Title

Reform in Armenia

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
2:00pm
Cannon House Office Building, Room 210
Washington, DC
United States
Assessing Progress and Opportunities for U.S. Policy
Members: 
Name: 
Senator Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Marc Veasey
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Robert Aderholt
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Frank Pallone
Title Text: 
Member of Congress
Body: 
U.S. House of Representatives
Name: 
Representative Jackie Speier
Title Text: 
Member of Congress
Body: 
U.S. House of Representatives
Name: 
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Title Text: 
Member of Congress
Body: 
U.S. House of Representatives
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Hamazasp Danielyan
Title: 
Member of Parliament (My Step Alliance)
Body: 
National Assembly of Armenia
Name: 
Daniel Ioannisian
Title: 
Program Director
Body: 
Union of Informed Citizens
Name: 
Jonathan D. Katz
Title: 
Senior Fellow
Body: 
German Marshall Fund
Name: 
Arsen Kharatyan
Title: 
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Body: 
Aliq Media
Name: 
Miriam Lanskoy
Title: 
Senior Director
Body: 
National Endowment for Democracy

Last year, peaceful mass protests swept Armenia’s ruling party out of power, ending its more than two decades at the helm of Armenian politics. Protest leader and opposition legislator Nikol Pashinyan rode the wave of what has been termed Armenia’s Velvet Revolution to a landslide victory in national elections in December. Voters gave his My Step Alliance two-thirds of the seats in parliament, with a robust mandate to follow through on his promises to fight corruption, govern democratically, and grow the economy.

This democratic opening presents an historic opportunity to advance crucial reforms. Some U.S. assistance is already helping to strengthen Armenia’s democratic institutions and there are Congressional calls to double this aid. Even so, many Armenians have been critical of the pace of Pashinyan’s reforms, saying that his government has been too cautious and indecisive in its policymaking.

In light of these developments, the U.S. Helsinki Commission convened a hearing to assess the Armenian Government’s achievements thus far, identify priority areas for reform, and highlight opportunities for the U.S. to support the reform process.

Commissioner Marc Veasey presided over the hearing, voicing his interest in learning how to best orient U.S. and multilateral assistance to Armenia’s reform program. He expressed his regret over the closure of the OSCE Field Office in Yerevan in 2017 that resulted from the objections of the Azerbaijani government. Rep. Veasey further highlighted U.S. efforts to compensate for the loss of the OSCE Field Office by coordinating an Armenian Cooperation Program among OSCE participating states who contribute voluntarily to sustaining some OSCE programming in the country.

Two co-chairs of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, Rep. Jackie Speier and Rep. Frank Pallone, also gave opening statements. Drawing on their recent travel to Armenia, both remarked on the progress and reforms they observed there and stressed the importance of increasing United States aid to the country to strengthen Armenia’s democratic institutions.

During the hearing, the Commission heard testimony from a Member of Parliament from the My Step Alliance, Hamazasp Danielyan; the founder and editor-in-chief of Aliq Media, Arsen Kharatyan; the program director for the Union of Informed Citizens, Daniel Ioannisian; senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Jonathan Katz; and senior director at the National Endowment for Democracy, Miriam Lanskoy.

All the witnesses remarked on the remarkable nature of Armenia’s political transformation since the Velvet Revolution. Mr. Danielyan and Mr. Kharatyan explained that it was a revolution of values, where people were struggling for democratic principles and human rights over corruption and authoritarianism.

The witnesses noted that Armenia still has a long way to go in its reforms. Mr. Ioanissian and Ms. Lanskoy testified about the remaining corruption in Armenia. They each noted the continued power of oligarchs in the media, especially those with close ties to Russia, while independent media organizations lack the funding and institutional support to break in to the media market. They encouraged the United States to support independent media organizations in Armenia.

Mr. Ioanissian and Mr. Katz detailed the reliance Armenia has on energy imports, specifically natural gas from Russia. They both recommended that the United States assist Armenia in its pursuit for energy independence. 

Mr. Ioanissian, Ms. Lanskoy and Mr. Katz analyzed the reasons for Armenia’s slow pace of reforms. They attributed the lagging pace to the inexperience of the new politicians and authorities swept into power by the revolution. All three witnesses stressed the importance of international assistance to strengthening Armenia’s democratic institutions—particularly the parliament and judiciary—to ensure the durability of future reforms. 

