Title

The Long Arm of Injustice

Friday, April 27, 2018
9:15am
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2172
Washington, DC
United States
Did a UN Commission Founded to Fight Corruption Help the Kremlin Destroy a Russian Family?
Members: 
Name: 
Senator Roger Wicker
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Marco Rubio
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Randy Hultgren
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator James Lankford
Title Text: 
Body: 
U.S. Senate
Name: 
Senator Michael S. Lee
Title Text: 
Body: 
U.S. Senate
Statement: 
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Victoria Sandoval
Title: 
Criminal and human rights attorney representing the Bitkov family
Name: 
Rolando Alvarado
Title: 
Attorney representing the Bitkov family; professor of law and founding partner, Corpolegal
Name: 
Bill Browder
Title: 
Founding Director
Body: 
Global Magnitsky Campaign for Justice

In 2008, Igor and Irina Bitkov, along with their daughter Anastasia, fled Russia in fear for their lives. Having seen their successful company bankrupted in a textbook raider scheme, their daughter kidnapped and raped, and facing death threats, the Bitkovs took refuge and began a new life with new identities in Guatemala.

The family now finds itself separated, imprisoned in squalid Guatemalan jail cells, and facing nearly twenty years in prison for alleged paperwork irregularities normally punishable by a simple fine. There are grave reasons to question the role of the government of Russia and the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in their imprisonment.

“I am deeply concerned about grave injustices suffered by the Bitkov family—brutalized in Russia, now apparently re-victimized in Guatemala, where they languish in jail,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who chaired the hearing. “Evidence indicating that the government of Russia may have enlisted the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to persecute this family is troubling and must be thoroughly scrutinized.”

The hearing sought answers to key questions: Did the Kremlin enlist CICIG in its vendetta to destroy the Bitkovs? Is this another example of the frightening reach of Putin’s government and its ability to co-opt institutions designed to further the rule of law, as it has Interpol and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties? Has the government of Russia corrupted a UN anti-corruption agency? What does this teach about the government of Russia, the UN, and the global fight against the scourge of corruption?

The Helsinki Commission examined the specifics of the Bitkov case, including Russian influence on CICIG and Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office, and reviewed policy options to protect U.S. taxpayer-supported institutions from abuse and undue pressure from authoritarian governments.

Selection of Additional Materials Submitted for the Record

 

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  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    Mr. President, last Friday, May 12, marked the 30th anniversary of the oldest active Russian human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. The creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group was announced on May 12, 1976, at a press conference called by Academician Andrei Sakharov, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defense of human rights and his commitment to world peace. Formally named the “Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in the USSR,” its members sought to monitor the Soviet Government’s implementation of the historic Helsinki Accords.  At the initiative of Professor Yuri Orlov, a physicist by profession and a veteran human rights activist, the group joined together 11 committed individuals to collect and publicize information on Soviet violations of the human rights provisions enshrined in the Helsinki Accords. The group monitored fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement and freedom of religion, as well as the basic rights of minorities. The group documented evidence of systemic human rights abuses and provided reports of Helsinki violations to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the embassies of Helsinki signatory countries in Moscow. Additionally, these reports were widely distributed to Western correspondents. All together, the Moscow Helsinki Group published 195 numbered reports, along with numerous other documents, some of the cooperative initiatives with other human rights organizations. These reports played a critical role in documenting the Soviet Union’s failure to adhere to many of its Helsinki commitments. The example set by the Moscow Helsinki Group inspired human rights activists elsewhere in the USSR. Helsinki monitoring groups were founded in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Armenia, and affiliated groups were also established to combat psychiatric abuse for political purposes and to defend religious liberty in Lithuania. As time went on, more brave individuals joined the Moscow Helsinki Group in its pursuit of truth and accountability. However, regrettably, the Soviet Government had no intention of tolerating the “assistance” provided by the Moscow Helsinki Group in monitoring the Soviet Union’s adherence to Helsinki commitments. The state-controlled Soviet press launched a campaign of slander against the group. By early 1977, the group’s founders, Dr. Yuri Orlov and Alexander Ginzburg, a longtime activist who had earlier produced the celebrated ‘‘White Book’’ on the trial of writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, had been arrested on political charges. Cyberneticist Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky and retired geologist Malva Landa were arrested shortly thereafter. Orlov was sentenced to 7 years in a labor camp and 5 years in internal exile. Ginzburg received 8 years labor camp and 3 years internal exile. Sharansky was sentenced to a total of 13 years in labor camp and prison, and Landa received 2 years internal exile.   Other members followed this path into the “Gulag” or were forced to emigrate. By 1981, KGB pressure had left only three members of the Moscow Helsinki Group at liberty in the Soviet Union, and they were forced to announce the “suspension” of their work. In 1984, one of those three, Dr. Elena Bonner, joined her husband, Dr. Sakharov, in forced internal exile in the closed city of Gorky.  Tragically, in December 1986, just as the Soviet political system was showing the signs of the exhaustion that would eventually lead to its collapse, Moscow Helsinki Group member Anatoly Marchenko died during a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison. Just over 2 months later, hundreds of known political and religious prisoners were freed from the Soviet prison system. With the advent of Glasnost, the Moscow Helsinki Group was formally reestablished in July 1989 by a handful of Helsinki veterans, and several new members joined their cause. Today, the Moscow Helsinki Group continues to work to defend human rights in post-Soviet Russia. And while there have been dramatic changes in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lure of authoritarianism still has a strong appeal for some in today’s Russia. Mr. President, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, I congratulate the members and former members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, many of whom, sadly, are no longer with us, for their courage and fortitude in the struggle against tyranny. I wish the group continued success as they work to advance democracy, defend human rights, and promote a vigorous civil society.

