Title

The Situation of Roma

Tuesday, November 07, 2017
10:00am
Senate Visitors Center, Room 215
Washington, DC
United States
MEP Soraya Post Discusses Europe's Largest Ethnic Minority
Official Transcript: 
Moderator(s): 
Name: 
Erika Schlager
Title Text: 
Counsel for International Law
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Soraya Post
Title: 
Member of the European Parliament
Body: 
Sweden

The Helsinki Commission hosted a conversation with Swedish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Soraya Post, one of only two Roma in the EU’s 751-member legislative body, and Dr. Ethel Brooks of Rutgers University, a U.S. Romani scholar and Member of the Board of the European Roma Rights Center and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.  The briefing focused on Roma, the largest ethnic minority in the European Union, with an estimated population of 12 to 15 million. However, Roma are severely underrepresented in parliaments and other leadership roles across Europe, and face some of the highest level of discrimination on the continent. 

MEP Post was introduced by Dr. Brooks. Together, MEP Post and Dr. Brooks outlined the incredible challenges Roma face in the form of social exclusion, political under-representation, and economic inequality. 

Dr. Brooks stated that the experience of Roma included “racism, forced evictions, racially motivated attacks, police abuse, segregation, inhuman and degrading treatment, housing discrimination, expulsions and marginalization, educational segregation and the denial of access to schools, of unfair detention, hate speech, and hate crimes among other forms of violence [and the need to combat] structural forms of anti-Romani racism at all levels.” 

MEP Post spoke specifically to the challenges she faces in the European Parliament as she works to ensure Romani interests and rights are defended, and highlighted the need for more concerted efforts to undermine anti-Roma discrimination at the national level. 

MEP Post has spearheaded efforts in the European Union to address the situation of Roma, including drafting a recent report on improving the situation of Roma being discussed in the European Parliament.  Two weeks ago MEP Post introduced a resolution in the European Parliament on fundamental rights aspects of Roma integration in the EU, which was adopted by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament. 

The report and resolution are historic in that they call for efforts to addresses the structural, far-reaching aspects, practices, and manifestations of anti-Roma discrimination. Recommendations from the legislative efforts include setting up truth and reconciliation commissions at both the national and EU levels in member states and in the EU, documenting findings in an official white paper, and making the history of Roma part of the curricula in schools.  Other recommendations include ensuring that EU employment and education programs  reach Roma; clearly condemning and sanctioning anti-Roma hate speech in EU Member States and national parliaments; compensating Roma women subjected to forced sterilization; investigating and preventing unlawful removals of Roma children from their parents; and implementing measures to ensure equal treatment of Roma in the fields of education, employment, health and housing, as well as an improved EU framework for national Roma integration strategies after 2020.  

The impetus for including a truth commission in the EU legislation came from a Swedish effort MEP Soraya Post led that resulted in a Swedish apology to Roma and a government white paper detailing anti-Roma abuses throughout Swedish history, ranging from laws banning Roma to enter the country from 1914-1954 to forced sterilization.

The briefing ended with statements from the panelists on the importance of supporting efforts that unite societies, and noted recent OSCE efforts to increase Roma political participation as part of the solution.

The Helsinki Commission has had a long track record of engagement on issues relating to the human rights of Roma including addressing mob violence against Roma; ending sterilization without informed consent of Romani women; addressing the denial of citizenship and the loss of identity documents for Roma, particularly in the context of the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia; encouraging remembrance of and teaching about the genocide of Roma; and countering prejudice and discrimination against Roma in the context of our larger efforts to address racism and anti-Semitism. 