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Yes, there were other provisions that dealt with economic issues as well as security concerns, but this country rightfully chose to focus attention on the human rights issues especially during the Cold War years and the dark days of the Soviet Union. The Helsinki process, I would respectfully submit to my colleagues, was very helpful, in fact instrumental, in relegating the Communist Soviet empire to the dust bin of history. The standards of Helsinki constitute a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues. The West, and especially the United States, used Helsinki to help people in Czechoslovakia, in East Germany and in all the countries that made up the OSCE, which today comprises 54 nations with the breakup of the Soviet Union and other States along with the addition of some new States. Let me just read to my colleagues a statement that was made by President Gerald Ford, who actually signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. He stated, and I quote, “the Helsinki Final Act was the final nail in the coffin of Marxism and Communism in many, many countries and helped bring about the change to a more democratic political system and a change to a more market oriented economic system.” The current Secretary General of the OSCE, Jan Kubis, a Slovak, has stated, and I quote him, “As we remember together the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, we commemorate the beginning of our liberation, not by armies, not by methods of force or intervention, but as a result of the impact and inspiration of the norms and values of an open civilized society, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and of the encouragement it provided to strive for democratic change and of openings it created to that end. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act is a living document. We regularly hold follow-up conferences and meetings emphasizing various aspects of the accords, pressing for compliance by all signatory states. I urge Members to support this resolution, and I am very proud, as I stated earlier, to be Chairman of the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the Statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, David T. Johnson, at the Commemorative meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act Statement at the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act (By Ambassador David T. Johnson to the Commemorative Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE) Madame Chairperson, as we look with fresh eyes today at the document our predecessors signed on August 1, 1975, we are struck by the breadth of their vision. They agreed to work together on an amazing range of issues, some of which we are only now beginning to address. The States participating in the meeting affirmed the objective of “ensuring conditions in which their people can live in true and lasting peace free from any threat to or attempt against their security;” they recognized the “indivisibility of security in Europe'' and a ``common interest in the development of cooperation throughout Europe.” One of the primary strengths of the Helsinki process is its comprehensive nature and membership. Human rights, military security, and trade and economic issues can be pursued in the one political organization that unites all the countries of Europe including the former Soviet republics, the United States and Canada, to face today's challenges. Over the past twenty-five years we have added pieces to fit the new realities, just last November in Istanbul we agreed on a new Charter for European Security and an adapted Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. But the most significant provision of the Helsinki Agreement may have been the so-called Basket III on Human Rights. As Henry Kissinger pointed out in a speech three weeks after the Final Act was signed, “At Helsinki, for the first time in the postwar period, human rights and fundamental freedoms became recognized subjects of East-West discourse and negotiations. The conference put forward . . . standards of humane conduct, which have been, and still are, a beacon of hope to millions.” In resolutions introduced to our Congress this summer, members noted that the standards of Helsinki provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive regimes. Many paid a high price with the loss of their freedom or even their lives. Today we have heard from you, the representatives of the many who have struggled in the cause of human rights throughout the years since Helsinki. We are in awe of you, of the difficult and dangerous circumstances of your lives, and of what you have and are accomplishing. Many of us here cannot comprehend the conditions of life in a divided Europe. And those who lived under repressive regimes could not have imagined how quickly life changed after 1989. Political analysts both East and West were astounded at the rapidity with which the citizens of the former Iron Curtain countries demanded their basic rights as citizens of democratic societies. What we have heard time and again is that the Helsinki Final Act did matter. Leaders and ordinary citizens took heart from its assertions. The implementation review meetings kept a focus fixed on its provisions. Even before the Wall came down, a new generation of leaders like Nemeth in Hungary and Gorbachev in the Soviet Union made decisions to move in new directions, away from bloodshed and repression. In the summer of 1989, the Hungarians and Austrian cooperated with the West Germans to allow Romanians and East Germans to migrate to the West. Looking at what was happening in Europe, the young State Department analyst Francis Fukuyama, wrote an article which captured the world's attention. In ``The End of History,'' he claimed that what was happening was not just the end of the Cold War but the end of the debate over political systems. A consensus had formed that democracy, coupled with a market economy, was the best system for fostering the most freedom possible. And then in the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened unexpectedly. Citizens emerging from repressive regimes knew about democracy and told the world that what they wanted more than anything else was to vote in free and fair elections. Only a year after the fall of the Wall, a reunited Germany held elections at the state and national level. Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states carried out amazing transformations beginning with elections which brought in democratic systems. When Albania descended into chaos in 1997, groups across the country shared a common desire for fair elections. We have seen Croatia and the Slovak Republic re-direct their courses in the past several years, not by violence but through the ballot box. Just a few weeks ago, citizens of Montenegro voted in two cities with two different results, in both instances there was no violence and the new governments are moving forward with reforms to benefit their citizens. OSCE has time and again stepped up to assist with elections and give citizens an extra measure of reassurance that the rest of the world supports them in the exercise of their democratic rights. We are all aware that in the decades since Helsinki, we have seen conflict, torture, and ethnic violence within the OSCE area. Unfortunately, not all areas in the OSCE region made a peaceful transition to the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic prosperity. Some OSCE countries remain one-party states or suffer under regimes which suppress political opposition. Perhaps the most troubled region is the former Yugoslavia. As Laura Silber has written in the text to the BBC series “The Death of Yugoslavia,” “Yugoslavia did not die a natural death. Rather, it was deliberately and systematically killed off by men who had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a peaceful transition from state socialism and one-party rule to free-market democracy.” We need only look at the devastation of Chechnya and the continuing ethnic strife in parts of the former Yugoslavia to realize there is much still to be done in the OSCE region. We must continue our work together to minimize conflict and bring contending sides together, foster economic reforms through enhanced transparency, promote environmental responsibility, and or fight against organized crime and corruption. Human rights remain very much on our agenda as we seek to eradicate torture, and find new solutions for the integration of immigrants, minorities and vulnerable peoples into our political life. “Without a vision,” wrote the prophet Isaiah so long ago, “the people will perish.” We here today have a vision of collective security for all the citizens of the OSCE region. After twenty-five years, the goals embodied in the Helsinki final act remain a benchmark toward which we must continue to work. The Panelists have reminded us today that the Helsinki Final Act has incalculable symbolic meaning to the citizens of our region; we must continue to take on new challenges as we strive to keep this meaning alive. Mr. Crowley. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to yield 8 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission.   Mr. Hoyer: Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley) for yielding me the time. I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman), the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, for bringing this resolution to the floor. I am pleased to join my very good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), with whom I have served on the Helsinki Commission since 1985 and who is now the chairman of our commission and does an extraordinarily good job at raising high the banner of human rights, of freedom, and democracy and so many other vital values to a free people. I am honored to be his colleague on the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.J. Res. 100 which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act which, was signed on August 1, 1975. It is my firm belief that the political process set in motion by the signing of the Final Act was the groundwork for the forces which consumed the former Soviet empire. In 1975, many of the Final Act signatory states viewed the language of the act dealing with human rights and the obligation that each state had toward its own citizens, as well as those of other states, as essentially meaningless window dressing. Their objective, it was felt that of the Soviets, was to secure a framework in which their international political position and the then existing map of Europe would be adjudged a fait accompli. Let me say as an aside that as we honor the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, we ought to honor the courage and the vision of President Gerald Ford. I am not particularly objective. President Ford is a friend of mine for whom I have great affection and great respect, but those who will recall the signing of the Final Act in August of 1975 will recall that it was very controversial, and that many particularly in President's Ford's party thought that it was a sellout to the Soviets, thought that it was, in fact, a recognition of the de facto borders that then existed with the 6 Warsaw Pact nations, captive nations, if you will. President Ford, however, had the vision and, as I said, the courage, to sign the Final Act on behalf of the United States along with 34 other heads of state; that act became a living and breathing process, not a treaty, not a part of international law, but whose moral suasion ultimately made a very significant difference.