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    Mr. Speaker, as Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, I note that tomorrow marks one of the major events in the struggle for human rights around the globe. Thirty years ago a courageous band of human rights defenders in the Soviet Union founded the “Moscow Helsinki Group,” dedicated to monitoring Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, an historic agreement containing important provisions on human rights.   When General Secretary Brezhnev signed the Helsinki Final Act, or the Helsinki Accords, on August 1, 1975 on behalf of the USSR, Soviet officials believed that they had gained an important foreign policy victory.  Indeed, there were some provisions that Soviet diplomats had sought assiduously during the negotiations among the thirty-five nations of Europe and the United States and Canada. However, the West, for its part, had insisted on certain provisions in the area of human rights and humanitarian affairs, including the right of citizens “to know their rights and to act upon them.”    With this commitment in mind, Professor Yuri Orlov, a Soviet physicist who had been involved in the defense of human rights in the Soviet Union previously, called upon several of his similarly-minded colleagues to join together in an organization to press publicly for implementation of the Helsinki Accords in their country.  Eleven brave individuals answered the call, and on May 12, 1976, at a press conference called by famed human rights campaigner and peace activist Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the creation of the “Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act,” or as it became later known, the “Moscow Helsinki Group” was announced.   The Moscow Helsinki Group committed itself to collecting information about implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the Soviet Union and publishing reports on their findings. During the first six years of its activity, they produced almost two hundred specific reports, as well as other announcements and appeals.  More activists joined with the passing months. Similar Helsinki monitoring groups were established elsewhere in the USSR, including in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. Other groups focused on specific human rights issues such as psychiatric abuse or religious liberty joined the movement. The Moscow Group became an important source of information for individuals and groups seeking assistance in the area of human rights.  Naturally, the Soviet leadership rejected such “assistance” and undertook to suppress the Moscow Helsinki Group. Members were fired from their jobs, “persuaded” to emigrate, castigated in the press, and subjected to KGB searches and interrogations. When such reprisals proved mostly ineffective, members were charged with political crimes and given lengthy sentences in labor camps of the Soviet gulag, usually with an additional term of “internal exile,” forced resettlement, typically somewhere in Siberia or the Soviet Far East.  Ten years after the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group, fourteen members had been sentenced to a total of sixty nine years in labor camp or prison, and fifty years internal exile.  Anatoly Marchenko, a founding member and veteran dissident, died during a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison in December 1986.  By 1982, the Moscow Helsinki Group had been forced to suspend its activities in the face of intense KGB repression.  But while Moscow had rid itself of some troublesome dissidents, the spirit of Helsinki was not so easily quashed. Ludmilla Alekseyeva, an exiled member of the group, testified in the U.S. Congress in October 1985 that “for victims of human rights abuses in the Eastern bloc, Helsinki remains the main source of hope...and a rallying point in their struggle for freedom and peace.” Just a little over four year after she spoke those words, the Berlin Wall fell.  The Moscow Helsinki Group was re-established in 1989.  Reinvigorated through the work of new and veteran members, it is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the Russian Federation today. Alexeyeva, who returned to Russia in the early 1990s, following the demise of the Soviet Union, serves as chair of the group.          Mr. Speaker, we would do well to heed the wise words of Andrei Sakharov when he noted, “The whole point of the Helsinki Accords is mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems.” A key to the ultimate success of the Helsinki Process has been the involvement of civil society, courageous human rights defenders like those who established the Moscow Group, willing to speak out on behalf of others.  I remain deeply concerned over human rights trends in Russia, especially the adoption of regressive laws affecting fundamental human rights and freedoms.  I join my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission in congratulating the Moscow Helsinki Group on the occasion of its 30th anniversary of dedicated service in the defense of fundamental freedoms and liberty.

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    Mr. Speaker, seventeen years ago, my dear friend and colleague, Rep. Frank Wolf, and I traveled to the Soviet Union, to visit the notorious Perm Labor Camp No. 37, located in the shadows of the Ural Mountains.  There were three camps in the Perm labor camp complex that had been set up specifically in 1972 for political prisoners and others whom Moscow considered “especially dangerous.“ Fortunately, by the time of our visit many of the incarcerated had been released and by 1991 the camp had emptied out completely in the closing chapter of the USSR. As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I can vividly recall that glimpse into life in the Soviet Gulag, both a memorable and sobering experience. I mention that trip because Friday of this week, May 12th, will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a leading human rights organization devoted to monitoring the Kremlin’s adherence to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. The Helsinki Final Act was signed by the United States, Canada and thirty-three European countries, including the Soviet Union. While much of this document was focused on military security, economics and trade, there were important provisions on human rights and humanitarian issues, such as freedom of conscience and family reunification, which the Soviet Government and the other signatories promised to uphold.  At a May 12, 1976, Moscow press conference organized by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the Moscow Helsinki Group announced that it would collect information and publish reports on implementation of the Helsinki Accords by the As might be expected, the Soviet Government did not welcome this initiative.  Members were threatened by the KGB, imprisoned, exiled or forced to emigrate. The Soviet press went into full-scale attack mode, accusing the Moscow Helsinki Group of being subversive and charging that some members were on the payroll of foreign intelligence services. I might mention that a thinly veiled version of this canard against the group was recently resurrected by a representative of the KGB’s successor, the FSB, on national television.      Arrests of members of the Moscow Group began within a year of its founding. In 1978, Dr. Orlov himself was sentenced to seven years labor camp and five years internal exile. In 1986, he was brought back to Moscow, put on a plane and deported to the United States in exchange for a Soviet spy.  Other Moscow Helsinki Group members found themselves at the notorious Perm Labor Camp complex that I mentioned earlier. For his criticism of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Dr. Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky beginning in January 1980.  His wife and Moscow Helsinki Group member, Dr. Elena Bonner, joined him there in 1984 after having been convicted of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” Founding member Anatoly Marchenko died while on a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison in December 1986,   By the end of 1982, less than seven years after the group’s founding, it appeared that the KGB and the Soviet Government had triumphed over the small band of idealists who pressed their leaders to live up to the promises made at Helsinki. With only three members at liberty and those under intense KGB pressure, the Moscow Helsinki Group was forced to suspend its activities. By 1986, only one member of the group, Naum Meiman, continued to meet with foreign visitors and Western correspondents.  Meiman’s wife, Irina, died of brain cancer after waiting years for Soviet authorities to give her permission to leave the Soviet Union for specialized treatment abroad, a reminder of the personal costs to human rights activists and their families under a cruel regime.       But the Helsinki spirit lived on. In the West, supporters and sympathizers demonstrated on behalf on imprisoned Helsinki Monitors. The cases of imprisoned or exiled Helsinki Monitors were often raised at diplomatic meetings between the United States and the Soviet authorities. In the Soviet Union itself, enlightened leaders began to understand that repressive governments may squelch the voices of dissenters for a time, but their message will heard by other means. And on February 14, 1987, less than five years after the Moscow Helsinki group was forced to suspend its activities, a small item in “Izvestiya” announced the possibility of certain prisoners being released from labor camp. It was the beginning of the end for the repressive Soviet system.        In July 1989, the Moscow Helsinki Group was reestablished by several longtime human rights activists: Larisa Bogoraz, Sergey Kovalev, Viatcheslav Bakhmin, Alexey Smirnov, Lev Timofeev, and Boris Zolotukhin. Today, Ludmilla Alexeyeva, who had been exiled to the United States by Soviet authorities for her earlier work, now chairs this respected organization. Mr. Speaker, thirty years after its founding and fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the re-established Moscow Helsinki Group remains active in speaking out in defense of human rights, civil society, and rule of law in Russia. I congratulate the members of the Moscow Helsinki Group for their achievements in the past and pledge my support for their vital ongoing work.

