31 elections indicated progress over the 1998 elections, but “important flaws persist.” In its April 1 press conference in Kyiv, the IEOM declined to prepare a final analysis before post-election procedures are concluded, and promised to return to Ukraine within a month to follow up, after watching how election authorities and the judiciary perform while tabulating and publishing results and adjudicating disputes. Positive elements cited included a new Election Law that took into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from previous elections; improvements in the mechanism to address election disputes, with clearer complaint and appeals procedures; multi-party commissions; the engagement of civil society in the electoral process; and greater access by candidates and parties to the media through TV debates, free air time and paid advertising. On the negative side, media coverage was biased and state-funded television gave disproportionate coverage to pro-presidential candidates. Other problem areas included abuses of state resources in the election campaign, interference by local authorities, and a campaign sullied by the murders of two candidates, and other isolated instances of violence, including one just a few days before the elections. Compared to previous elections, the level of pressure by government officials and workers to campaign in support of the main pro-presidential party, including direct pressure on individuals to vote for specific candidates, had significantly increased. The abuse of state resources created an uneven playing field and the main beneficiary of such violations was the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine. Despite these advantages, pro-presidential parties did not do all that well in the party-list vote, and several did not even surpass the four percent threshold required for inclusion in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Furthermore, the two opposition parties garnered more votes than expected, securing for themselves seats in the new parliament. According to the IEOM, there were also shortcomings in the implementation of the legal framework, including uneven enforcement of provisions on violations of electoral rights, the lack of deadlines, and clear definitions regarding candidate de-registration and campaigning. According to the OSCE experts, these weaknesses derived from the inability of the Rada and the President to agree on amendments to the Administrative Code, so, in effect some of the positive provisions of the Election Law could not be enforced. Another problem was the lack of reliable voter lists – outdated information, including voters who had moved to other districts, left the country, or are deceased – and the widespread practice of issuing absentee ballots to voters unrelated to their place of residence. Voter lists may be amended up until election day; however, voters cannot be included in the registers of their place of residence on election day without a judicial decision. Voters were added to registers and allowed to vote – without the required court order– in about one third of polling stations visited by international observers. Voting day During the polling on voting day, the most serious problems were violations of the secrecy of the vote and voters added to registers in apparent contravention of the law. OSCE staff observed the elections in Lviv oblast in western Ukraine. Most polling stations visited by Commission staff were run efficiently, in a calm atmosphere, and commission members seemed hard-working and dedicated. Furthermore, there were numerous party, candidate and domestic observers. In a minority of polling stations staff witnessed incompetence, chaos, overcrowding, inadequate facilities – usually premises that were much too small and had an inadequate number of voting booths. Overcrowding was responsible for the violation most frequently observed – voting outside of booths – but there appeared to be no element of intimidation here. Instead, voters simply did not feel like waiting in long lines. According to the non-partisan domestic observer group Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), 15 % of voters were unable to vote due to overcrowding or poor facilities. Also, CVU estimated that one third of precincts were not able to conduct the elections in an organized manner. Despite the uneven playing field and violations with respect to the vote tabulations in a number of single-mandate constituencies, generally, the elections reflected the will of the voters. The actual results did not differ significantly from the results of several exit polls. Results and What Next The results indicate a country divided into three broad political orientations. Our Ukraine, the center-right, pro-reform, pro-Western coalition headed by Yushchenko, took the most seats in the party-list vote. The Communists garnered 20 percent of the party-list vote, clearly indicating their continued downward trend with each passing election. For the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, they will not constitute the largest political grouping in the Rada. In third place in the party-list vote was the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which had benefitted the most from the authorities’ abuses of state resources in the campaign. This bloc, however, had a strong showing in the single-mandate district voting, and will almost certainly end up with the largest number of overall deputies, especially as their numbers will be expanded with those who ran as “independents.” No one political grouping will have a viable majority in parliament; hence, will need to make concessions with other groupings to act. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine may be compelled to team up with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine to form a government and pass pro-reform legislative initiatives. With this kind of political configuration, shifting alliances may be more likely than any kind of solid coalition. As a result, cautious moves towards economic and political reform rather than sweeping changes are more likely. Nevertheless, judging by the results, the Ukrainian people are increasingly endorsing a pro-European, pro-market, pro-democratic orientation.

  • Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Mr. President, today the Senate, with bipartisan support, moves to consider S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. I appreciate Chairman Biden and Senator Helms’ support in committee and the leadership for ensuring timely consideration of this important resolution. In adopting S. Res. 205, the United States Senate expresses interest in, and concerns for, a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process which enables all of the various election blocs and political parties to compete on a level playing field. While expressing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the resolution urges the Ukrainian government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I want to underscore commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of our nations. Mr. President, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms. A recent Commission briefing on the parliamentary elections brought together experts to assess the conduct of the campaign. High level visits to Ukraine have underscored the importance the United States attaches to these elections in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for 2004. As of today, with less than two weeks left before the elections, it remains an open question as to whether the elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. Despite considerable international attention, there are credible reports of various abuses and violations of the election law, including candidates refused access to media, the unlawful use of public funds and facilities, and government pressure on certain political parties, candidates and media outlets, and a pro-government bias in the public media. Ukraine’s success as an independent, democratic, economically successful state is vital to stability and security and Europe, and Ukraine has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. This positive relationship, however, has been increasingly tested in the last few years because of pervasive levels of corruption in Ukraine and the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze and other issues which call into question the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to the rule of law and respect of human rights. Mr. President, Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the United States Senate and remains one of our largest recipients of U.S. assistance in the world. These elections are an important indication of the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to consolidate democracy and to demonstrate a serious intent regarding integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

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