Helsinki Commission Briefing Sheds Light on Russia's Human Rights SituationWednesday, June 30, 2004
By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor On June 7, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing with four prominent Russian human rights activists to examine the state of human rights and civil liberties in the Russian Federation. Entitled “Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?,” the briefing covered such topics as elections, Chechnya, religious liberty, media freedom and the overall functioning of the legislative and judicial branches. The briefing was a follow up to the Commission’s May 20th hearing on “Human Rights in Putin’s Russia.” The briefing panel included Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group and President of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. Other participants were Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Fund; and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Expertise. Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ronald J. McNamara began the briefing with a moment of silence to honor the passing of President Ronald Reagan, a “stalwart supporter of freedom and human rights.” McNamara noted the timeliness of the briefing given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s U.S. visit to Sea Island, Georgia, for the G-8 Summit. He stated that despite Putin’s claim that “nothing will stop Russia” in its quest for economic and democratic freedom, some of Putin’s comments in his State of the Federation address had raised concerns over the Kremlin’s commitment to promote civil society in Russia. Putin’s accusations of NGOs seeking outside funding and not addressing serious issues were particularly troubling insofar as they may signal the beginning of a crackdown against NGOs in Russia. Mr. McNamara also referenced the growing problem of “spy mania,” with potentially chilling implications for Russia’s academics and scientific community. Arseni Roginsky began his remarks by stating that the trend in Russia over the past few years has been marked by “the efforts of the powers-that-be to destroy the isolated islands of independence and democracy that still continue to exist in Russia.” Specifically, Roginsky pointed to the new Russian law limiting public demonstrations and a new law on referenda. In sentiments echoed by other panelists, he decried the emergence of “made-to-order” elections controlled almost exclusively by the Putin administration and moneyed interests. Ms. Alexeeva later reiterated the concern about the changes on referenda, noting that even if the requisite two million signatures can be garnered, under the new law she believes mid-level Russian bureaucrats will be able to stop indefinitely the progress of a referendum. While the Putin administration has been quick to point to the Russian Constitution and its promise of free speech, Roginsky and panelist Alexei Simonov both claimed that this de jure right does not exist in reality. According to Simonov, while Russians may be legally entitled to say or print controversial statements, these sentiments are ignored by the powers-that-be. He contended that “[freedom of speech] means not only to shout out but to be heard.” According to Simonov, there are only four independent-minded Russian magazines with a combined circulation of around 500,000. Smaller such newspapers exist as well, but the costs of protecting against defamation suits, which number more than 50 per month according to Simonov, make it increasingly hard for them to stay in business. He also stated that most editorials in newspapers are written by what amount to essentially local bureaucrats; most newspapers rely on government or private funding, making them hardly free and independent. Simonov estimates that only 10 to 15 percent of newspapers are self-sustaining. “Most of them take money from somewhere, and each has this special somewhere, but nobody wants to speak of these ‘somewheres,’” he concluded. Related to this issue is more direct government control over radio and television broadcasts which are the main source of information for most Russians. Ms. Alexeeva and other panelists asserted that “government-controlled media reported those campaigns [in 2003/2004] in an utterly biased way,” denying access to opposition candidates and giving the United Russia Party extensive coverage. Another common theme throughout the briefing was the lack of judicial independence or reform. Mr. Roginsky prefaced the topic by noting that “…the court system is under great influence of the nationalistic, patriotic ideology that is flourishing in Russia at this time.” He specifically spoke of a recent case involving four Russian soldiers who admitted to killing six Chechen civilians by mistake and then attempting to cover it up. In Mr. Roginsky’s words, “The jury and the courts did state that indeed the murder had taken place; the people were killed. The people who were being tried were those who perpetrated the killing; however, they were not [found] guilty.” Mara Polyakova spoke extensively about judicial reform. She admitted that new democratic laws are being passed which reflect democratic principles, but the mechanisms needed to implement these principles are often lacking or are thwarted. She also stated that prisoners in Russia are tortured and that court records are still falsified. “The judges are still dependent in spite of the fact that their independence was loudly proclaimed in the constitution and other laws, because the real power remains in the hands of the chairmen of the courts who are part of or prone to influence by the executive,” Polyakova said. Speaking specifically on the war in Chechnya, Roginsky described the large number of Chechen civilians abducted or kidnapped monthly, and the one-sided propaganda about the conflict emanating from the state-controlled media. However, Mr. Roginsky denied that the term “genocide” applies to the current Chechen situation (as opposed to the 1944 deportations), calling it instead state-sponsored terror. In response to a question regarding cutbacks in U.S. assistance for democracy programs in Russia, Simonov said, “Americans do not quite correctly understand what is happening in Russia. They seem to like the democratic record of the current Russian Government, and they seem to be taking this rhetoric as the truth.” On a similar note, he later recommended that U.S. officials and international organizations should “never take at face value anything said by officials in Russia.” Mr. McNamara raised the religious freedom issue, specifically the labeling of non-Russian Orthodox groups as “non-traditional religions” and the court-ordered “liquidation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Moscow, despite federal recognition. Ms. Alexeeva responded by saying that it would appear the Russian Orthodox Church is striving to become a state religion as it once was. The panelists were pessimistic about the chances of a successful appeal of the recent Moscow court decision against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although Simonov suggested that any pressure from President Bush during the G-8 Summit might have an impact. Despite the comments of the panelists painting a fairly bleak picture of the state of civil and human rights in Russia, Ms. Alexeeva did caution that “if you look from the outside in, everything seems to be more frightening than when you are on the inside of that state. I don’t think the fascist system is being created in our country, and even less that it has already been created.” In closing the briefing, Mr. McNamara sought to put events in perspective by recalling that in November 1986 there were 700 known Soviet political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as well as tens of thousands of divided families in the U.S.S.R. He noted that all of those prisoners had been released and many of those emigration cases resolved by January 19, 1989, President Reagan’s final day in office. 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Nicholas Adams contributed to this article.
Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in DeclineThursday, June 24, 2004
The hearing will examine democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan in light of the impending decision by the Department of State whether to certify Uzbekistan to continue receiving U.S. assistance. Uzbekistan, an OSCE participating State since 1992, has been closely cooperating with the United States in the campaign against international terrorism. There is a U.S. military base in Uzbekistan and Washington has stepped up assistance significantly since 2001. The agreement on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation was signed by President Bush and President Karimov in March 2002. However, Uzbekistan’s human rights record has remained poor, impeding the further development of U.S.-Uzbek relations. Late last year, the State Department decertified Uzbekistan for aid under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program because it had not made progress toward ending police torture and other abuses.