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  • International Roma Day

    Mr. President, in my capacity as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I take this opportunity to let my colleagues know that on Sunday, April 8, Roma from around the world will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of World Romani Congress. In countries across Europe as well as in North America, Roma will gather together to demonstrate solidarity with each other and to draw attention to the human rights violations they continue to face. Roma are a dispersed minority, present in virtually every country in the region covered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, including the United States. They first arrived in Europe around the 13th century, after migrating from Northern India and their language, Romani, is related to Sanskrit. Roma were enslaved in what is now modern Romania and Moldova until 1864 and, in much of the rest of Europe, the Romani experience has been marked by pronounced social exclusion. The single most defining experience for Roma in the 20th century was the Holocaust, known in Romani as the Porrajmos, the Devouring. During the war itself, Roma were targeted for death by the Nazis based on their ethnicity. At least 23,000 Roma were brought to Auschwitz. Almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion, or disease. Not quite a year ago, the Helsinki Commission, which I now chair, held a hearing on Romani human rights issues. I heard from a panel of six witnesses, four of whom were Romani, about the problems Roma continue to face. Unfortunately, since the fall of Communism, the situation for Roma in many post-Communist countries has actually gotten worse. As Ina Zoon said, “the defense of Roma rights in Europe is probably one of the biggest failures of the human rights battle in the last ten years.” The more I learn about the plight of Roma, the more I am struck by certain parallels with the experience of American Indians here in our own country.  Increasingly, Roma have begun to raise their voices not in search of special treatment, but for an opportunity to freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination. At the OSCE's Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Istanbul in 1999, the United States strongly supported the commitment, adopted by all OSCE participating States, to adopt anti-discrimination legislation to protect Roma. It is heartening that a number of Central European governments, countries where Roma are the most numerous, have publicly recognized the need to adopt legislation that will protect Roma from the discrimination they face. The adoption last year of the European Union's “race directive”, which will require all current EU member states, as well as applicant countries to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, should spur this effort. The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the plight of the Roma in the 107th Congress.

  • International Roma Day Revisited

    Mr. Speaker, on International Roma Day last year, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities released a detailed report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, in the intervening months, relatively little progress has been made by government authorities in addressing the problems he described. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, receives so many reports on an almost daily basis which demonstrate the magnitude of the problems Roma face. We receive reports of Roma who are denied access to public places, like the three Roma who were turned away from a Warsaw restaurant last September 29, just before the OSCE convened its annual human rights meeting in that city. We receive reports of discrimination in housing, like the January 27 Hungarian television report that local authorities in Rabakoez, Hungary, have called for prohibiting the sale of real estate to Roma. We receive reports of police abuse, such as the repeated cases of unlawful police raids in Hermanovce, Slovakia. We receive reports of violent attacks, such as the assault on a Romani church in Leskovac, Serbia, at the beginning of this year. Too often, courts are part of the problem, not the solution. Rather than providing a remedy for victims, they compound the abuse. Take a recent case from the Czech Republic. The Czech Supreme Court issued a ruling that a violent attack on a Romani man in 1999 was premeditated and organized, and then remanded the case back to the district court in Jesenik for sentencing in accordance with that finding. But the district court simply ignored the Supreme Court's finding and ordered four of the defendants released. I am hopeful that Slovak courts, which are currently weighing the fate of three of the defendants charged in last year’s brutal murder of Anastazia Balazova, will do a better job of bringing her murderers to justice. In a few places, there are some glimmers of hope. In Viden, Bulgaria, for example, the Romani organization Drom has led a successful effort to bring 400 Romani children, who previously attended segregated schools, into the mainstream school system. In that instance, the cooperation of local and national authorities, governmental and non-governmental bodies, is paying off. Unfortunately, too few government leaders demonstrate the courage necessary to address these issues. Some pass the buck, looking to the European Union or the Council of Europe to fix problems that must be tackled, first and foremost, through political leadership at home. Moreover, a number of EU countries have little to teach the applicant countries about tolerance towards Roma. Many OSCE countries, not just the former Communist states, are in need of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, a priority recognized in the 1999 OSCE summit agreement and by the European Commission in the adoption of its “race directive” in June of last year. Regrettably, nearly two years after Bulgaria received praise from many quarters for agreeing to adopt such legislation; the government is not one step closer to fulfilling its commitment. The Slovak Government's human rights office, in contrast, has undertaken a serious study of legislative options and may soon have a draft ready for a vote. In addition, it is imperative that political and civic leaders condemn anti-Roma manifestations in clear and unequivocal terms. Mr. Speaker, when the Mayor of Csor, Hungary, a publicly elected official, said “the Roma of Zamoly have no place among human beings; just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled,” I believe it is the responsibility of Hungary's political leadership to condemn these outrageous slurs. If more leadership was demonstrated, perhaps confidence would have been strengthened and maybe 5,772 Hungarian Roma would not have applied for asylum in Canada over the past three years. When the Mayor of Usti nad Labem built a wall to segregate Roma from non-Roma, all members of the Czech parliament, not just a paper slim majority of 101 out of 200 MPs, should have voted to condemn it. And when Mayor Sechelariu of Bacau, Romania, announced plans to build a statue of Marshall Antonescu, the World War II dictator who deported 25,000 Roma to Transniestra, where some 19,000 of them perished, Romanian officials, who have pledged to the OSCE community to fight intolerance, should begin at home by ridding their country of every Antonescu statue built on public land.