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

  • The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith marked the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl, Ukraine. This is not only significant because of the long-term effects that the catastrophe had in the area, but also because of the circumstances under which it took place. More specifically, as Smith did not fail to point out at the hearing’s start, the explosion took place under the veil of secrecy brought to the world by the Soviet Union. The nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl site was part and parcel of U.S.S.R. property, so the Soviet Union was able to conceal what transpired from the outside world. This hearing emphasized much needed work to be done for the residents of Chornobyl, including aid by the United States.  

  • From the Maidan to Main Street: Ukraine's Landmark Democratic Parliamentary Elections

    By Commission Staff While pundits attempt to sort out the political meaning of Ukraine’s March 26th parliamentary elections to fill the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the significance of the conduct of the elections should not be missed.  “Free and fair” was the resounding assessment of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) that also included observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Office of Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR).  This unqualified positive appraisal – a first among the 12 former Soviet republics outside the Baltics that have conducted scores of elections since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – underscores the consolidation of democratic gains made in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution following years of political stagnation. These clean March 26th elections stood in stark contrast to the fatally flawed first rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections that ushered in popular revolt sixteen months earlier.  Coming on the heels of the blatantly undemocratic presidential “elections” in neighboring Belarus a week earlier, comparisons were inevitable.  The Rada elections also followed a series of recent electoral contests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which to varying degrees fell short of international standards.  The OSCE assessment in Ukraine returns the “free and fair” formulation to the lexicon of international election observations, departing from the heavily nuanced appraisals that have become common in recent years.  This development has potentially significant implications for future OSCE observations, especially with parliamentary and presidential elections expected in Russia in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was appointed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to serve as Special Coordinator for short-term observers.  Commission staff observed on Election Day, as part of the IEOM deployment of 914 observers coming from 45 OSCE countries including Russia.  In all, the group examined voting and the vote count in nearly 3,000 polling stations.  The Commission contingent observed balloting throughout the Kiev and Cherkasy regions. The Ukrainian Government declined to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an entity discredited in the eyes of many for its effusive praise of fundamentally flawed elections elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including Belarus’ undemocratic March 19 presidential contest.  The CIS stood out for its sharply critical evaluation of Ukraine’s December 26, 2004 presidential elections that resulted in Victor Yushchenko’s victory in elections widely considered to have met democratic standards.  Ukraine has refused to participate further in CIS monitoring missions.  The two dozen Russian Duma observers present offered tempered, mixed opinions about the conduct of Rada elections.   Whatever shortcomings there were in these elections – and no undertaking of this scale is perfect – they appear to have resulted from late or otherwise poor planning.  Among these were delays in the formation of some district and precinct election commissions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, long lines and crowding at some polling stations, and lingering inaccuracies in voter lists.  On the positive side of the balance sheet were the significantly freer media and decidedly more balanced media coverage; no systematic use of administrative resources; the transparent, consensual and professional administration of the elections at all levels; inclusion of domestic, non-partisan observers; and an overhaul of voter lists.        Election day began early with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m.  There were over 34,000 polling stations.  Adding to the vibrancy of the elections was the large number of domestic observers, an indication of buy-in on the part of Ukrainians young and old alike with many affiliated with particular parties or candidates and others representing NGOs.  Upon entering the polling stations, one was struck by walls plastered with informational bulletins on candidates and parties.  Forty-five parties and blocs vied for seats in parliament.  While the international community was mainly focused on the parliamentary balloting, voting was also underway for regional and local government.  Voters were thus presented with four lengthy ballots: national and regional as well as local councils and mayoral races.  While some older voters were befuddled by this collection of papers, most voters seemed to take it in stride.  Election commission poll workers seemed attentive to their duties.  This was put to the test in the complicated tabulation process that began, once polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m., typically involving the sorting and counting of thousands of papers.  Processing the Rada results alone went into the wee hours of morning, with the three remaining stacks of ballots from other contests proceeding well past daybreak. The undeniable success of the domestic observation in these elections, buttressed by years of investment in training and support by the United States and others, raises obvious questions about the need for future international observations in Ukraine.  Has the time come to “graduate” Ukraine from such scrutiny and leave that necessary task to Ukrainian stakeholders themselves?  Many believe the March 26th elections confirm that that time has come, especially if Ukraine continues on its increasingly democratic trajectory.  The greater and more prominent role of domestic observers, also reinforces the notion that the time for Ukraine’s “graduation” has come.  Indeed, the OSCE should continue to encourage domestic stakeholders to prove themselves to their own people. The Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square that featured so prominently in the massive demonstrations by orange-clad protesters in November 2004 and the jubilant crowds following Yushchenko’s victory a few weeks later, was calm on the Monday following the Rada elections.  Strolling past this bustling area, Ukrainians were going about their routines, perhaps an indicator that the politics of democracy has moved from the Maidan to the Main Streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Whatever the pundits may declaim regarding the election results or the continuing strength of the Orange Revolution, what seemed palpable was a keen appreciation for the business of governing.  Neither a democratic revolution nor a single “free and fair” election are guarantees that the resulting government will be in a position to immediately deal with the basic needs of its people.  Overcoming these obstacles will have a profound impact on how the next government meets the political and economic challenges Ukraine faces at home and abroad.                   What we can say with confidence is that the March 26th elections were a further essential step in the process of overcoming the legacy of the past – a history marred by foreign domination, genocidal famine, denial of political and cultural freedom, and more recently political stagnation.  Today, the people of Ukraine are removing the overgrowth of thorns – an image alluded to by the great poet Taras Shevchenko – that prevented them for so long from pursuing their own pathway to a brighter and more prosperous future.