Unsolved Murder of Ukrainian Journalist Heorhiy GongadzeThursday, June 24, 2004
Mr. President, for nearly 4 years the case of murdered Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has gone unsolved, despite repeated calls by the Helsinki Commission, the State Department, and the international community for a fair and impartial investigation into this case. As cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have met with Gongadze's widow and their young twin daughters. Besides the human tragedy of the case, the Gongadze murder is a case study of the Ukrainian authorities' utter contempt for the rule of law. Gongadze, who was editor of the Ukrainian Internet news publication Ukrainska Pravda, which was critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared in September 2000. His headless body was found in November of that year. That same month, audio recordings by a former member of the presidential security services surfaced that included excerpts of earlier conversations between Ukrainian President Kuchma and other senior officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Earlier this week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General's office announced that Ihor Honcharov, a high-ranking police officer who claimed to have information on how Ministry of Internal Affairs officials carried out orders to abduct Gongadze, died of “spinal trauma” while in police custody last year. This came on the heels of an article in the British newspaper, The Independent, which obtained leaked confidential documents from Ukraine indicating repeated obstruction into the Gongadze case at the highest levels. Furthermore, just yesterday, Ukraine's Prosecutor General announced that investigators are questioning a suspect who has allegedly admitted to killing Gongadze. Many close observers of the Ukrainian authorities' mishandling, obfuscation and evasiveness surrounding this case from the outset are suspicious with respect to this announcement. Just one of numerous examples of the Ukrainian authorities' obstruction of the case was the blocking of FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation in April 2002, after the Bureau had been invited by these authorities to advise and assist in the case and earlier had helped in identifying Gongadze's remains. The Ukrainian parliament's committee investigating the murder has recommended criminal proceedings against President Kuchma. This committee's work has been thwarted at every turn over the course of the last several years by the top-ranking Ukrainian authorities. A serious and credible investigation of this case is long overdue--one which brings to justice not only the perpetrators of this crime, but all those complicit in Gongadze's disappearance and murder, including President Kuchma. Ukraine faces critically important presidential elections this October. Last month, I introduced a bipartisan resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process. Unfortunately, there have been serious problems in Ukraine's pre-election environment. Ukraine can do much to demonstrate its commitment to democracy and the rule of law by conducting free and fair elections and fully and honestly investigating those who were behind the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze. The Ukrainian people deserve no less.
The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil SocietyThursday, June 17, 2004
This briefing was held in light of recent verbal attacks by President Putin and other Russian officials on human rights organizations and their funding sources that raised concerns about the future of Russian NGOs that may be viewed by the government as politically hostile. Regarding Moscow’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, the Commission recognized Russia’s right to defend its territorial integrity, but asserted that territorial integrity can be preserved without resorting to the brutal methods employed by some members of the Russian military and the pro-Moscow Chechnya militia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and Natalia Zhukova, Chairperson of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers testified at this briefing. The “Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers” has become the largest NGO in Russia as an umbrella organization embracing nearly 300 groups and thousands of members. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have opposed the Kremlin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and have accused the Russian Government of consistently under-reporting the number of Russian military casualties in the conflict.
Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?Monday, June 07, 2004
The Helsinki Commission briefing occurred in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit and focused on the status of democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The consequences of President Putin’s ascent to power and elements of his government determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies were among several topics that were discussed. Four prominent Russian human rights activists – including Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and President, International Helsinki Commission for Human Rights; Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Experts – gave their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest.
Helsinki Commission Briefing Highlights OSCE's Military Dimension of SecurityTuesday, March 23, 2004
By Bob Hand CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing February 11, 2004 to review the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Forum for Security Cooperation, particularly during the period in late 2003 when the United States chaired the FSC. The purpose of the briefing was to gauge how the OSCE is responding to the latest changes in the security environment, such as the war on terrorism, weapons proliferation, and regional conflicts involving OSCE states. The briefing featured James Cox, the Chief Arms Control Delegate of the United States to the OSCE in Vienna. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor opened the briefing, noting the OSCE’s well-known contribution to security through the promotion of human rights and democratic change. She stressed, however, that the military dimension of the OSCE should not be overlooked. “Measures such as advance notification of troop maneuvers and observation of military exercises have become such a part of our way of interacting that we too frequently take such transparency for granted,” Ms. Pryor stated. Capitalizing on the dramatic changes in Europe in the 1990s, the OSCE “expanded the degree of military openness, then encouraged further reductions in force levels and equipment, and placed military institutions under democratic civilian control.” Mr. Cox began by describing the FSC’s creation in 1992 to respond to military questions in the post-Cold War era, such as the change in force levels and the significant shift in the security environment. Among other things, the Forum has been tasked to establish a web of arms control agreements and confidence- and security-building measures. The FSC also pursues the implementation of these agreements, develops a security dialogue, and considers norms and standards on such politico-military features of security as civilian control of armed forces and adherence to international humanitarian law. The OSCE made crucial steps toward addressing new threats to security and stability in the 21st century when the United States held the FSC chairmanship from September to December of 2003. These steps were taken with the realization that the FSC now must expand beyond the limits of arms control and confidence- and security-building measures. Mr. Cox stressed that the FSC needs to broaden its focus not only to address interstate relations between armed forces of OSCE participating States, but also non-OSCE States. New security threats to the OSCE region include non-state actors, terrorism, proliferation, and organized crime. Under the United States’ chairmanship, the FSC highlighted the proliferation of arms, the control of man-portable air defense systems, and civil-military emergency preparedness. With regard to non-proliferation, the United States hosted a number of speakers to suggest ways to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Effective and comprehensive controls for MANPADS were discussed, highlighting the threat posed by these weapons to civil aviation. The FSC encouraged the participating States to prevent illicit transfers of MANPADS by destroying excess devices. In addition, the EU, NATO, and UN speakers, and others were invited to the FSC to discuss their disaster response procedures. The OSCE’s Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, or SALW, contains provisions for the destruction of excess MANPADS. The provisions also allows states to request assistance on the security and management of stockpiles, encourage the establishment of border controls in order to reduce the transfer of small arms, and provide for the disposal of light arms. Mr. Cox also discussed initiatives addressing management and destruction of excess stockpiles of ammunition and explosive material, both through better management and destruction. In closing his presentation, Cox asserted that progress has been made in all spheres of European security, but he did not want to leave “too rosy a picture.” The FSC is a consensus body which, by its nature, limits what any one country can achieve and has no enforcement capability. Nevertheless, he stressed that the FSC is useful to the 55 participating OSCE countries because it has norm and standard setting capabilities and provides a forum to discuss issues of national interest. During a question-and-answer period, a question was asked about the stance of FSC participants that may be hiding their weapons and stockpiles. Mr. Cox reiterated that although the FSC has no enforcement capability, its politically binding decisions are to be taken very seriously. Positive developments have occurred with recent requests for clean-up disarmament assistance, including by Belarus. Another issue raised was the failure of Russia to implement commitments adopted at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit with respect to Moldova and Georgia. The Istanbul commitments require Russia to remove troops and arsenals from Moldova and close military bases in the Republic of Georgia. To this day, Russian troops and weapons remain in Moldova and Georgia. Mr. Cox affirmed that these issues are raised in Vienna. A related issue is OSCE peacekeeping. As Cox explained, the notion of OSCE peacekeeping would be difficult to undertake, as the organization lacks the necessary infrastructure to conduct such operations. Compared to NATO forces and European Union efforts to take on these operations, peacekeeping is on the low end of FSC considerations, and there has been no agreement to go beyond the original OSCE language on the matter developed in 1992. In response to a question regarding Russian military conduct in Chechnya, Cox noted that this is usually discussed as a human rights issue at the Permanent Council. He did note, however, initiatives within the military dimension, including a Swedish request to observe a Russian military exercise in Dagestan, neighboring Chechnya, which Moscow denied on security grounds, are addressed in the FSC. Finally, Cox was asked about the focus of the 2004 Annual Security Review Conference. He predicted this second meeting will center on the implementation of counterterrorism measures, including commitments agreed at the Maastricht Ministerial, and further enhancing border security. The first ASRC was held in 2003 to review select issues such as organized crime, arms trafficking, and terrorism. It also encouraged the adoption of biometric standards for travel documents as a means to improve border 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. United States Helsinki Commission Interns Colby Daughtry and Erin Carden contributed to this article.
Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Bulgaria’s Leadership of the OSCEThursday, February 26, 2004
His Excellency Solomon Passy, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE testified in front of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, chaired by the Honorable Christopher Smith (NJ-04). Passy’s testimony regarded the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Passy stated that implementations of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s Chairmanship of the OSCE. The hearing covered the conflict in Chechnya; OSCE efforts to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict and “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus; OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking; the situation in Central Asia; and promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region. Passy also spoke about Bulgaria’s experience with its own transition to democracy and its ongoing human rights efforts.