  • Celebrating Greek Independence Day

    Madam Speaker, 180 years ago the Greek people rose against the Ottoman Empire to free themselves from oppression and to reestablish not only a free and independent state, but a country that would eventually regain her ancient status as a democracy. In congratulating the people of Greece on the anniversary of their revolution, I join in recognizing the distinction earned by Greece as the birthplace of democracy and her special relationship with the United States in our fight together against Nazism, communism and other aggression in the last century alone. Yes, democrats around the world should recognize and celebrate this day together with Greece to reaffirm our common democratic heritage. Yet, Mr. Speaker, while the ancient Greeks forged the notion of democracy, and many Greeks of the last century fought to regain democracy, careful analyses of the political and basic human freedoms climate in today's Greece paint a sobering picture of how fundamental and precious freedoms are treated. Taking a look at the issues which have been raised in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Review Meetings and will be considered over the next week at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a few of the most critical human dimension concerns about contemporary Greece affect the freedom of expression, the freedom of religious belief and practice, and protection from discrimination. Legal restrictions on free speech remain on the books, and those convicted have typically been allowed to pay a fine instead of going to jail. In recent years, though, Greek journalists and others have been imprisoned based on statements made in the press. This was noted in the most recent Country Report on Human Rights Practices prepared by the Department of State. The International Press Institute has also criticized the frequent criminal charges against journalists in cases of libel and defamation. Religious freedom for everyone living in Greece is not guaranteed by the Greek Constitution and is violated by other laws which are often used against adherents of minority or non-traditional faiths. Especially onerous are the provisions of Greek law which prohibit the freedom of religion. These statutes have a chilling impact on religious liberty in the Hellenic Republic and are inconsistent with numerous OSCE commitments which, among other things, commit Greece to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate religious discrimination against individuals or communities; allow religious organizations to prepare and distribute religious materials; ensure the right to freedom of expression and the right to change one's religion or belief and freedom to manifest one's religion or belief. Over the last ten years, the European Court of Human Rights has issued more than a dozen judgments against Greece for violating Article 9 (pertaining to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. One positive development was the decision made last summer to remove from the state-issued national identity cards the notation of one's religious affiliation. In May 2000, Minister of Justice Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos publicly recognized that this practice violated Greece's own Law on the Protection of Personal Data passed in 1997. The decision followed a binding ruling made by the relevant Independent Authority which asked the state to remove religion as well as other personal data (fingerprints, citizenship, spouse's name, and profession) from the identity cards. This has long been a pending human rights concern and an issue raised in a hearing on religious freedom held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (which I Co-Chair) in September 1996. I am pleased to note that Greece has acknowledged in its most recent report to the UN CERD that the problems faced by the Roma community (which has been a part of Greek society for more than 400 years), migrant workers and refugees are “at the core of the concern of the authorities.” The recognition that issues which need attention is always the first step necessary to addressing the problem. The Commission has received many reports regarding the Roma community in Greece, including disturbing accounts of pervasive discrimination in employment, housing, education, and access to social services, including health care. With a very high illiteracy rate, this segment of Greek society is particularly vulnerable to abuse by local officials, including reports of Roma being denied registration for voting or identity cards that in turn prevents them from gaining access to government-provided services. Particularly alarming are incidents such as the forced eviction of an estimated 100 families by order of the mayor of Ano Liossia and the bulldozing of their makeshift housing in July of 2000. Similar incidents have occurred in recent years in Agia Paraskevi, Kriti, Trikala, Nea Koi, and Evosmos. Our Founding Fathers relied heavily on the political and philosophical experience of the ancient Greeks, and Thomas Jefferson even called ancient Greece “the light which led ourselves out of Gothic darkness.” As an ally and a fellow participating State of the OSCE, we have the right and obligation to encourage implementation of the commitments our respective governments have made with full consensus. I have appreciated very much and applaud the willingness of the Government of Greece to maintain a dialogue on human dimension matters within the OSCE. We must continue our striving together to ensure that all citizens enjoy their fundamental human rights and freedoms without distinction.