  • Floor Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    H. Con. Res. 190 expresses the sense of the Congress that the Russian Federation should fully protect the right of its people to worship and practice their faith as they see fit. This freedom is the right of all religious communities without distinct, whether registered or unregistered, and that is stipulated by the Russian Constitution and by international standards. Yet I am sorry to report religious freedom for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have been under growing pressure as local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the abilities of these groups to practice their faith freely.  As we learned at a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, instances of violence have become alarmingly common. Arson attacks against churches in Russia have occurred in several towns and cities with little or no police response. In its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department Office on International Religious Freedom notes: “Some Federal agencies and many local authorities continue to restrict the rights of various religious minorities. Moreover, contradictions between Federal and local laws and varying interpretations of the law provide regional officials with opportunities to restrict the activities of religious minorities. Many observers attribute discriminatory practices at the local level to the greater susceptibility of local governments than the Federal Government to discriminatory attitudes in lobbying by local majority religious groups. The government only occasionally intervenes to prevent or reverse discrimination at the local level.” Mr. Speaker, the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written: “Russia has now come to use as standard practice methods of religious repression that were applied only occasionally in the 1990s. Secular bureaucrats now typically refuse to authorize land transfers to Baptist churches and also forbid movie theaters or other public halls to sign rental contracts with them.” As a result, as an example: “In Moscow City alone some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist simply because they could not find places within which to worship.” I would just note parenthetically, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Larry for his extraordinary work in bringing this matter to the attention of the Congress. Larry is a tireless advocate for oppressed believers throughout Russia and Central Asia. He is facing some serious health issues now, and I would like to wish him a very speedy recovery. Mr. Speaker, in response to this growing and very negative trend in Russia, this resolution urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protections of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered or unregistered, and to end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies, as well as to ensure that law enforcement officials rigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, and to make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.” I point out that in March 2004 a district court banned the religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. For 2 years now the authorities have used the Moscow decision to harass the Jehovah's Witnesses Administration Center in St. Petersburg, with threats to “liquidate” the administrative center which could threaten local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout all of Russia. Members of the Russia's Muslim community and respected human rights activists have expressed concern regarding what they contend are large-scale fabrications of terrorism against Russian Muslims. One of Russia's Supreme Muftis has stated that random police checks and arrests are becoming commonplace throughout Russia for Russian Muslims. Let me reiterate that Russia has every right to defend itself against terrorism and to investigate and prosecute terrorists. Of course it does. Here in the United States we face the problem of combating terrorism while safeguarding civil liberties. I would urge the government, however, to strive for the proper balance in defending both its citizens as well as their civil liberties. Mr. Speaker, the religious liberty picture in Russia is not entirely dark, and it would be disingenuous to make that assertion. There are Nations that have worse records. They can be found on the list of “countries of particular concern” that is issued by the U.S. Department of State in its annual report on religious freedom around the world, so-called CPC countries like Vietnam.  However, Russia is a member of the U.N. Security Council, an OSCE-participating State, and will soon chair the Council of Europe. In addition, this year, it is the chair of the G-8 and the host of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg in July. Considering all of these positions, they should be expected to uphold basic, internationally recognized and accepted standards to protect peaceful religious practice. That is what this resolution is all about.

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res.190 (McIntyre)

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the House is considering H.Con.Res. 190 today, that urges the Russian Federation to protect fully the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards. As stated in the resolution, the United States throughout its history has sought to protect the fundamental and inalienable human right to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.  I completely agree.  The “first right” of religious freedom must be respected, and so this resolution is of critical importance.  The Russian Federation is an OSCE participating State and has freely committed to protect this right, so that all may freely profess and practice the religion or belief, either alone or in community with others.  Russia has promised to do this through numerous OSCE documents, but also in its own constitution. Article 28 of the Russian constitution declares “everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion.” Unfortunately, this fundamental right is not always observed, especially for groups that are not registered with the government.  For groups denied registration, who have had their registration stripped, or refuse registration on religious grounds, the lack of registration means they experience significant difficulties in enjoying their religious liberties.  Registration is critical for religious groups to enjoy fully their religious freedoms, as many rights and privileges afforded to religious communities are contingent on obtaining registration.  In addition to discrimination by local authorities, in the last two years there have been more than ten arson attacks estimated on unregistered Protestant churches.  At a Helsinki Commission hearing that I attended last year on problems facing unregistered religious groups in Russia, I was troubled to learn of the lack of effective action by law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice. The perpetrators of these hateful acts have gone unpunished, with police and other officials turning a blind eye.  In the worst cases, law enforcement personnel have actually been the persecutors, carrying out violent actions against individuals from unregistered communities who are only wishing to practice peacefully their faith.  In closing, the Russian Federation is urged to do more, to ensure that all may fully enjoy their religious liberties.  I therefore urge my colleagues to support H.Con.Res. 190.   

  • Promoting Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

    Mr. Speaker, I rise as a co-sponsor and in support of H.Con.Res. 190, which urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies,” as well as to “ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, as well as make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.”   As the Ranking House Member on the Helsinki Commission, I have seen how religious freedoms for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have come under increasing pressure.  Throughout that vast country, local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the ability of these groups to practice their faith freely.  In addition, instances of violence, such as arson attacks, have been alarmingly common in recent years.  The Helsinki Commission heard disturbing testimony to this effect in April of last year. The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 reported that some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities, and the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written that even in Moscow some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist because local bureaucrats refused to allow rentals or property transfers for the use of worship services. Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the religious liberty picture in Russia is deteriorating at a critical time for Russia.  Russia is an OSCE participating State and assumes the leadership of the Council of Europe in May of this year.  Russia also chairs the G-8 this year. A nation holding such positions should not be a country where members of minority religious groups need to constantly battle with bureaucrats in order to have a place to worship, or to get permission from the local clergy of another faith in order to hold a public gathering, or to wonder if their prayer house will be the target of vandalism.   Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues support H.Con.Res. 190, and I again thank my Helsinki Commission Chairman, Chris Smith, for introducing this resolution, and for his tireless efforts on behalf of religious freedom and liberty around the world.  I also join Chairman Smith in commending John Finerty of the Helsinki Commission staff for his decades of service to the Commission, and I especially thank him for assisting me in my interactions with members of the Russian Duma through our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly process.