The Bulgarian Leadership of the OSCEThursday, February 26, 2004
This hearing, which Representative Christopher H. Smith presided over, focused on the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the OSCE, which had begun in for January 2004 and would continue for a year. The hearing specifically reviewed the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Solomon Passy, witness at the hearing, said that implementation of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s OSCE Chairmanship. Specific issues that attendees discussed included the Chechnyan conflict, OSCE efforts to revoke the Transdniestrian conflict, work to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus, efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking, the situation in Central Asia, and promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region.
Radio Liberty Stifled in UkraineThursday, February 12, 2004
Mr. President, several weeks ago, I addressed the Senate, in my capacity as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, on critical Presidential elections scheduled to be held later this year in Ukraine. In the latest twist in the lead up to those elections, yesterday Radio Liberty was abruptly informed that its Ukrainian Service programming would be removed from its major radio broadcaster’s FM schedule, beginning February 17. In a press release, RFE/RL President Tom Dine said, "This is a political act against liberal democracy, against free speech and press, against RFE/RL, and shows, once again, that Ukraine's political leadership is unable to live in an open society and is compelled to 'control' the media as if it were the good old days of the Soviet Union." This is not the first time that there has been official Ukrainian pressure to drop RFE/RL broadcasting since September 2001, shortly after the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the release of secretly-recorded tapes in Ukrainian President Kuchma's office implicating him and other high-ranking officials in the disappearance, corruption, and other dubious actions. Radio Liberty covers these and many issues about life in Ukraine, serving as an objective source of information in a media environment increasingly dominated by these authorities. In the past I have spoken out about Ukraine's troubled pre-election environment, including its media environment. This latest move, together with repressive measures against the democratic opposition and independent media over the course of the last few months, raise profound questions as to whether the October presidential elections will be free, fair, open, and transparent, in a manner consistent with Ukraine's freely undertaken OSCE and other international commitments. Effectively unplugging an important independent source of information does not bode well for democracy in Ukraine.
Troubling Pre-Election Developments in UkraineTuesday, January 20, 2004
Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the 2002 Senate-passed resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process in advance of their parliamentary elections, I find recent developments relating to upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine deeply troubling. Ten months before these critical elections, a constitutional amendment is making its way through the Ukrainian parliament designed to ensure that the current, corruption riddled powers-that-be retain their grip on power, neutralizing the leader of the biggest democratic fraction in parliament and Ukraine’s most popular politician, Victor Yushchenko. The amendment calls for abbreviating the presidential term for the October 2004 elections to two years, with the election of a president by the parliament in 2006, notwithstanding opinion polls indicating that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians support preserving direct presidential elections. This amendment had been approved by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court in a decision which has led many observers both within and outside of Ukraine to question the independence of the Court. The Court’s decision a few weeks ago to allow President Kuchma to run for a third term - despite the 1996 constitution’s two-term limit, has only raised more questions. Media repression continues, including the issuance of directives sent to media by the Presidential Administration on what and how issues and events should be covered, especially in the electronic media. A recent Freedom House report concludes that "the current state of affairs of Ukraine’s media raises serious questions as to whether a fair and balanced electoral contest can be held." Newspapers critical of the authorities are subjected to various methods of repression, including attacks against journalists, arrests of publishers, "special attention" via tax inspections, administrative controls over distribution and pressure on advertisers. Mr. President, at the same time, administrative measures are being taken to prevent lawful political activity, the starkest example of which was the disruption - instigated by the authorities - of a national congress of the Yushchenko-led Our Ukraine bloc in Donetsk last November. Most recently, a presidential decree dismissed the elected Our Ukraine mayor of Mukachevo - despite a ruling by the Supreme Court which confirmed that he had been elected in a legitimate way. In a telling twist, an acting mayor from the political party led by the head of the Presidential Administration, Victor Medvedchuk, has been installed. As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I share the concern of colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the presidential election in Ukraine scheduled for October be free, fair, open and transparent and conducted in a manner consistent with Ukraine’s freely-undertaken commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Helsinki Commission, consistent with our mandate to monitor and encourage compliance with OSCE agreements by all participating States, will continue to follow the situation in Ukraine closely. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent Washington Post editorial on troubling pre-election developments in Ukraine be included in the Record. Thank you, Mr. President. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2004] A Resolution for Ukraine According to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Bush administration's first foreign policy resolution for 2004 is "to expand freedom." And not only in Iraq and the Middle East: In an op-ed article published in the New York Times, Mr. Powell promised to support "the consolidation of freedom in many new but often fragile democracies . . . in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa." We hope that support will extend beyond the rhetoric that too often has substituted for genuine democratic advocacy during President Bush's first three years, and that it will be applied even where the United States has interests that make toleration of autocracy tempting. One region where such U.S. engagement, or its absence, might prove decisive is the band of former Soviet republics to the west and south of Russia. Several are struggling democracies; others are ruled by autocrats. Almost all are under threat from Moscow's resurgent imperialism. As the tiny state of Georgia recently demonstrated, democracy is the best defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to create a Kremlin-dominated sphere of influence. Countries that have held free and fair elections have tended to gravitate toward strengthening their independence and seeking good relations with the West, while unstable autocrats are more likely to yield to Mr. Putin. The country closest to a tipping point may be Ukraine. Like Russia, Ukraine has an electoral democracy tainted by corruption and strong-arm tactics and an economy warped by clans of oligarchs. Much of its population, however, aspires to integration with the West. President Leonid Kuchma has been linked to corruption and serious human rights violations. In recent months he has been moving steadily closer to Mr. Putin, allowing a Russian takeover of much of Ukraine's energy industry and signing an economic integration treaty. Now Mr. Kuchma appears to be looking for ways to curtail Ukraine's democracy so that he can prolong his own hold on power when his term expires this year. Last month his allies in Parliament pushed through the first draft of a constitutional amendment that would cut short the term of the president due to be elected in October and provide that future presidents be chosen by Parliament, where Mr. Kuchma's forces retain control. Then the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution's two-term limit does not prevent Mr. Kuchma from serving again. The president's cronies protest that they are only moving the country toward a more parliament-centered system, and Mr. Kuchma coyly says he has not "yet" decided to seek another term. But the effect of his moves would be to neutralize the country's most popular leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who, polls say, would win the next presidential election if it were fairly held. More than Mr. Kuchma's quest for continued power is at stake. Mr. Yushchenko is popular precisely because he is associated with those Ukrainians who seek to consolidate an independent democracy and move the country toward integration with Europe. Mr. Putin surely will be sympathetic to Mr. Kuchma's subversion of the system. The question is whether the Bush administration will work with Western Europe to mount an effective counter. Freedom could be consolidated this year in Ukraine or slip away. The outcome may just depend on how well Mr. Powell keeps his resolution.