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    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 Commission Hearing on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Helsinki Commission held a hearing to review the current situation in Kosovo and the prospects for addressing outstanding human rights issues there. More specifically, the hearing focused on the more than 200,000 displaced of Kosovo, mostly Serb and Roma, as well as those Albanians, numbering at least 1,600 and perhaps much more, imprisoned in Serbia. Witnesses included Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation; Bill Frelick, Director for Policy at the U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Andrzej Mirga, an expert on Roma issues for the Project on Ethnic Relations and the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group; and, finally, Ylber Bajraktari, a student from Kosovo. The situation for the displaced, Mr. Speaker, is truly horrible. In Serbia, most collective centers are grim, lacking privacy and adequate facilities. While most displaced Serbs have found private accommodations, they still confront a horrible economic situation worsened by the high degree of corruption, courtesy of the Milosevic regime. The squalor in which the Roma population from Kosovo lives is much worse, and they face the added burdens of discrimination, not only in Serbia but in Montenegro and Macedonia as well. There is little chance right now for any of them to go back to Kosovo, given the strength of Albanian extremists there. Indeed, since KFOR entered Kosovo eight months ago, it was asserted, more than 80 Orthodox Churches have been damaged or destroyed in Kosovo, more than 600 Serbs have been abducted and more than 400 Serbs have been killed. The situation for those Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo is precarious. Other groups, including Muslim Slavs, those who refused to serve in the Yugoslav military, and ethnic Albanians outside Kosovo, face severe problems as well, but their plights are too often overlooked. Meanwhile, the Milosevic regime continues to hold Albanians from Kosovo in Serbian prisons, in many cases without charges. While an agreement to release these individuals was left out of the agreement ending NATO's military campaign against Yugoslav and Serbian forces, with the Clinton Administration's acquiescence, by international law these people should have been released. At a minimum, the prisoners are mistreated; more accurately, many are tortured. Some prominent cases were highlighted: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina. Clearly, the resolution of these cases is critical to any real effort at reconciliation in Kosovo. This human suffering, Mr. Speaker, must not be allowed to continue. Action must be taken by the United States and the international community as a whole. Among the suggestions made, which I would like to share with my colleagues, are the following: First, get rid of Milosevic. Little if anything can be done in Kosovo or in the Balkans as a whole until there is democratic change in Serbia; Second, bring greater attention to the imprisoned Albanians in Serbia, and keep the pressure on the Milosevic regime to release them immediately and without condition; Third, rein in extremists on both sides, Albanian and Serb, in Kosovo with a more robust international presence, including the deployment of the additional international police as requested by the UN Administrator; Fourth, find alternative networks for improved distribution of assistance to the displaced in Serbia; Fifth, consider additional third-country settlement in the United States and elsewhere for those groups most vulnerable and unable to return to their homes, like the Roma and those who evaded military service as urged by NATO. Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I intend to pursue some of these suggestions with specific legislative initiatives, or through contacts with the Department of State. I hope to find support from my fellow Commissioners and other colleagues. Having heard of the suffering of so many people, we cannot neglect to take appropriate action to help, especially in a place like Kosovo where the United States has invested so much and holds considerable influence as a result.