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Among the many pages, allow me to quote from several of the documents: In the Helsinki Final Act, the participating States commit to `respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.' In the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the participating states declared, `Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government.' In the 1991 Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, the participating States `categorically and irrevocably declare[d] that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the States concerned.' 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Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring and affiliated Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Pressure by governments through the Helsinki process at various Helsinki fora, thoroughly reviewing compliance with Helsinki commitments and raising issues with Helsinki signatory governments which violated their freely undertaken human rights commitments, helped make it possible for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to regain their freedom and independence. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many of the States, we have witnessed widespread and significant transformations and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Unfortunately, in others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. Mr. Speaker, this milestone anniversary presents the President an appropriate opportunity to issue a proclamation in recognition of the obligations we and the other OSCE States have committed to uphold. It is important to keep in mind that all of the agreements of the Helsinki process have been adopted by consensus and consequently, each participating State is equally bound by each document. In addition to committing ourselves of the faithful implementation of the OSCE principles, the President should encourage other OSCE signatories as all of us have recognized that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy and genuine security and cooperation in the OSCE region. Each participating State of the OSCE bears primary responsibility for raising violations of the Helsinki Final Act and the other OSCE documents. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes, but the task is far from complete. Mr. Speaker, we can look at OSCE's past with pride and its future with hope, keeping in mind President Ford's concluding comments at the signing of the Helsinki Final Act: `History will judge this conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow, not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.'