Strong Substance, Potent Politics Mark Historic Maastricht OSCE Ministerial CouncilFriday, January 16, 2004
By Elizabeth B. Pryor, CSCE Senior Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) once again demonstrated its ability to promote candid political discussion and take prescient decisions when the Eleventh OSCE Ministerial Council met December 1-2, 2003. The meeting took place in Maastricht, the Netherlands, capping the Dutch chairmanship of the OSCE, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Ministers and other senior officials from the 55 OSCE states engaged in extensive consultations and approved an impressive array of action programs and strategic initiatives. Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, including Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and representatives of OSCE partner states and other affiliated organizations joined them. Secretary of State Colin Powell led the United States delegation. The Ministerial meeting was historic, not only for the quantity and quality of the decisions it took, but because it signaled a move away from defining the organization solely on the basis of broad formalized statements. The flexibility of the organization was also on display. When one participating state threatened a veto on jointly agreed political positions, the Chairman and other members turned it into an opportunity to forcefully reiterate their determination to see conflicts resolved through the standards set in OSCE agreements. They also intensified the pressure to fulfill previously taken commitments. The result was a stronger expression of collective political will than might have been made in a compromise document. By moving beyond the predictable rhetoric of a communiqué, the OSCE underscored its own political vitality and the unique platform it offers for frank debate and creative political action. The Maastricht Ministerial took place in the wake of Georgia’s "Revolution of the Roses" and was attended by the Acting President of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze. That situation, and growing concern over disputes in the Transdniestria region of Moldova, produced frank comments from the Ministers, opening the way for real dialogue on the issues and an expression of international concern that was impossible to ignore. Secretary Powell was among those who used the unconstrained OSCE stage to address issues directly. He cautioned that no support would "be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia’s territorial integrity" and called for international support for the new elections to be held January 4, 2004. The European Union, and Dutch OSCE Chairman echoed this, voicing their own warnings against interference in Georgia’s democratic development. The Chairman also strongly reasserted the OSCE’s role in deliberations over the political future of Transdniestria. He was joined by many of the Ministers, who took exception to Russian efforts to broker an inequitable accord outside of the internationally coordinated mediation process. While applauding some progress on arms reductions by Russia in Transdniestria, the U.S. delegation, as well as many others, spoke forthrightly of the need to fulfill all provisions of the 1999 Istanbul agreement which called for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. Even when given an extension to withdraw by December 31, 2003, no progress has been made. The exchange also gave Russia the opportunity to express its viewpoint: that ratification of the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was being held up over the implementation of the Istanbul commitments and that the collapse of its diplomatic initiative in Moldova would delay any chance of reaching a settlement. The initiatives unanimously agreed by the Ministers reflect the OSCE’s dedication to strong standard setting and innovative yet practical solutions for entrenched problems. The decisions taken on security issues continue OSCE’s long tradition of crafting action-oriented agreements with low political cost and long-term stabilizing effects. The development of more secure travel documents, export controls on portable air defense systems, "best practices" for the transfer of small arms and new measures for the destruction of stockpiles of ammunition are among the most robust set of security decisions taken in recent years by any international organization. The United States welcomed these decisions and praised the OSCE’s work as an example of effective multilateralism. These concrete action programs were coupled with a comprehensive strategy for addressing the changing security environment of the 21st century. The holistic OSCE approach to stability is evident in this document, which encompasses everything from arms control to environmental concerns and fighting corruption. "The [Helsinki] Final Act tells us that lasting security requires not just respect for the sovereignty of states, but also respect for the integrity of human beings," noted Secretary Powell in Maastricht. In keeping with this integrated approach to security, the OSCE agreed to a strategic roadmap for tackling the difficult problem of trafficking in human beings. The OSCE Action Plan is the most detailed blueprint devised by any international organization; in Maastricht Ministers decided to appoint a Special Representative to ensure that its provisions are carried out. In addition, the OSCE approved a comprehensive policy for improving the situation of Roma and Sinti, the first of its kind in the region. They also strengthened their commitment to an enhanced economic and environmental work plan. In a matter of particular interest to numerous Helsinki Commissioners, the Maastricht Ministerial formally welcomed the offer by Germany to host a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin. Belgium will host a meeting on racism, xenophobia and discrimination. In a letter to Secretary Powell in the lead up to the ministerial, Commissioners urged U.S. leadership in securing agreement on the German proposal as well as other areas of particular concern, including disturbing developments in Turkmenistan, Chechnya, Belarus and severe limitations placed on minority religious communities in some parts of the region. "The United States’ leadership is essential to secure consensus on initiatives on combating anti-Semitism and racism; human trafficking; internally displaced persons; corruption and international crime; cooperation with the ICTY; withdrawal of foreign forces from Moldova; and the Annual Security Review Conference," Commissioners wrote. Ministers also addressed the wider sharing of OSCE norms, principles and commitments with others, pledging to identify additional fields of cooperation and interaction with OSCE Mediterranean and Asian Partners for Cooperation. 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.
Frank Assessment Presented on State of Rights in RussiaWednesday, December 03, 2003
By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a staff-level briefing on November 13, 2003 with Tanya Lokshina, Executive Director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, to discuss the status of human rights and democratic development in the Russian Federation. Ms. Lokshina was accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA and Dr. Sarah E. Mendelson, Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ms. Lokshina opened the meeting by noting the human rights community in Russia is greatly concerned about the arrest of former YUKOS chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, reportedly Russia's richest man arrested on tax evasion and fraud charges after contributing money to political opposition parties. The case, she said, proves beyond doubt that the Russian state is out to get any independent voice. Khodorkovsky is different from other politicians, she stated. While his fortune may have had questionable origins ("fraud and tax evasion are prevalent everywhere") Khodorkovsky's current corporate policy of transparency is not useful to a corrupt government bureaucracy. He also supported opposition forces in the Duma, ranging from free-market, pro-reform parties to the Communists. "The action against Yukos sent a clear signal to other investors," Lokshina continued. "Do not be independent. Do not support transparent dealings with parties or civil society initiatives.... Now the rest of the business community is terrified to follow suit." Regarding freedom of the media, Lokshina said there is no level of media not controlled by the state. Even non-state television channels are controlled by managers who are themselves controlled by the state. There is also little independent print media in Russia. Ms. Lokshina, who had been in Grozny for the Chechen presidential elections, called the exercise a combination of comedy and tragedy. In the face of overwhelming indifference of the population and empty voting stations, the official statistics were not to be believed, she maintained. On election day, Lokshina had not seen any voters except in special places arranged for foreign journalists. She also saw precinct protocols where 100% of the eligible voters had supposedly cast 100% of their ballots in favor of incumbent President Kadyrov - a virtual impossibility, given an inevitable percentage of disqualified (i.e., defaced or incorrectly filled out) ballots. To be sure, any serious competition for Kadyrov had been eased off the ballot long before election day. Ms. Lokshina also saw the recent gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg--with the heavy-handed use of "administrative resources" by the pro-Putin apparat playing a major role--as a harbinger of future elections throughout Russia. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on December 7, with presidential elections expected in March 2004. The three experts agreed that the recent Constitutional Court decision annulling the restrictive law on election coverage of candidates and election "propaganda" was a positive, albeit tardy, step. Ms. Lokshina said one of the worst problems is the arbitrary law enforcement, and that "Everything that happens in Chechnya also happens in the rest of Russia. It is merely magnified in Chechnya." Personnel from police forces all over Russia serve time in Chechnya, and they bring back to their home towns the arbitrariness and impunity learned there. For example, the individuals who arrested Khodorkovsky stormed in wearing security service uniforms. It was later learned they were not security service employees, but ordinary police. Similarly, the recent sweep of the Open Society Institute premises in Moscow was reminiscent of security sweeps in Chechnya. Sarah Mendelson of CSIS pointed out that aside from political parties, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is the least supported institution among the populace. Ms. Lokshina stressed that Russian human rights organizations need support from the West. In many ways, it feels like Russia is going back to Soviet realities. The difference, though, is that instead of being treated like an enemy, Russia, despite abuses, is now being treated like a civilized state, which, she says, is dangerous. When President Bush calls President Putin his friend, she said, it sends a clear message that the United States supports what is happening in Russia. America used to critique what is happening in Chechnya, for example. Russia, Lokshina contends, is becoming a threat to its own citizens and the world community at large. Uncritical Western support is counter to its own interests, she remarked. Asked about reports of widespread public apathy in Russia, Dr. Mendelson said there is certainly a great deal of apathy, but there is a certain line over which the state cannot go. Ms. Lokshina added that some of the apathy has to do with lack of knowledge and heavy media control. For instance, it is frequently reported that Russians are not opposed to some level of censorship. In reality, though, this does not mean they do not want to know what is going on in Chechnya. What they want is to get rid of scams and con games ("chernukha"), i.e. "citizens would rather the government had control of the media than Boris Berezovsky." Ms. Greenwood raised the issue of the situation of the Meshketian Turks living in tenuous circumstances in southern Russia. She appreciated U.S. initiatives on the subject but urged more follow-through regarding the possibility of granting refugee status to Meskhetian Turks desirous of emigrating. Greenwood also noted that not only have Meskhetian Turks experienced discrimination and harassment in southern Russia, but NGOs working on their behalf are now under pressure from local authorities. Ms. Greenwood asked that the United States maintain the pressure to prevent Russia from forcing internally displaced persons (IDPs) back into Chechnya. She said international pressure had succeeded in stopping Russia from overtly closing the remaining camps, but there remains subtle, psychological coercion. In response to an inquiry about the state of freedom of thought within the academic community, Mendelson related several instances of FSB harassment of academics. "In Moscow," she commented, "it simply feels like there is less oxygen. You cannot breathe." Ms. Lokshina contends that the situation in the provinces is even worse. Asked about specific policy recommendations, Lokshina favored a strong statement from the United States against the anti-democratic trends and continued U.S. assistance programs for civil society and human rights in Russia. Mendelson added that the United States has made a strategic investment in Russian democracy and civil society, but this investment is under funded and it is too early to "graduate" Russia from such programs. 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason Ekk contributed to this article.