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res.190 (Pitts)

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Con. Res. 190, urging the Russian Federation to protect and ensure religious freedom for all people in Russia.   Last year witnesses at a Helsinki Commission hearing on unregistered religious groups in Russia, provided alarming reports about the actions of local authorities towards unregistered or minority religious communities. Recurring reports of police harassment and criminal violence (that is rarely vigorously investigated) against these groups is jeopardizing the status of religious liberties in Russia.   Adding to the concerns are recent reports that the Duma is preparing legislation to regulate the activities of missionaries. Reportedly, the bill would create administrative and criminal penalties for “unlawful missionary work connected with provoking religious extremism.” There was also speculation in the Russian media that the Justice Ministry was looking to tighten the rules for granting visas to foreign missionaries. Furthermore, there are also reports that the Duma is considering an amendment to existing legislation that would require re-registration of registered religious organizations.   Mr. Speaker, these initiatives make evident that some people in the Russian government believe the role of the state is to control religious freedom rather than to facilitate and protect free expression. Officials know that it is very difficult for unregistered religious organizations to function effectively and freely—they know that limiting the actions of missionaries and restricting the distribution of visas would be the best option to control the growth of religious organizations.   The Congress must send a clear signal to President Putin and other Russian officials that religious freedom is a critically important issue and that we expect Russia to uphold its own constitution and its international commitments and protect the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. This resolution specifically urges Russia to fully protect religious freedoms for all religious communities, whether registered or unregistered, and to prevent the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies. I strongly urge my colleagues to support H. Con. Res. 190.

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Con. Res. 190, urging the Russian Federation to protect and ensure religious freedom for all people in Russia. Last year witnesses at a Helsinki Commission hearing on unregistered religious groups in Russia, provided alarming reports about the actions of local authorities towards unregistered or minority religious communities. Recurring reports of police harassment and criminal violence (that is rarely vigorously investigated) against these groups is jeopardizing the status of religious liberties in Russia. Adding to the concerns are recent reports that the Duma is preparing legislation to regulate the activities of missionaries. Reportedly, the bill would create administrative and criminal penalties for “unlawful missionary work connected with provoking religious extremism.” There was also speculation in the Russian media that the Justice Ministry was looking to tighten the rules for granting visas to foreign missionaries. Furthermore, there are also reports that the Duma is considering an amendment to existing legislation that would require re-registration of registered religious organizations. Mr. Speaker, these initiatives make evident that some people in the Russian government believe the role of the state is to control religious freedom rather than to facilitate and protect free expression. Officials know that it is very difficult for unregistered religious organizations to function effectively and freely—they know that limiting the actions of missionaries and restricting the distribution of visas would be the best option to control the growth of religious organizations. The Congress must send a clear signal to President Putin and other Russian officials that religious freedom is a critically important issue and that we expect Russia to uphold its own constitution and its international commitments and protect the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. This resolution specifically urges Russia to fully protect religious freedoms for all religious communities, whether registered or unregistered, and to prevent the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies. I strongly urge my colleagues to support H. Con. Res. 190.

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the House is considering H.Con.Res. 190 today, that urges the Russian Federation to protect fully the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards. As stated in the resolution, the United States throughout its history has sought to protect the fundamental and inalienable human right to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.  I completely agree.  The “first right” of religious freedom must be respected, and so this resolution is of critical importance.   The Russian Federation is an OSCE participating State and has freely committed to protect this right, so that all may freely profess and practice the religion or belief, either alone or in community with others.  Russia has promised to do this through numerous OSCE documents, but also in its own constitution. Article 28 of the Russian constitution declares “everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion.” Unfortunately, this fundamental right is not always observed, especially for groups that are not registered with the government.  For groups denied registration, who have had their registration stripped, or refuse registration on religious grounds, the lack of registration means they experience significant difficulties in enjoying their religious liberties.  Registration is critical for religious groups to enjoy fully their religious freedoms, as many rights and privileges afforded to religious communities are contingent on obtaining registration.  In addition to discrimination by local authorities, in the last two years there have been more than ten arson attacks estimated on unregistered Protestant churches.  At a Helsinki Commission hearing that I attended last year on problems facing unregistered religious groups in Russia, I was troubled to learn of the lack of effective action by law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice. The perpetrators of these hateful acts have gone unpunished, with police and other officials turning a blind eye.  In the worst cases, law enforcement personnel have actually been the persecutors, carrying out violent actions against individuals from unregistered communities who are only wishing to practice peacefully their faith.   In closing, the Russian Federation is urged to do more, to ensure that all may fully enjoy their religious liberties.  I therefore urge my colleagues to support H.Con.Res. 190. 

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

    Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Belarusian strongman's power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country's constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists.

  • European Court Rules in Critical Czech Desegregation Case; Equal Access to Education for Roma Remains Goal