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

  • Helsinki Final Act 25th Anniversary Resolution

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, an international accord whose signing represents a milestone in European history. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, I have been privileged to be associated with the Helsinki process and its seminal role in advancing human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. I am pleased to be joined by my fellow Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Hoyer, Wolf, Cardin, Salmon, Slaughter, Greenwood, Forbes and Pitts as original cosponsors. A companion resolution is being introduced today in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.   The Helsinki Final Act and the process it spawned have been instrumental in consigning the Communist Soviet Empire, responsible for untold violations of human rights, into the dustbin of history. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act, for the first time in the history of international agreements, granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declaration of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women and not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state.   Equally important, Mr. Speaker, the standards of Helsinki which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Western pressure through the Helsinki process, now advanced in the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, greatly contributed to the freeing of the peoples of the Captive Nations, thus bringing an end to the Cold War.   The Helsinki Commission, on which I have served since 1983, played a significant role in promoting human rights and human contacts. The congressional initiatives such as hearings, resolutions, letters and face-to-face meetings with representatives of Helsinki signatories which violated human rights commitments, encouraged our own government to raise these issues consistently and persistently. The Commission's approach at various Helsinki meetings has always been to encourage a thorough and detailed review of compliance with Helsinki agreements. Specific cases and issues are cited, rather than engaging in broad, philosophical discussions about human rights. With the passage of time, and with the leadership of the United States, this more direct approach in pressing human rights concerns has become the norm. In fact, by 1991 the Helsinki signatory states accepted that human dimension commitments `are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.'   With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many States, we have witnessed dramatic transformation and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. The OSCE, which now includes 54 participating States, has changed to reflect the changed international environment, undertaking a variety of initiatives designed to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict and emphasizing respect for rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption, which constitute a threat to economic reform and prosperity. The Helsinki process is still dynamic and active, and the importance of a vigorous review in which countries are called to account for violations of their freely undertaken Helsinki commitments has not diminished.   This resolution calls on the President to issue a proclamation reaffirming the United States' commitment to full implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. All signatory states would be asked to clarify that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles as well as economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy, peace and unity in the OSCE region. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes. Mr. Speaker, the task is still far from complete, and we must continue to do our part in championing the values that Helsinki espouses.

  • Report on Armenia's Parliamentary Elections

    On May 30, 1999, Armenia held its second parliamentary election since gaining independence. Twenty-one parties and blocs contested 56 seats set aside for party voting and over 700 individual candidates competed in 75 majoritarian races to fill the legislature’s 131 seats. According to official results, turnout was almost 56 percent. The big winner in the election was the Unity bloc, an alliance of the Republican Party, headed by Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, and the People’s Party of Karen Demirchian, Armenia’s last Communist leader. OSCE observation missions had criticized Armenia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 1995, 1996 and 1998, so Yerevan had to hold better elections to restore its damaged reputation. The May 30 election was also supposed to formalize the shift of power in early 1998, when the governing party—the Armenian National Movement (ANM)—collapsed as its leader, Levon Ter-Petrossyan, was forced out and Vazgen Sarkissian came openly to the fore. Though Armenia’'s May 30 election was a clear improvement over previous elections, concerns persist about overall political trends. Armenia is unique among former Soviet republics in that its president, despite broad constitutional prerogatives, is not the most powerful political actor. Vazgen Sarkissian, as Defense Minister, had already gained a remarkable hold on the military, the executive branch and even the legislature, while also heading a veterans’ organization that controls most local authorities. Such concentration of authority in the hands of one politician bodes ill for separation of powers and the development of civil society. Even more troubling, Sarkissian’s record does not inspire confidence in his commitment to democracy. He now has to overcome his reputation and manage his own transition to a democratic statesman. Following the lead of the OSCE, the U.S. State Department noted the improvements over past elections but emphasized the need for further progress to bring Armenia’s elections up to OSCE standards and raise public trust in the process. With the OSCE’s assessment having at least been better than in past elections, Yerevan can hope for the first official visit to Washington of President Kocharian this fall.  

  • The Sex Trade: Trafficking of Women and Children in Europe and the United States

    This Commission examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region: the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern-day slavery. When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud, or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international human rights agreements. Although trafficking has been a problem for many years in Asian countries, it was not until the end of communism in East-Central Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union that a sex trade in the OSCE region began to develop. The hearing looked into the U.S. and the global response to this appalling human challenge and what else could be done to address it.