Helsinki Commission Reviews OSCE Dutch LeadershipWednesday, November 26, 2003
By Marlene Kaufmann CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing featuring the testimony of His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Foreign Minister of The Netherlands and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for 2003. The Foreign Minister testified on September 3, 2003 about the OSCE's efforts to promote security, stability and human rights in Europe and Eurasia. "In the last few years, we have come face to face with unprecedented challenges and threats to our security," said Minister de Hoop Scheffer. "The fight against terrorism is, and it should be, a top priority on our agenda." He noted that developing a comprehensive strategy to address new threats to security and stability will be the objective of OSCE Foreign Ministers in their upcoming meeting in Maastricht, The Netherlands, in early December. "We need to go beyond the repertoire of military action and policing as responses to security problems, and the OSCE can provide an impetus to this effort," he said. "No sustainable conflict resolution, let alone peace, can be achieved without due regard for human rights and democratization, for economic and environmental development, and without due regard for the rule of law." Other more surreptitious threats to security include organized crime, trafficking in human beings and illegal immigration, according to the Foreign Minister. Under de Hoop Scheffer's leadership, the Dutch Chairmanship has made combating human trafficking a priority and has secured the adoption of an OSCE action plan to combat trafficking in human beings to assist countries in confronting this modern day slavery whether they are countries of origin, transfer or countries of destination. The Minister explained that in support of this plan he intends to send missions of experts to assist countries in the fight against trafficking. The missions will draw on the expertise of OSCE institutions and will both monitor and take action against human trafficking. "Against this background, I feel sure that the Organization will be able to make an active, solid contribution to the fight," Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the new OSCE effort. "I think it is a very realistic action plan . . . and it really adds to the common effort that we all need to take with regard to this modern-day slavery," said Smith, who has led the fight in Congress against human trafficking. Chairman Smith asked Minister de Hoop Scheffer to expand the anti-trafficking action plan to include the military in all OSCE countries, as well as policing and peacekeeping deployments throughout the region. Chairman Smith described his own efforts to make the U.S. military aware of this problem, including a request to the Army's Inspector General to investigate allegations of human trafficking at establishments frequented by U.S. military personnel in South Korea. An Ohio-based investigative news team revealed that women trafficked from Russia and the Philippines were being forced into prostitution in local clubs and bars surrounding U.S. bases and exposed the fact that uniformed U.S. military personnel understood the circumstances and yet did nothing to prevent or report the crime. According to Chairman Smith, the Inspector General took quick and decisive action to investigate the alleged activities and made specific recommendations to correct the matter. "The U.S. military has put more than 660 establishments, now seen for what they are, off limits to U.S. military as a direct result of this investigation," Mr. Smith said. Minister de Hoop Scheffer agreed that military and peacekeeping operations should be reviewed in strategies to combat human trafficking and said that the work being done by the U.S. military could serve as an example. The Minister also noted that NATO is undertaking a review of what its role should be in this regard. De Hoop Scheffer will take over as Secretary General of NATO in January, 2004. The Chairman-in-Office reviewed the work of the OSCE in combating anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination by highlighting the June conference held in Vienna regarding the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the OSCE region and strategies to combat it, as well as the September conference focused on efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Both Chairman Smith and Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who participated in the June conference, urged de Hoop Scheffer to support another OSCE conference on anti-Semitism, which Germany has offered to host in Berlin in 2004. The Minister confirmed his support for such a conference saying, "having visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum this morning, having seen that, you need not have any other argument to go on fighting anti-Semitism." Commissioner Hastings queried Foreign Minister de Hoop Scheffer about his views on extending the term of the Chairman-in-Office from the current one year to two or three years, in view of the tremendous challenges facing the OSCE Chairmanship and the amount of work to be done. Mr. Hastings complimented the Minister, in particular, for the work he has done with Central Asian states. Calling his work as Chairman-in-Office "very challenging and a tremendously interesting responsibility," de Hoop Scheffer said he felt maintaining the one year term for the OSCE Chairmanship is the best way to proceed. He pointed to the work of the Troika, which is composed of the immediate past, current and upcoming Chairman-in-Office, who meet on a regular basis to discuss OSCE matters. The Minister has sought to strengthen this working group during his tenure and indicated that he felt this mechanism, along with the appointment of Special Representatives to focus on particular issues, serves to bring continuity to the leadership of the OSCE. Commissioner Hastings, who serves as a Vice President in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) also asked the Chairman-in-Office about what can be done to strengthen the working relationship between the OSCE and the OSCE PA. Mr. Hastings voiced hope that the Parliamentary Assembly would participate fully in the Maastricht Ministerial Meeting and that the OSCE and Assembly would continue to foster a working partnership. Viewing this issue from the perspective of his sixteen years of service in the Dutch Parliament, the Chairman-in-Office said he believes that the OSCE leadership has made substantial progress in its relationship with the Parliamentary Assembly. He welcomed the opening of the Parliamentary Assembly's Liaison Office in Vienna, headed by Ambassador Andreas Nothelle, as well as the active participation of Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George in meetings of the Troika. The Foreign Minister said that he would continue to work to improve interaction between the OSCE and the Assembly. Minister de Hoop Scheffer further highlighted the actions of the OSCE by discussing regions in which the Organization has been particularly active--including Central Asia, Belarus, Moldova, Chechnya, and Georgia. Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) voiced concern about the authoritarian rule in much of Central Asia and the Caucasus and its potential to move toward a family dynasty, as seems to be happening in Azerbaijan. The Chairman-in-Office expressed his view that Central Asian governments need particular attention from the OSCE, given that social changes brought about since the end of the Cold War have begun to stall. The Minister, who recently visited the five Central Asian countries, emphasized the importance of direct involvement with participating States in order to monitor and pressure for change. "The OSCE missions are the eyes and the ears of the organization," he said. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, who also spoke with members of nongovernmental organizations in Turkmenistan, stressed the need to maintain communications between all OSCE states, because the alternative would be to expel them. "Would that improve the fate of the people in jails in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't think so, but it's the perpetual moral dilemma we have." Mr. Pitts and Minister de Hoop Scheffer also expressed concerns about the refusal of Belarus to fully participate in OSCE meetings and negotiations. The Chairman-in-Office mentioned that of particular concern are attempts by the Government of Belarus to restrict the media's independence. He said he would follow the situation critically and would take whatever necessary action was called for. In Moldova, the OSCE plans to step up its efforts to resolve the Moldova-Transdniestria conflict. The OSCE is focusing on a political settlement and preparations for post-settlement. The two parties understand that a peacekeeping operation may be in place during the transition activities, and the OSCE is discussing the possibility. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer called for Russia to reclaim its weapons and ammunition from Moldova before the end of the year. He also urged the United States and the European Union to assist conflict resolution efforts in Moldova. The OSCE is still pushing for cooperation between Chechnya and the Russian Federation, despite difficulties in negotiations. The OSCE has developed a program aimed at benefitting the Chechen population and improving areas such as the judiciary and public order, economic and social developments, re-integration of displaced people, and media development. De Hoop Scheffer said violence and political obstacles have made negotiations in the area difficult. But he remained positive about a program to affect change. "I believe that the Russian Federation and the OSCE have a common interest in defining such a program," he said, adding the human suffering and material costs of this conflict are immense. The Maastricht Ministerial Meeting will set the agenda for the OSCE's future work and will address modern threats to security and stability, the Chairman-in-Office said. The meeting will take up human trafficking, economic and environmental issues, and review of field missions and peacekeeping. The conference will also be open to nongovernmental organizations, which de Hoop Scheffer said have been crucial to helping bring about change. The Chairman-in-Office concluded his testimony by stressing the importance of multilateral efforts and of the continued support of the United States. "That is one of the reasons why, with full candor, I have shared my impressions, convictions, and intentions for the coming period with you," he said. "In short, it takes a joint effort by the entire OSCE community to make this organization work." 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.