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law Summary In 1999, several Romani students from the Czech Republic brought a suit before the European Court on Human Rights alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated European human rights law.  On February 7, 2006, a seven-member Chamber of the Court held that the applicants failed to prove that their placement in “special schools” was the singular result of intentional racial discrimination.  The plaintiffs have 3 months to appeal to a 17-member Grand Chamber.  Elsewhere in Central and Southern Europe, Roma are also pursuing efforts to achieve equal access to education. Background During the Communist-era, many East European countries developed a practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities, called “special schools.”  Critics have argued that this practice constitutes, de facto, a form of segregating Roma into a separate and inferior school system. The Ostrava Case “Unsatisfactory performance of Gypsy children in Czech and Slovak schools is often “solved” by transferring the children to special schools for the mentally retarded. During the school year of 1970-71 in the Czech lands alone, about 20% of Gypsy children attended these special schools as against only 3% of children from the rest of the population. According to psychological tests the great majority of these children should not be in these schools. This indiscriminate transferring of Gypsy children to these special schools, which is the general practice, reflects unfavorably on the whole Gypsy population. A child who “graduates” from such a school has the same standing as a child who did not finish his basic schooling. Access to better employment opportunities is closed. Even art schools are closed to them, while persons with special musical talent - not uncommon among Gypsies - are shunned. Musical and dance groups are interested in these talented persons, however, they cannot employ them. “The main reason for the unsatisfactory performances of Gypsy children is the fact that there are no schools which teach Gypsy culture and try to develop it. The powers that be are, on the contrary, doing everything to suppress Gypsy culture and the media assists in this destruction by spreading lies, such as that Gypsy culture does not exist. Gypsy children are forced to attend schools where they are taught in the Czech or Slovak language and where, from the pictures in the primer, they get the impression that they are foreign, that they are second class citizens, without their own language, without a past and without a future.”   - Situation of the Gypsies in Czechoslovakia, Charter 77 Document No. 23, issued December 13, 1978 by Vaclav Havel and Dr. Ladislav Hejdanek, Charter 77 Spokesmen In 1999, a group of Roma from Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third largest city, brought suit against their government, alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated Czech national and constitutional law, as well as European human rights law. At the time the case was brought, a number of Czech newspapers ran editorials indirectly espousing some form of school segregation.  For example, one leading newspaper ran an article arguing that educating a “future plumber” and a “future brain surgeon” together ultimately benefits neither one. On October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim.  In the view of the court, it did not have the jurisdiction to address the broad pattern of discriminatory treatment alleged – allegations supported by compelling statistical evidence but no smoking gun that proved an explicit intent to discriminate against the individual plaintiffs. Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court’s perceived jurisdictional inability to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs, the Court recognized “the persuasiveness of the applicants’ arguments” and “assume[d] that the relevant administrative authorities of the Czech Republic shall intensively and effectively deal with the plaintiffs’ proposals.” Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the students then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, an organ of the Council of Europe. In connection with that suit, Case of D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, the Czech Government acknowledged that, nationwide, 75 percent of Czech Roma were channeled into special schools.  In some special schools, Roma made up 80-90 percent of the student body.  The Czech Government also acknowledged that “Roman[i] children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in such schools” for children with mental disability. In opposing the plaintiffs’ claims, the Czech Ministry of Education attempted to deflect an examination of whether their placement in schools for the mentally disabled was the result of racial bias by claiming (among other things) that Romani parents have a “negative attitude” toward education. This assertion was particularly ironic, given the lengths to which the plaintiffs’ parents were willing to go – all the way to Europe’s highest human rights court – to ensure their children could get a good education. “In countries with substantial Romani communities, it is commonplace for Romani children to attend schools that are largely comprised of Roma or to be relegated to Roma classes within mixed schools. In its most pernicious form, segregation is achieved by routing Romani children into ‘special schools’ – schools for the mentally disabled – or into classes for mentally disabled children within regular schools”. - Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area, issued by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, 2000 Moreover, this broad sweeping generalization, originally made before the Czech Constitutional Court, was viewed by some as confirmation of racial prejudice in the Czech education system. Remarkably, it was repeated without comment in the European Court’s decision.  Putting aside the bias reflected in the Ministry of Education’s assertion, there is no evidence demonstrating that a parent’s “negative attitude” results in actual mental disability in his or her children. Meanwhile, the Czech Government adopted some changes to the law on special schools which came into effect on January 1, 2005 (Law No. 561/2004) and on February 17, 2005 (Decree No. 73/2005).  To some degree, these changes were reactive to the issues raised by the Ostrava suit, including the criticisms of the procedures by which parental consent was purportedly obtained for the placement of children in special schools.  Nevertheless, non-governmental groups monitoring this situation argue that the changes have not dismantled an education system that remains effectively segregated and that the changes fail to provide redress or damages for the Romani plaintiffs from Ostrava who were denied equal access to mainstream schools. The case in Strasbourg was heard by a seven-member Chamber of European Court and resulted in a 6-1 decision.  Significantly, the President of the Chamber issued a concurring decision, in which he stated that some of the arguments of the dissenting judge were very strong.  He also suggested that in order to hold that there had been a violation of the Convention in this case, the Chamber might have to depart from previous decisions of the Court.  In his view, overturning or deviating from past rulings is a task better undertaken by the Grand Chamber of the Court.  The applicants have three months to decide whether to appeal this decision to a 17-member Grand Chamber. While the underlying issues which led Roma to bring this suit still persist, there are many indications that prejudices against Roma in the Czech Republic have diminished since the Ostrava case was first heard by the Czech Constitutional Court.  For example, when the European Court issued its holding in the case, a leading daily paper wrote that although the Czech Government “won” its case, there were still significant problems for Roma in the Czech educational system that needed to be addressed. Limitations of the European Court Decision Significantly, there were several issues the court did not address. The suit in question was brought under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the non-discrimination provision of the Convention, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which provides for a right to education.  In essence, discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity or social origin is prohibited. When interpreting this standard, the Court referred to previous cases in which it held that States party to the European Convention “enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a difference in treatment.”  The Court also reiterated “that the setting and planning of the curriculum falls in principle within the competence of the Contracting States.”  In short, while European Convention norms prohibit discrimination in education, States still have considerable discretion in designing their education programs.  But while the Court reiterated this jurisprudence, it failed to indicate what is meaningfully left of Articles 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2?  What threshold must be crossed before the court will actually determine that alleged discrimination takes a case out of the discretion of the States party to the Convention and brings it within the reach of the Court? Two other issues the court did not address do not relate so much to the court’s own jurisprudence, but from parallel developments in European Union norms in the field of non-discrimination. “The European Parliament [ . . . c]alls on Member States in which Roma children are segregated into schools for the mentally disabled or placed in separate classrooms from their peers to move forward with desegregation programmes within a predetermined period of time, thus ensuring free access to quality education for Roma children and preventing the rise of anti-Romani sentiment amongst school-children.” - European Parliament resolution on the situation of the Roma in the European Union, adopted April 25, 2005 In 2000, the European Union adopted “Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin,” more commonly known as the “Race Directive.”  The directive is binding on all current 25 Member States of the European Union and is intended to ensure a minimum level of protection from race discrimination in all EU countries in several areas, including education.  (The fifteen countries that were EU members as of 2000 had until July 19, 2003, to transfer the directive into national law; applicant countries had until the date of their accession.  The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 but, in fact, it has not yet adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.  Legislation was introduced in the parliament in late 2005, but the draft was narrowly rejected by the Senate in January 2006.) The Race Directive requires Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that, among other things, requires anti-discrimination legislation to include both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination, which is at issue in the Ostrava case, is defined by the directive as occurring when “an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are proportionate and necessary.”  The legislation should also shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the plaintiffs to the defendants once a prima facie case of discrimination has been made. Thus, the EU Race Directive anticipates exactly the kind of case the plaintiffs in the Ostrava case presented.  Under the provisions of the directive, the overwhelming pattern of disparate treatment of Roma demonstrated by the plaintiffs should shift the burden of proof from them to the Czech Government.  (Notably, the directive was not applicable to the Czech Republic at the time of the Constitutional Court’s decision.) While the European Court of Human Rights does not adjudicate compliance with or implementation of the EU Race Directive, the Court’s overall approach to the Ostrava case appears to lag behind the legal developments in the European Union and, potentially, render the European Court a less effective vehicle for addressing discrimination than other existing or emerging tools in Europe. Regional Issues and Trends On November 27, 2003, the OSCE Permanent Council adopted “Decision No. 566, Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.”  In particular, that Action Plan calls on the participating States to “[e]nsure that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education and provides effective remedies for violations of such legislation.”  In addition, participating States were urged to: 73.  Develop and implement comprehensive school desegregation programmes aiming at:  (1) discontinuing the practice of systematically routing Roma children to special schools or classes (e.g., schools for mentally disabled persons, schools and classes exclusively designed for Roma and Sinti children); and  (2) transferring Roma children from special schools to mainstream schools. 74. Allocate financial resources for the transfer of the Roma children to mainstream education and for the development of school support programmes to ease the transition to mainstream education. Thus, all OSCE participating States, including the Czech Republic, have agreed, in principle, to the goal of integrating Roma in education and eradicating de facto segregated school where it may exist. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the experiences of five countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia).  The report describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with existence of Romani ghettos; having mixed-population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” In addition to the countries examined in Stigmata, the European Roma Rights Center has reported on unequal access to education for Roma in other countries, including Greece and Denmark.  In a 2004 Danish case, Roma were placed into separate classes in one particular locality.  Following complaints from a Romani non-governmental organization, the Danish Ministry of Education intervened to end this practice.  In the case of Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported on several localities where Roma are denied equal access to schools.  These cases remain unresolved. In Hungary and Bulgaria, some efforts to litigate this issue have made their way into the courts, with mixed results. “Education is a prerequisite to the participation of Roma and Sinti people in the political, social and economic life of their respective countries on a footing of equality with others. Strong immediate measures in this field, particularly those that foster school attendance and combat illiteracy, should be assigned the highest priority both by decision-makers and by Roma and Sinti communities. Educational policies should aim to integrate Roma and Sinti people into mainstream education by providing full and equal access at all levels, while remaining sensitive to cultural differences.” - OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area, 2003 In October 2004, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision ordering a primary school and the local government of Tiszatarjan to pay damages to nine Romani families whose children were wrongly placed in “special schools” between 1994 and 1999.  In June 2005, a court dismissed a case brought against the Miskolc Municipality alleging city-wide segregation.  A Hungarian non-governmental organization which assisted in filing the suit, Chance for Children Foundation, is appealing.  Other legal disputes continue to surround a self-proclaimed “private school” in Jaszladany (established at least in part with municipal resources).  A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found the “private school” violated the law and contributed to racial segregation. Notwithstanding some recent government initiatives to address this problem in Hungary, desegregation initiatives have met resistance in significant quarters.  Former Prime Minister Victor Orban (who also heads of Hungary’s largest opposition party, FIDESZ), argued in a speech on January 29, 2006, that integrated schooling should not be mandatory, but left to local officials and parents to “choose” or reject.  In fact, the greatest resistance to integrated schooling often comes at the local level. In Bulgaria – where the government continues to deal with Roma through an office for “demographic issues” – efforts to address the causes of segregation have largely originated with the non-governmental community.  Particularly promising results have been achieved in Viden, where community-based efforts, supported by international non-governmental organizations, have resulted in integrating Roma and ethnic Bulgarian school children.  Efforts to replicate that program elsewhere, however, have not been embraced by the government. In addition, in a landmark holding, the Sofia District Court held on October 25, 2005, that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia violated the prohibition of racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and international law.   In welcoming that ruling, the European Roma Rights Center declared, “After a period of 51 years, the soul of Brown v. Board of Education has crossed the Atlantic.”