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

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

  • Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe

    This briefing addressed the persisting question of problems of religious liberty and the patterns of discrimination against religious minorities and other belief groups that had developed in a number of countries in the OSCE region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Efforts of improving religious liberty in former communist countries were discussed, as well as the need for spending time and attention on countries farther west, like France, Belgium, and Austria, in which concern for religious minorities was also expressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers and James McCabe, Assistant General Counsel of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – examined the multi-tiered system that European countries employ regarding religion, and the different statuses and treatment of citizens based on where their religion falls within this system. The issues faced by minority religious associations, like being targeted by fiscal services, were also topics of discussion.

  • Report on Armenia's Presidential Election

    On March 30, 1998, Armenians went to the polls to choose a president in a runoff between Robert Kocharian—Armenia’s Prime Minister, Acting President and former President of Nagorno-Karabakh—and Karen Demirchian, former Communist Party leader of Armenia. The election followed first round voting on March 16, in which none of the 12 candidates managed to win the necessary 50 percent of the ballot. According to Armenia’s Central Election Commission, in the second round, Kocharian won 59.48 percent to Demirchian’s 40.52 percent, to become Armenia’s second president. Reported turnout was 68.14 percent. After two flawed elections in 1995 and 1996, the March 1998 vote offered Armenia, under different leadership,  an opportunity to redeem its image as a democratizing state. Most observers concurred that the campaign was better than in earlier elections: no candidate was excluded from the race, there were no serious impediments to campaigning, and the candidates received their allotted air time. But the preliminary statement of the OSCE/ ODIHR observation mission, issued after the first round, emphasized violations and warned that the recurrence of such problems during the second round might place the election’s legitimacy in doubt. The Council of Europe and the CIS Parliamentary Assembly, however, gave the March 16 voting good grades and openly disputed the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR. Armenian-American groups accused the OSCE/ODIHR of anti-Armenian bias, reflecting a purported tendency to pressure Armenia into accepting the OSCE’s allegedly pro-Azerbaijani proposals on Nagorno-Karabakh. Helsinki Commission monitoring of both rounds yielded a mixed picture. The most serious problem observed during first-round voting was disorganization in small polling stations swamped by large numbers of voters, and the vote count went well in a precinct where numerous violations took place in 1996. But the vote count observed during the second round featured blatant fraud: the ballot box was tampered with during the vote; extra ballots were present in the box in large and obvious packets; the vote count made no effort to distinguish valid from improper votes; the precinct committee was in direct contact with Kocharian headquarters throughout the count; and the precinct protocols were falsified to make the numbers add up—in the direct view of the foreign observers. All the falsified votes were for Kocharian, who was openly supported by most members of the precinct committee. At least one fifth —and maybe as many as half— of the votes counted in this precinct were false. Subsequently, at the district election level, the box containing the ballots’ detachable “coupons” (a mechanism designed to prevent fraud) arrived over an hour late with the lid ripped open.  Based on these observations, and the accounts of many ODIHR observers at their debriefing, there is reason to harbor grave doubts about the reliability of the officially-reported results.  

  • Status of Religious Liberty for Minority Faiths in Europe and the OSCE

    The purpose of this hearing, which the Hon. Christopher H. Smith chaired, was to discuss the reality of disturbing undercurrents of subtle, but growing, discrimination and harassment of minority religious believers, as opposed to discussing the widespread documentation of torture and persecution of practitioners of minority faiths. In a number of European countries, government authorities had seemed to work on restricting the freedoms of conscience and speech in much of their governments’ actions. For example, in Russia, on September 26, 1997, President Boris Yeltsin signed the law called “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations,” which blatantly violated agreements of the OSCE which the former U.S.S.R. helped to initiate. Through use of witnesses, then, attendees of this hearing, namely commissioners, gained a deeper understanding of the religious liberty violations within OSCE member countries and insight into how to best influence governments to adhere more closely to internationally accepted human rights standards.

  • Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

    This briefing focused on the topics of European security and NATO enlargement, specifically in terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Elements of the treaty that remained especially important, including the goal of avoiding destabilizing concentrations of forces in Europe and the goal of creating greater transparency and promoting information exchange among governments in Europe, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at this briefing spoke to the need for amendments and changes to the CFE, but maintained the relevance of the treaty to international security. Different strategies for making these changes related to Russian pressure and NATO involvement were presented. 

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