  • Tear Down the Usti Wall, Drop the Charges against Ondrej Gina

    Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks, we have seen a number of historic dates come and go, with appropriate commemoration. November 9, for example, marked the tenth anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yesterday, November 17, is recognized as the commencement of the Velvet Revolution which unleashed the forces of democracy against the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. To mark that occasion, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and other former leaders from the day met with President Vaclav Havel in Prague. Beyond the symbolism of those dates, they have had other meaning. Many of us had hoped that the wall in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, a symbol of racism, would be brought down on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Regrettably, November 9, came and went, and the Usti Wall still stood. We had hoped that the Usti Wall would come down on November 17. Some Czech officials even hinted this would be the case. Regrettably, November 17 has come and gone, and the Usti Wall still stands. Now, I understand some say the Usti Wall should come down before the European Union summit in Helsinki, scheduled for December 6. Mr. Speaker, the Usti Wall should never have been built, and it should come down now, today. As President Reagan exhorted Mr. Gorbachev more than ten years ago, so I will call on Czech leaders today: Tear down the Usti Wall. Last fall, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Usti nad Labem. Afterwards, the Chairwoman of the Council's Specialist Group on Roma, Josephine Verspaget, held a press conference in Prague when she called the plans to build the Usti Wall “:a step towards apartheid.” Subsequently, the United States delegation to the OSCE's annual human rights meeting in Warsaw publicly echoed those views. Since the construction of the Usti Wall, this sentiment has been voiced, in even stronger terms, by Ondrej Gina, a well-known Romani activist in the Czech Republic. He is now being prosecuted by officials in his home town of Rokycany, who object to Gina's criticisms. The criminal charges against Mr. Gina include slander, assault on a public official, and incitement to racial hatred. In short, Mr. Gina is being persecuted because public officials in Rokycany do not like his controversial opinions. They object to Mr. Gina's also using the word “apartheid.” I can certainly understand that the word “apartheid” makes people feel uncomfortable. It is an ugly word describing an ugly practice. At the same time, if the offended officials want to increase their comfort level, it seems to me that tearing down the Usti Wall, not prosecuting Ondrej Gina, would be a more sensible way to achieve that goal. As it stands, Mr. Gina faces criminal charges because he exercised his freedom of expression. If he is convicted, he will become an international cause célebre. If he goes to jail under these charges, he will be a prisoner of conscience. Mr. Speaker, it is not unusual for discussions of racial issues in the United States to become heated. These are important, complex, difficult issues, and people often feel passionate about them. But prosecuting people for their views on race relations cannot advance the dialogue we seek to have. With a view to that dialogue, as difficult as it may be, I hope officials in Rokycany will drop their efforts to prosecute Mr. Gina.