  • Attack on Chasidic Synagogue in Moscow

    Mr. President, on January 11 of this year, at the Moscow Headquarters and Synagogue of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union, a so-called "skinhead" attacked worshippers with a knife and wounded eight persons. I know that all Members of this body deplore this terrible crime and send our prayers and best wishes to all those injured during the assault. The victims of this senseless violence include Rabbi Isaac Kogan, who testified before an April 6 Helsinki Commission hearing I convened last year concerning Chabad's ongoing efforts to retrieve the Schneerson Collection of sacred Jewish texts from Moscow. The Rabbi is a noted refusenik who was appointed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, to be part of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union. In addition to nurturing Judaism throughout the former USSR, that organization has fought tirelessly to win the return of the Schneerson Collection to its rightful owners in the United States. The entire U.S. Senate has twice petitioned the Russian leadership to release those holy texts.  As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have followed closely the issue of anti-Semitism and extremism around the world. Unfortunately, the brutal attack at the Agudas Chasidei Chabad synagogue fits what appears to be a rising trend of attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in Russia.  Let me present one disturbing statistic. According to an article in the Moscow News last year, the Moscow Human Rights Center reports that Russia has up to 50,000 skinheads with active groups in 85 cities. This is opposed to an estimated 70,000 skinhead activists throughout the rest of the world.  To make matters worse, there are indications that the police themselves are sometimes involved in racist attacks. Earlier this month, a Russian newspaper carried a story about the Moscow police assault of a passerby who happened to be from the North Caucasus. According to persons from the North Caucasus, such beatings are a common occurrence.  What was uncommon was the fact that the gentleman in question is a colonel in the Russian Army and an internationally known cosmonaut. Let me be clear, anti-Semitism, bigotry, extremist attacks and police brutality are not found only in Russia. Our own country has not been immune to these challenges to rule of law and human dignity.  Nevertheless, as Russia accedes to the chairmanship of the G-8 and the Council of Europe, there will be increased scrutiny of its commitment to internationally recognized standards of human rights practices. I urge the authorities in Russia to do everything in their power to combat ethnic and religious intolerance and safeguard the religious freedom and physical safety of all it citizens.