Further Assault Against Activists in BelarusTuesday, November 25, 2003
By Orest Deychakiwsky CSCE Staff Advisor and Ronald McNamara CSCE Deputy Chief of Staff United States Helsinki Commission staff met with a wide variety of opposition party members, non-governmental organization representatives and independent media journalists during an October 11-15 visit to the west Belarusian city of Hrodna and the capital city, Minsk. While the repressive apparat of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka has mounted a full-fledged assault on civil society over the last few months, pro-democracy forces remain committed to the creation of an independent, sovereign and democratic Belarus. In meetings with representatives from civil society throughout the visit, discussions inevitably turned to the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, introduced earlier this year by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). The Belarus Democracy Act would authorize increased assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. In a clear effort to consolidate his firm hold on power, Lukashenka has further tightened his grip on independent elements of Belarusian society, using the full force of the state to repress dissent. This comports with his new "state ideology” which has as its aim to further his rule by eliminating any vestige of pluralism in Belarus. Non-governmental organizations have been "de-legalized," or threatened with closure, often on petty pretexts. Increasingly, spouses and relatives of activists are being used as pawns with threats of dismissal or other forms of retribution. The media are especially facing pressure, with the electronic media under the control of the authorities and the independent media increasingly subject to systematic reprisals. Dozens of independent publications have been closed or threatened with closure. State printing houses have refused to print even previously registered editions and the state's distribution system refuses to circulate independent media material. Even Russian television is getting pushed out. A proposed new media law threatens to further erode freedom of media. Independent trade unions are becoming further circumscribed. The Government of Belarus has made no substantive progress in meeting the criteria for democratization established more than three years ago by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: End repression and the climate of fear; Permit a functioning, independent media; Ensure transparency of the election process; and Strengthen the functioning of the parliament. No progress has been made to investigate the cases of four opposition figures who disappeared in 1999-2000. The four are presumed dead. Attempts by Belarusian democrats and the international community to engage in a dialogue with the powers-that-be on amending the electoral code have thus far been unsuccessful. Belarusian authorities refuse to cooperate with the OSCE, even within the framework of its limited mandate. In both Hrodna and Minsk, Commission staff met with a wide gamut of representatives from leading non-governmental organizations, independent media, national and local leaders of democratic opposition political parties, wives of the disappeared, leaders of independent trade unions, dissident members of the National Assembly, various religious leaders, and human rights and cultural organizations. On the official Belarusian side, Commission staff met with the Governor of Hrodna and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising a wide range of concerns with respect to Belarus' refusal to implement its OSCE commitments, including those pertaining to the deepening assault on civil society. In Hrodna, the issues surrounding Jewish cemeteries were raised with the Governor Vladimir Savchenko. On the U.S. side, staff held constructive meetings with newly installed Ambassador George Kroll, Embassy staff and officials of the United States Agency for International Development. 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.
A Fine Sense of IronyFriday, November 21, 2003
Mr. Speaker, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov demonstrated a fine sense of irony recently when he criticized the United States for an "excessive tendency to use force" in resolving international issues. Let me state clearly that I do not believe my country should reach for its huge arsenal of weapons and troops every time we are faced with a difficult situation abroad. To everything there is a season. Nevertheless, it is ironic that the Russian Government should accuse the United States of taking military action when back home in Chechnya the Russian Government has demonstrated not only an excessive tendency to use force, but also a tendency to use excessive force. This is not meant to ignore or justify the human rights abuses of the Chechen separatist movement. The Russian Government is entitled to defend its territorial integrity and defend its citizens against civil disorder. But the fact remains that with its "anti-terrorist operation,"Moscow has unleashed a massive and brutal military campaign that frequently makes no distinction between combatants and non-combatants. As Newsweek's distinguished commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote in August of this year, "Over the past ten years, Russia's military has had a scorched-earth policy toward Chechnya. The targets are not simply Chechen rebels but, through indiscriminate warfare, ordinary Chechens.... Over time, the Chechen rebellion has become more desperate, more extreme and more Islamist." Not only are such tactics inhumane and cynical, they lead not to peace in Chechnya, but to a more protracted conflict. In this week's National Interest online, Seva Gunitsky reports on how the tactics of the Russian military has radicalized a population that might otherwise have rejected the armed militants: "For by refusing to distinguish between fighters and civilians, the Russian army fused together the interests of previously disparate groups... [and] created a far more dangerous foe." Besides the widespread civilian casualties and property destruction caused by the indiscriminate use of force by Russian military and security forces, the Chechen conflict has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons. Moreover, the recent presidential elections in Chechnya were so obviously flawed that they could hardly be said to reflect the will of the people. I welcome an exchange of opinions with other government leaders and parliamentarians regarding U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, I hope that Moscow will reexamine its own excessive tendency to use force in Chechnya and make every effort to reach a legitimate political settlement there.