  • Expressing United States Policy toward the Slovak Republic

    Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I watched for several years as the human rights situation in Slovakia deteriorated under the leadership of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. I saw how the fledgling democratic institutions of that new country were undermined, how parliamentary and constitutional processes were threatened, and how the rule of law was slowly but surely choked. I, joined by colleagues from the Commission, raised these issues time and again with Slovak officials, as did other officials of the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, Mr. Meciar was not very receptive to our arguments.   As it happened, however, the fate of the democratic process in Slovakia was not left to the tender mercies of Vladimir Meciar. A year ago, the people of Slovakia took matters into their own hands. In an election carefully monitored by the OSCE, voters returned to office a coalition government that ended Meciar's increasingly authoritarian rule.   Initially, this broadly based, some might even say weak, coalition seemed to stand only for one thing: it was against Meciar. But in the year that has passed, we cannot say that this government is not simply united in its opposition against the former regime, it is united in its commitment for democracy, for the rule of law, for a free market economy, for a transparent privatization process that is accountable to the people, and for a community of democracies dedicated to the protection of their common security.   Mr. Speaker, the process of transition that Slovakia struggles with today is not an easy one. In fact, many of the commemorations held this month to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism have focused on just how difficult this transition has been, including for Slovakia's closest neighbors. In spite of this, the Slovak Government has proceeded to make some very tough decisions this year. I am particularly impressed by the willingness of Prime Minister Dzurinda to make decisions that, while necessary for the long term, economic well-being of his country, may be very politically unpopular in the short term. That takes courage.   I know, of course, that Slovakia still has a lot of work ahead. As in most other European countries, there is much that should be done in Slovakia to improve respect for the human rights of the Romani minority. But there is much that Slovakia has accomplished in the past year and, especially as someone who has been critical of Slovakia in the past, I want to acknowledge and commend those achievements. Mr. Speaker, I hope others will join me in sending this message and will support H. Con. Res. 165.

  • 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.

  • Romani Human Rights in Europe

    Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith presided over this hearing that discussed the rights of the Romani population in Europe. While ostensibly of Central and Eastern European descent, Romani, or Roma, individuals have existed in almost every European state. The Roma consist of a dispersed minority that, at the time of this hearing, was the fastest growing European population, numbering between 8 million and 10 million people. Unfortunately, their numbers did not protect the Roma from being the only population whose situation had actually worsened since the fall of Communism. From the first signs of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania to the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation in January of 1994, the reasons to justify holding this hearing to discuss the plight of the Romani were many. At this hearing, besides Commissioner Chris Smith, were Commission Chairman Steny Hoyer, and witnesses James Goldston of the European Roma Rights Center, Livia Plaks of the Project on Ethnic Relations, and Drs. David Crowe and Ian Hancock, professors at Elon and the University of Texas-Austin, respectively.

  • Dogs Have More Freedom

    Mr. Speaker, `Dogs have more freedom than us; at least they are not afraid to go outside.' Mr. Speaker, this is the conclusion of a young Romani father in Slovakia who recounted his experience with growing skinhead violence in his country. His story is, regrettably, just one of the many documented in a January 1997 report prepared by the European Roma Rights Center [ERRC] entitled `Time of the Skinheads: Denial and Exclusion of Roma in Slovakia.' This study describes a grim pattern of violent assaults against Roma perpetrated by skinhead extremists; it also suggests that local police forces have been, at best, unwilling to fulfill their obligation to protect their citizens and, at worst, have themselves actually engaged in violence against Roma.   Descriptions of a 1995 organized attack on the entire Romani community in the town of Jarovnice--something that reads like a pogrom from a bygone era--were especially chilling. Since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, a great deal of international attention has, rightly, focused on the status of the Hungarian minority in that country, a community that makes up approximately 10 percent of the population. Slovakia also has another large minority population which is less well known abroad. While the exact number of Roma in Slovakia is contested, it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. These people, the survivors of Nazi efforts to eradicate the Roma altogether, now face increasing violent attacks against their homes, their villages, and their lives.   The problems of Roma in post-Communist European countries are many, and often defy easy answers. But at least three of the problems described in `Time of the Skinheads' do have obvious solutions. First, the Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any serious effort to acknowledge and address the widespread problem of violent skinhead attacks on Roma. On the contrary, some public officials, members of the ruling coalition, have repeatedly made crude racist remarks about the Roma. As long as such remarks stand uncontested or unchallenged by Prime Minister Meciar, skinheads will believe that they can attack Roma with impunity. Clearly, local police officials take their cues from the top. Accordingly, any improvement in the situation of Roma in Slovakia must begin with the leadership of that country stating that racism and bigotry will not be tolerated.   Second, the ERRC report described a pattern of excessive use of force by the police against Roma. When the victims seek to bring a complaint against the police, the charges are, in effect, reversed and the Rom is charged with assaulting the police. Significantly, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a report on April 3, which also documented a problem of police brutality in Slovakia. That report, like the report of the ERRC, noted that the failure to ensure that those charged with a criminal offense have adequate legal representation has significantly contributed to this miscarriage of justice. One of the purposes of providing such representation is to guarantee a fair trial, consistent with the due process of law, and to ensure that those accused of crimes do not have confessions extracted from them by force. The failure to provide the accused with defense counsel violates one of the most important provisions of the international human rights system: the right to an attorney, a right articulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as paragraph 5.16 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document. I hope the Slovak Government will take immediate measures to redress this problem.   Finally, the ERRC report on Slovakia indicates that Slovak localities continue to use a system of tightly controlled residency permits to restrict the freedom of movement of Roma. Not only does this practice offend the nondiscrimination provisions of the Helsinki process, this system also harkens back to the rigid controls of the Communist days. If people are not permitted to move where jobs are, how can a free market system flourish?   Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this pattern of violence against Roma is not unique to Slovakia. The ERRC, which was founded to defend the human rights of Roma, has also issued major reports on Austria and Romania. In addition, its most recent newsletter reported on problems Roma face in several other European countries. Clearly, there is much more that many governments in Central Europe can and should do to address these problems. I realize that Slovakia is in the midst of grappling with a very broad range of fundamental questions regarding its development and future. The basic human rights of Roma should be a part of that agenda. I see no better time. Will Slovakia enter the 21st century as a country which seeks to unite its citizens in achieving common goals, or will it lag behind with those countries which have permitted nationalism and racism to divide their people and weaken the very state they worked so hard to create?