  • Remembering the Holocaust While Fighting Anti-Semitism

    Mr. Speaker, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps is often selected as the day to honor those murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz before the survivors were liberated on January 27, 1945. Appropriately, each January 27, individuals and governments around the world pause to remember those individuals murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Also known as the Sho'ah, Hebrew for "calamity," the Holocaust witnessed the death of six million Jews by the Nazi killing machine, many of them in concentration camps or elsewhere in a web that stretched throughout the heart of Europe. Millions of individuals, political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, those with disabilities, and others including entire Romani families, also perished at the hands of the Nazis. Mr. Speaker, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps is often selected as the day to honor those murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz before the survivors were liberated on January 27, 1945. Appropriately, each January 27, individuals and governments around the world pause to remember those individuals murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Also known as the Sho'ah, Hebrew for "calamity," the Holocaust witnessed the death of six million Jews by the Nazi killing machine, many of them in concentration camps or elsewhere in a web that stretched throughout the heart of Europe. Millions of individuals, political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, those with disabilities, and others including entire Romani families, also perished at the hands of the Nazis. Holocaust Remembrance Day also celebrates those brave souls who faced unimaginable horrors and lived to tell of their experiences. In a historic first, late last year the United Nations designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Initial drafters of the resolution, Australia, Canada, Israel, Russia and the United States, were joined by 100 nations in sponsoring the resolution in the General Assembly. Other international organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have done much to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are taught in schools across Europe, including the former Soviet Union. In addition, the Belgian Chair-in-Office of the OSCE held a commemorative event for Holocaust victims on January 27 in Brussels. Unfortunately, while the Holocaust is rightly remembered, its lessons have yet to be fully learned. Early on, the world said "Never Again" to genocide, only to allow genocide to happen again in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s, and in Darfur today. The establishment of international tribunals to seek justice in response to these crimes may indicate some progress, but the best way to honor the lives of those who died during the Holocaust or in subsequent genocides would be to have the resolve to take decisive action to try to stop the crime in the first place.  Some heads of state refuse to recognize even the existence of the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, made the outrageous claim on December 14 that Europeans had "created a myth in the name of Holocaust." Showing his virulent anti-Semitic nature, two months earlier in October, he said Israel is "a disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." While Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic hate is shocking, other hate mongers have physically attacked Jews. In early January, a knife-wielding skinhead shouting "I will kill Jews" and "Heil Hitler" burst into a Moscow synagogue and stabbed at least eight worshippers. A copycat attack followed in Rostov-on-Don, with the attacker thankfully being stopped inside the synagogue before anyone was hurt. As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have worked over the past four years with other Members of Congress and parliamentarians from around the world to fight anti-Semitism. I was pleased to have either authored or cosponsored three resolutions at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which condemned anti-Semitism, while also being a principal sponsor to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Internationally, the OSCE has held three international meetings focusing on anti-Semitism and has pledged to hold another major conference in Romania in 2007.  Mr. Speaker, while our struggle continues, we have made progress, moving governments and international organizations to begin to act. To reverse Edmund Burke's truism, what is necessary for the triumph of good over evil is for good men and women to take action. ls who faced unimaginable horrors and lived to tell of their experiences. In a historic first, late last year the United Nations designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Initial drafters of the resolution, Australia, Canada, Israel, Russia and the United States, were joined by 100 nations in sponsoring the resolution in the General Assembly. Other international organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have done much to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are taught in schools across Europe, including the former Soviet Union. In addition, the Belgian Chair-in-Office of the OSCE held a commemorative event for Holocaust victims on January 27 in Brussels. Unfortunately, while the Holocaust is rightly remembered, its lessons have yet to be fully learned. Early on, the world said "Never Again" to genocide, only to allow genocide to happen again in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s, and in Darfur today. The establishment of international tribunals to seek justice in response to these crimes may indicate some progress, but the best way to honor the lives of those who died during the Holocaust or in subsequent genocides would be to have the resolve to take decisive action to try to stop the crime in the first place.  Some heads of state refuse to recognize even the existence of the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, made the outrageous claim on December 14 that Europeans had "created a myth in the name of Holocaust." Showing his virulent anti-Semitic nature, two months earlier in October, he said Israel is "a disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." While Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic hate is shocking, other hate mongers have physically attacked Jews. In early January, a knife-wielding skinhead shouting "I will kill Jews" and "Heil Hitler" burst into a Moscow synagogue and stabbed at least eight worshippers. A copycat attack followed in Rostov-on-Don, with the attacker thankfully being stopped inside the synagogue before anyone was hurt. As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have worked over the past four years with other Members of Congress and parliamentarians from around the world to fight anti-Semitism. I was pleased to have either authored or cosponsored three resolutions at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which condemned anti-Semitism, while also being a principal sponsor to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Internationally, the OSCE has held three international meetings focusing on anti-Semitism and has pledged to hold another major conference in Romania in 2007.  Mr. Speaker, while our struggle continues, we have made progress, moving governments and international organizations to begin to act. To reverse Edmund Burke's truism, what is necessary for the triumph of good over evil is for good men and women to take action.

  • Remarks by Benjamin L. Cardin Urging the Russian Federation to Withdraw Legislation Restricting the Establishment of Nongovernmental Organizations

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support and as a cosponsor of H. Con. Res. 312, to urge the Russian Government to alter or withdraw the proposed legislation affecting nongovernmental organizations, NGO's, operating in Russia. The Russian legislation would severely restrict foreign assistance to NGO's in Russia and would also force existing Russian NGO's to reregister with the government.   The draft Russian bill raises a number of serious concerns, and may violate Russia's commitments to the OSCE. Several hundred thousand nongovernmental organizations currently operate in Russia, representing all sections of society. By forcing all NGO's to reregister, the Russian Government will have the power to subjectively deny registration to some organizations and limit the activities of others. This legislation strikes at the heart of basic democratic freedoms: the right of individuals to freely associate and participate in society. Some of the provisions in this bill would also increase the oversight of financial auditing of NGO's, which the government could use to place restrictions on opposition groups.   Just months ago, the Russian President Vladimir Putin outlawed any foreign funding of political parties in Russia. This legislation goes further and affects human rights groups and other NGO's who are only seeking to improve the nature of Russia's civil society. Foreign organizations would be required to register as legal Russian entities, seriously hindering their attempts to promote democracy and accountability in Russia. Many organizations which have conducted prominent and important human rights work in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union would see their activities curtailed under the Russian bill, which may lead to the partial or complete closure of critical offices inside of Russia.   Last month, the State Duma in Russia approved the first reading of the bill by 370 to 18 votes, despite more than 1,000 NGO's appealing for the Duma to reject it. This Friday, December 16, the Duma has scheduled a second reading of the bill. As the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission, I have worked closely with Commission Cochairman Chris Smith in opposition to this bill. The Helsinki Commission sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter in November--which I cosigned--to the Chairman of the Russian State Duma urging the rejection of this legislation. In particular, the letter emphasized the importance that nongovernmental organizations play in civil society and in fulfilling Russia's obligations as a democratic state and member of the international community.   Russia has made great strides since the end of the Cold War. There were serious concerns that Russia would not have a smooth transition to a fully functioning democracy. I am gravely concerned about recent developments in Russia. President Putin himself has said that “modern Russia's greatest achievement is the democratic process (and) the achievements of civil society." I therefore call on President Putin and the State Duma to be true to their word and reject this bill, to reaffirm their commitment to the democratic process and civil society.

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