Deplorable Human Rights Conditions Recalled at Helsinki Commission Hearing on ChechnyaFriday, November 21, 2003
By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 16, 2003 on the current human rights situation in, and future of, Chechnya. Testifying before the Commission were Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; Anna Politkovskaya, Moscow journalist and author; Dr. Robert Ware, Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University; and Lord Frank Judd, Member of the British House of Lords and former Co-Chairman of the Council of Europe-Duma Parliamentary Working Group on Chechnya. In his opening statement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), called the situation in Chechnya "the most egregious challenge to international humanitarian law in the OSCE region." "The Russian Government declares that the situation in Chechnya is normalizing, and that the 'counter-terrorism operation' is over," Smith said, " but it appears to be a tenuous claim, if that." Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) noted the efforts of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to raise human rights issues in Chechnya through resolutions and bilateral meetings with Russian counterparts urging them to "take a position responsible for the human rights issues in Chechnya." In prepared remarks, Commission Co-Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell observed, "The picture the Kremlin does not want us to see is a wasteland dotted with mass graves, villages depopulated of men--young and old, and unspeakable crimes committed against civilians. Each side should and must be held accountable for its acts of lawlessness and brutality. Extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and abuse of the non-combatants by elements of the Russian military continue." Deputy Assistant Secretary Pifer reported that since his appearance before the Commission on Chechnya in May 2002, "The daily reality for the people of Chechnya has been bleak and deteriorating" and that "[t]he toll of casualties, both Chechen and Russian...continues to mount." He noted that the majority of Chechens, whether those inside Chechnya or displaced to other regions of the Russian Federation, are living in dire conditions. "Deplorable violations of human rights persist," Pifer continued, and "terrorist attacks by Chechen extremists have increased." After the 1994-96 Chechen war, according to Pifer, the resulting chaos and lack of rule of law drew international terrorists to Chechnya. Additionally, treatment by Russian security forces of the civilian population during the current war has contributed to growing extremism and further sharpened the conflict. "Moscow's black and white treatment of the conflict," he said, "makes cooperation in the war on terrorism more difficult as its conduct of counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya fuels sympathy for the extremists' cause and undermines Russia's international credibility." Pifer outlined the three pillars of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Chechnya: an end to all human rights violations; cessation of all fighting and a process that will produce a sustainable political settlement, and; continued humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict. In response, Chairman Smith urged the Administration to make Chechnya a leading topic at the late September Camp David meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin. Ambassador Pifer stated his expectation that "these concerns will be among the most troubling that the two leaders will find on the U.S.-Russian agenda." In a subsequent Moscow press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed considerable displeasure with Pifer's forthright remarks at the Helsinki Commission hearing. Anna Politkovskaya focused on the October 5th presidential election in Chechnya and the legitimacy of the new [March 23, 2003] constitution. The vote on the constitution, she testified, "basically gave the people of Chechnya a choice of being good 'Chechens' and therefore have the right to live, or being bad 'Chechens' and therefore opening themselves to the possibility of being exterminated." Regarding the presidential elections, Politkovskaya noted the advantages given to the Moscow-supported incumbent, Akhmed Kadyrov. He has been given the ability to "create huge armed units," she continued. "What this amounts to is...a sponsorship of an all-out Chechen against Chechen war." Dr. Robert Ware testified about the lack of acknowledgment of the Chechen invasion of Dagestan and the resulting 32,000 IDPs, and multiple human rights violations that occurred during Chechnya's de facto independence. "Russia had a moral obligation to protect its citizens in the region," Dr. Ware stressed. Ware stressed the importance of making sure that both sides of the story were taken into consideration. "There is no peace and reconciliation without truth," Ware warned. "And there is no truth when you look at only one side of the problem." Lord Judd, who quit his position as Co-Chairman of the Council of Europe-Duma Parliamentary Working Group on Chechnya over Moscow's insistence on conducting the March constitutional referendum, called the constitution issue "deeply disturbing." "There should have been debate and evaluation, pluralist and independent media, freedom of association, and freedom for political parties were needed [as well as] sufficient non-menacing security for people to feel freely able to participate," Judd continued. Commenting on the West's relationship with Russia, Lord Judd exclaimed, "In the case of the Chechen Republic, it is inexplicable folly to hold back on criticism when by their policies and methods of implementing them, the Russians are perversely recruiting for the global terrorists." 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason Ekk contributed to this article.
Business Climate in UkraineThursday, November 20, 2003
Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely followed developments in Ukraine including aspects of the human, security and economic dimensions. My desire is that Ukraine consolidates its independence by strengthening democratic institutions, including the judiciary, and undertaking reforms to improve the business climate essential to attracting much-needed foreign investment. Twelve years after independence, the people of Ukraine deserve to enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity, but obstacles remain. Bringing Ukraine more fully into Europe is both essential to the country's long-term economic success and important for European security. Accelerating Ukraine's movement toward Europe is timely and needed. While high-ranking Ukrainian officials pay lip service to such integration, the jury is still out as to whether they are prepared to take the bold steps that will be required to advance such integration. An important barometer for the future will be the extent to which the country's moves to confront the corruption and crime that retard the process of democratization and economic liberalization and erode Ukraine's security and independence. While those at the top say the right things, there is justified skepticism as to their sincerity. This is certainly the case concerning Ukraine's current President, Leonid Kuchma. The controversies surrounding Kuchma undercut his credibility with respect to the issue of combating corruption. Nevertheless, this should not detract from the urgency of tackling corruption in the lead up to the presidential elections to select Kuchma's successor in 2004. Meanwhile, those serious about rooting out corruption and corrupt officials should take a hard look at the handling, or more accurately, the mishandling, of Ukrainian and foreign owned businesses. For example, United States-owned businesses have been victimized through expropriations, asset thefts, extortion and the like perpetrated or abetted by corrupt officials and courts in Ukraine. While new cases continue to occur, longstanding cases remain unresolved with investors unable to obtain the relief to which they are entitled under Ukrainian and international law. Although the State Department has made repeated representations about these cases at senior levels of the Kuchma administration, Kyiv rebuffed repeated requests to resolve them in accordance with the law. At the same time it refuses to punish the perpetrators of the criminal acts or take corrective measures to prevent similar cases from arising. If the victims are to ever achieve a measure of justice, it is essential that U.S. officials raise these cases at every appropriate opportunity. In one especially egregious and illustrative case, well-connected individuals in Ukraine were able to orchestrate the seizure of all the assets of a successful pharmaceutical joint venture which was half owned by United States investors. When, 6 years after the theft the Ukrainian appeals courts finally dismissed the spurious claims to the assets on grounds that they were based entirely on forged and falsely fabricated documents, senior Ukrainian officials launched into action. Within weeks of these judicial decisions, the Ukrainian President reportedly convened a meeting of senior officials, including the cognizant senior judges and his own senior law enforcement and national security cabinet level officers, at which he made clear that he did not want the stolen assets restored to their rightful American owners. The courts quickly complied, without explanation, and in disregard of the copious evidence before them, the judges reversed the decisions taken just two months earlier and held in favor of the claimants. Several months later longstanding criminal charges against the same individuals were dropped. The circumstances surrounding this case and others involving United States investors are indicative of the far reaching scope of corruption and the rule of law deficit in Ukraine today. While the matter was repeatedly raised by the State Department several years ago, I am concerned that the Ukrainian side might assume that the matter is a closed case. I urge officials at the Departments of State and Commerce to disabuse Ukrainian Government officials of such an impression. If the Kuchma administration is serious about rooting out corruption and advancing democracy and the rule of law, these cases provide a good starting point. Only time will tell if they are up to the challenge.