  • 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. 

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

  • Ex Post Facto Problems of the Czech Citizenship Law

    When the Czechoslovak Federal Republic dissolved on January 1, 1993, the newly independent Czech Republic adopted a citizenship law that provided citizenship to only some of the former Czechoslovak citizens then resident in the Czech Republic. An undetermined number of people, including long-term residents and even some people born in the Czech Republic, have been left stateless or with an unclear legal status. Almost all of these people belong to the Czech Republic's largest minority, Roma (Gypsies). As a consequence, this law has been heavily criticized at meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In particular, the law presents numerous and serious questions regarding its conformity with international standards, such as those relating to recognition before the law (the status of orphans), equal protection before the law (different requirements for citizenship established for different classes of former Czechoslovak citizens), the right to a fair hearing (lack of adequate hearing procedures and opportunities for appeal), and actual or arbitrary discrimination (original intent of the law). Non-governmental organizations in the Czech Republic and abroad have heavily criticized the law both as drafted and as applied. This memorandum examines one discrete aspect of the current Czech citizenship law: its conformity with the Czech Republic's international obligation to refrain from increasing criminal penalties after the crime in question was committed.

  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • The CSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities

    The CSCE created the post of High Commissioner on National Minorities at its July 1992 summit meeting in Helsinki, in response to the emergence of minority-related unrest as one of the main sources of conflict in Europe. Originally proposed by the Netherlands, the proposal received wide support as an innovative approach to national minority problems unleashed by the disappearance of superpower confrontation in Europe. Some of the most innovative aspects of the original proposal for a High Commissioner were substantially watered down in response to individual state's concerns. The High Commissioner may not become involved where armed conflict has already broken out or in areas already under consideration by the CSO, unless the permission of the CSO is given. Communication with or response to communications from organizations or individuals who practice or publicly condone terrorism is prohibited, as is involvement in situations "involving organized acts of terrorism." Former Dutch Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel was appointed the first High Commissioner in December 1992; his office began to function in January 1993, with premises donated by the Dutch government and a staff of three diplomats seconded from the Dutch, Polish and Swedish foreign ministries.

  • Report on the U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation Visit to Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania

    The main purpose of the Commission's visit to Budapest was to participate in the Seminar on Parliamentary Responsibility for Economic Development being co-sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, the Hungarian Parliament, the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, and the Library of Congress. Additionally, members of the delegation discussed Hungary's current political and economic situation with members of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), leaders of the Gypsy community, and U.S. business representatives.

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