80th Anniversary of the Turkish RepublicThursday, October 30, 2003
Mr. Speaker, this week the Turkish Republic, an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will mark its 80th anniversary. The Turkish Government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is working hard toward membership in the European Union. The accession of Turkey to the Union would recognize the important reforms that have already been adopted and accelerate the reform process. The various constitutional reform packages in recent years have addressed, or begun to address, many longstanding human rights concerns. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I am pleased to note that much needed change is beginning to take place. For example, the crucial issue of torture is finally receiving the attention necessary to prevent such abuse and address the legacy of this endemic scourge. Perpetrators of torture are facing punishment by a new generation of state prosecutors. For the first time, police who have committed acts of torture are being brought to justice. However the ongoing use of torture in southeast Turkey in the guise of anti-terrorism is an outrage that Turkey must bring to a halt. It is not enough to pass these reforms or to hold a few show trials. No, all transgressors must be arrested and tried. There must be a zero tolerance policy in place on torture. Other issues of concern have also benefited from the reform package process. For example, religious communities with "foundation'' status may now acquire real property, as well as construct new churches and mosques and other structures for religious use. However, there is a considerable gap between the law and its application. Also, while the problem of allowing the return of internally displaced persons who fled the internal conflict with the PKK terrorist organization remains. Renewed efforts to address this problem are promising, such as inviting the UN Rapporteur on IDPs to visit and the possibility that Turkey may host an international conference on internally displaced persons. While Turkey still has a long way to go to successfully eradicate human trafficking in its borders, the government has taken some positive steps. While I am pleased Turkey has expanded its cooperation with source countries to improve its victim protection efforts, I want to encourage continued improvement to wipe out this modern day slavery. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, other serious concerns remain. While Turkey works to bring its laws and regulations into conformity with the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and works toward fulfilling human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State, actions taken by police and other government authorities raise doubts as to the sincerity of these reforms. The imprisonment this month of Nurcihan and Nurulhak Saatcioglu for attending demonstrations four years ago protesting the prohibition against head scarves in public institutions, is deeply troubling. The fact that the government denies women who choose this religious expression the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public buildings, including schools and hospitals, is counterproductive and an encroachment of their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, authorities severely curb the public sharing of religious belief by either Muslims or Christians with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view. These limitations on religious clothing and speech stifle freedom of religion and expression and are contrary to Turkey's OSCE commitments. At a fundamental level, the inability of religious groups to maintain property holdings is problematic, as the Office of Foundations has closed and seized properties of non-Muslim religious groups for contrived and spurious reasons. Groups most affected by this policy are the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches, which have also experienced problems when seeking to repair and maintain existing buildings or purchase new ones. I hope the application of the aforementioned reforms will rectify this problem. The most notable property issue concerns the continued closure of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. Considering the reportedly promising conversations between the church and government, I urge Turkey to return full control to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow religious training to resume, in keeping with relevant OSCE commitments. Furthermore, religious groups not envisioned by the Lausanne Treaty have no legal route for purchasing property and building facilities, since the new legal provisions affect only communities with the official status of a "foundation.'' As no process exists for these other groups to obtain foundation status, they are forced to meet in private apartments. This lack of official status has real consequences, since provincial governorships and the Ministry of Interior have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant groups and Jehovah's Witnesses without any options. Churches and their leaders in Diyarbakir, Mersin, Iskenderun and other towns all face troubling government prosecutions and threats of closure. I urge Turkey to create a transparent and straightforward process to grant religious groups so desiring official recognition, so that they too can enjoy the right to establish and freely maintain accessible places of worship of assembly. The continued incarceration of four Kurdish former parliamentarians: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak is particularly disturbing. Convicted in 1994, they have won their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and were granted a retrial under recent Government of Turkey legal reforms. The retrial began March 28, and at each of the eight sessions, most recently October 17, the court has refused to release the defendants. Their continued imprisonment is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the initial legal reforms put in place by the government display Turkey's--or at least the legislators in Ankara's--apparent willingness to address much needed reforms in human rights practices. But actions speak louder than words. We need to see implementation of these reforms seriously carried out before we can rest assured that Turkey has met minimal OSCE human rights commitments. As Turkey strives to enter the European Union, I applaud the efforts that have been made to date and urge Ankara to intensify the reform process.
Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved After 3 YearsTuesday, September 16, 2003
Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved--three years after he was murdered. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of "Ukrainska Pravda," an Internet news publication critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared. Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Over the last three years, the Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately, mishandling of this case has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling. Last month, a prime suspect in the case, former senior militiaman Ihor Honcharov, who allegedly headed a gang of ex-police accused of several kidnappings and murders, died in police custody under mysterious circumstances. His posthumous letters--which give a detailed account of events surrounding Gongadze's death and which name names--are now being investigated by the Prosecutor General's office. A few days ago, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun indicated that some facts in the letters have proved to be true. Reportedly, warrants have been issued for two suspects in the killing. Mr. Speaker, a credible investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue. At the same time, it is important to stress that not only those who committed the actual crime, but those who ordered it--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice. Unfortunately, the Gongadze case is not an isolated one. The murder, and deaths in suspicious car accidents, of journalists and opposition figures, have become commonplace. Earlier this year, Ukraine's Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, and many more have been beaten, including several within the last few months. This past July, Volodymyr Yefremov, a journalist critical of president Kuchma who worked with the press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (11/41), died in a suspect car accident. Just two weeks ago, Ivan Havdyda, who was head of the Ternopil region branch of the democratic opposition "Our Ukraine," was found murdered in Kyiv under questionable circumstances. Over the last three years, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised the Gongadze murder case and urged the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a serious investigation into the this case. The response from Ukrainian officials has done nothing but cast doubt about the Ukrainian Government's commitment to the rule of law. Last year--just to cite one example--Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation, even after promising to accept U.S. technical assistance in the matter. I also hope that the Ukrainian parliament will take determined action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the Gongadze and other murders, and bringing those involved to justice. The lack of a resolution of the Gongadze and other cases of those who have perished under suspicious circumstances has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities in dealing with fundamental human rights. Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and in the strongest possible terms, I once again urge Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the many enduring concerns regarding the circumstances that led to Heorhiy Gongadze's murder and the subsequent investigation.
The Long Arm of Injustice
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
- Response of William Browder to Questions for the Record Submitted by Rep. James McGovern
- Report: CICIG and the Rule of Law | Ligo ProPatria, Instituto de Servicios a La Nacion, Guatemala Immortal, ProReforma
- Sign-On Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Civil Society Representatives
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Ligo ProPatria, Instituto de Servicios a La Nacion, Guatemala Immortal, ProReforma
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Migration Groups
- Letter to President Maldonado of Guatemala | Bill Browder
- Letter to President Maldonado of Guatemala | Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker
- Invitation to Ivan Velasquez to Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing
- Communication from Loreto Ferrer, CICIG
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | VTB Bank
- Information from RENAP
- Cover Notes from Aron Lindblom,Diakonia Guatemala, Regarding:
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Indigenous Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Christian Council of Guatemala
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Asociation de Mujeres Q'eqchi'es Nuevo Horizonte
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Comite de Unidad Campesina Guatemala
- Letter to the Helsinki Commission | Asociation Grupo Integral de Mujeres Sanjuaneras
- The Wall Street Journal: Kremlin Revenge in Guatemala (March 25, 2018)
- The Wall Street Journal: Russia’s Dubious Guatemala Story (April 15, 2018)
- The Wall Street Journal: A Crisis in Guatemala, Abetted by the U.N. (April 22, 2018)
- National Review: Microscopic Dots. Let's Look at Them. (April 25, 2018)
- National Review: Why Are They Doing This to the Bitkovs? (April 26, 2018)
- The Economist: A corruption spat in Russia endangers crime-fighters in Central America (April 28, 2018)
- Materials submitted by Victoria Sandoval, criminal and human rights attorney representing the Bitkov family
- Audio: CICIG supports VTB petitions
- Affidavit: Harold Augusto Flores confesses that he was threatened by CICIG
- Medical reports on Anastasia Bitkova issued by the National Forensic Science Institute
- BBC: Inside the 'world's most dangerous' hospital
- Ruling issued by the tribunal presided over by Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios