Title

The Sterilization Investigation in the Czech Republic

Tuesday, August 15, 2006
2255 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Moderator(s): 
Name: 
Ronald McNamara
Title Text: 
International Policy Director
Name: 
Erika Schlager
Title Text: 
Counsel for International Law
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Gwendolyn Albert
Title: 
Director
Body: 
League of Human Rights (Prague)

This briefing addressed the policy pursued by the Czechoslovak Government during the 1970s and 1980s to reduce the birthrate of Roma by targeting some Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Commission expressed concern over this issue, especially in light of the head of the Slovak Nationalist Party calling for the restriction of the birth rate of Roman as recently as February of 2006.

Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, presented testimony on the League’s efforts to secure justice for ethnic Romani women living in the Czech Republic who were coercively sterilized. This issue was presented in the context of overall human rights violations committed against the Romani minority in the Czech Republic, ranging from racially motivated murder to discrimination in employment and housing.

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  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism. Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival. Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement. Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.” Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group. In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.” Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism.  Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival.  Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement.  Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.  It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.”  Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group.  In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.”  Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Steny Hoyer

    Madame Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77’s extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia’s first President after the fall of communism.  Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival.  Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission’s second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement.  Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country’s economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.  It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77, first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, I was told that Charter 77 didn’t represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.”  Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a "humanitarian" gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group.  In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move . . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned.] For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.”  Madame Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

  • Southeastern Europe: Moving from Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide to Euro-Atlantic Integration

    When I was appointed Chairman of the Helsinki Commission in early 1995, Mr. Speaker, the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its European counterparts were seized by a genocidal conflict of aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many here in the Congress were already deeply involved in bipartisan efforts to end the conflict by urging a decisive, international response under U.S. leadership. I can still recall the sense of horror, outrage and shame when the Srebrenica massacre occurred and nothing was done to stop it and other atrocities committed against civilians. Slobodan Milosevic, meanwhile, was comfortably entrenched as Serbia’s leader, with Kosovo under his repressive thumb. The situation was truly bleak.  Today, relative calm prevails throughout the Balkans region, though simmering tensions and other serious problems could lead to renewed crisis and conflict, if left unchecked. Overcoming the legacy of the past and restoring dignity and ensuring justice for the victims will require sustained engagement and vigilance. Integrating the countries of the region into European institutions can advance this process.  Slovenia has become a full-fledged member of both NATO and the European Union. Croatia is well on its way to similar membership, and Macedonia and Albania are making steady progress in the right direction. In a welcome development, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the epicenter of bloody carnage and mass displacement in the mid-1990s, was invited last week to participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program, along with Serbia and the newly independent state of Montenegro.  As a longstanding member and leader of the Helsinki Commission, I want to highlight some of the numerous initiatives we have undertaken in an attempt to draw attention to developments in the Balkans and to influence related policy. Since 1995, we have convened more than 20 hearings on specific aspects of the region as well as related briefings, legislation, letters, statements and meetings. These efforts have been undertaken with an uncommon degree of bipartisanship. In this regard, I particularly want to thank the Commission’s outgoing Ranking Member, Mr. Cardin of Maryland, for helping to make this a reality. Among the Commission’s most noteworthy accomplishments, I would include garnering the strong support that contributed to the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and pressing countries to cooperate in bringing those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to justice. I would include the change in U.S. policy from relying on Milosevic to implement the Dayton Agreement to supporting democracy in Serbia as the long-term and genuine partner in building regional peace and stability.  We have maintained a significant focus on elections, encouraging all the countries in the region to strive to meet international standards for free and fair elections as well as referenda. There has been tremendous progress in this regard.  The Commission’s support for the OSCE, I believe, has helped the organization’s field activities in southeastern Europe to be more successful in promoting respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the people, regardless of ethnicity. Finally, on the more controversial policy of NATO’s action against Serbia in 1999, the Commission served as a forum to air differing views on the policy response while finding common ground in addressing the humanitarian crises, documenting human rights abuses and holding human rights violators to account.  Mr. Speaker, while welcoming this progress in southeastern Europe, I would caution against complacency as the region faces significant challenges. Maintaining positive momentum will require much from actors in the region as well as the international community, including the United States.  First and foremost is the situation in Kosovo. The pending decisions that will be made on Kosovo’s status give rise to growing expectation as well as apprehension and concern. Despite the many debates on larger issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination, these decisions should and will ultimately be judged by whether or not they lead to improved respect for human rights, especially the rights of those people belonging to the Serb, Roma and other minority communities in Kosovo. The members of the minority communities deserve to be treated as people, not as pawns in a fight over territory and power. They should be allowed to integrate rather than remain isolated, and they should not be discouraged from integration when opportunities arise. I remain deeply concerned that these issues are not being given the attention they deserve. Whatever Kosovo becomes, OSCE and other international human rights standards must apply.  Similarly, there is a need to ensure that justice is vigorously pursued for the victims of horrendous human rights violations. Conditionality on assistance to Serbia, as well as on that country’s integration, must remain firmly in place until Belgrade cooperates fully in locating at-large indicted war criminals and facilitating their transfer to the ICTY in The Hague. It is an outrage that Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic remain at large. After refusing to take meaningful action on these cases, Serbia cannot be let off the hook now, but should be pressed to comply with its international obligations.  A related issue is that of missing persons. Ten years after Dayton, additional mass graves continued to be uncovered, and the identification of the remains of relatives and loved ones is important for the survivors of past atrocities and their societies. The Commission recently held a briefing on identifying remains found in mass graves in Bosnia, and I hope that support for determining the fate of missing persons can be further strengthened.  While some progress has been made in combating trafficking in persons in the region, all countries there need to intensify their efforts to end this modern-day form of slavery. Political will and adequate resources will be required, including through enhanced efforts by law enforcement and more vigorous prosecution of traffickers while providing protection for their victims.  Religious freedoms also remain a cause for concern. Various laws in the region allegedly providing for religious freedom do more to restrict this fundamental right by establishing thresholds for registration, by discriminating against small or new religious groups through tiers of recognition with associated privileges for traditional faiths, and by precluding the sharing of creeds or limiting free speech. These restrictions are particularly burdensome to smaller religious groups and can lead to stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination against their members. For instance, Kosovo’s new religion law singles out certain communities for special status while failing to address how other religious groups can obtain juridical personality as a religious organization, thereby creating a significant legal void from the start. I urge Kosovo authorities to follow the progressive Albanian system and create a neutral registration system of general applicability. Macedonia is considering a draft law now, and I hope authorities will fully adopt the recommendations of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom, as certain provisions of the draft regarding the granting of legal personality need additional refinement. I similarly call on Serbian officials to amend their current law and ensure all groups seeking registration receive legal status. Meanwhile, there is a need to step up efforts to respect the sanctity and ensure the safety of places of worship that have in the past been the targets of ethnically-based violence in Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia and elsewhere.  Mr. Speaker, concerted efforts by courageous leaders in the Balkans and elsewhere have helped move the region from the edge of the abyss to the threshold for a brighter and more prosperous future. I congratulate the countries of southeastern Europe on the progress achieved thus far and encourage them to make further progress to ensure that all of the people of the region benefit.

  • Accountability and Impunity: Investigations Into Sterilization Without Informed Consent in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

    On December 23, 2005, the Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report confirming that some Romani women had been sterilized without informed consent. His report constitutes an unflinching examination of several highly sensitive issues: the relationship between patients and doctors in the Czech Republic, the eugenics movement in Czechoslovakia, communist-era policies toward the Romani minority, and the question of whether the post-communist Czech Government brought a definitive end to the communist-era policy of targeting Romani women for sterilization. This report stands in stark contrast with Slovakia’s flawed investigation (completed in October 2003) of the same issue, which was marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow-up. That inquiry prompted changes to the legal framework for sterilization in Slovakia which should help safeguard against the possibility that anyone will be sterilized without informed consent in the future. However, the Slovak Government’s investigation dismissed sterilizations without informed consent as merely “procedural shortcomings.” Moreover, the Slovak Government’s failure to acknowledge that wrongful sterilizations did, in fact, occur, contributes to the chasm of mistrust that divides Slovakia’s Romani and non-Romani citizens. Non-Roma have been misled by their government to believe that Roma falsely made accusations of egregious wrongs, and government institutions established to defend human rights have utterly failed to protect the rights of Roma. Download the full report to learn more. 

  • Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

    A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent. “I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.” “Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.” The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.” Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma. The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Kyrgyz Return of Uzbek Refugees

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed outrage about the forced return of Uzbek refugees by the Kyrgyz Government. Four refugees and one asylum seeker were deported on Wednesday to Uzbekistan, from which they had fled. “I am profoundly disappointed that Kyrgyzstan has forcibly returned these five individuals,” said Senator Brownback. “Kyrgyzstan did allow the UN to resettle to third countries the majority of refugees fleeing the Andijon shootings. I do not understand this change in policy, which certainly damages Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation. The consequences of this decision may be life threatening for the refugees.” “I urge President Bakiev to ensure this grave mistake is not repeated with other Uzbeks seeking shelter in Kyrgyzstan from the repressive Karimov regime,” added Senator Brownback. “I also urge President Karimov to allow the international community access to the returnees.” Four individuals were recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had reportedly found third countries to accept their resettlement. Despite repeated UNHCR requests to Kyrgyz officials to allow the transfer, Kyrgyz authorities deported all five individuals to Uzbekistan on Wednesday. UNHCR had not been granted sufficient access to the fifth individual to determine whether he qualified as a refugee. “The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, is unconscionable and outrageous,” said Rep. Smith. “I had hoped the United States had found a reliable partner in President Bakiev, but apparently he’s more interested in pleasing Tashkent by offering up these poor souls for likely mistreatment than in upholding international commitments.” “Considering this and the recent expulsion of two American diplomats on specious grounds, we should take a long and hard look at the policies coming out of Bishkek and how they will affect the bilateral relationship,” said Rep. Smith. The four Uzbeks were being detained in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh for over one year due to an Uzbek extradition request. They were part of a larger group of over 400 refugees that crossed into Kyrgyzstan fleeing the shootings by Uzbek security forces in May 2005 in the Uzbek city of Andijon. UNHCR recognized the entire group as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. The group was transferred to Romania last year for resettlement processing. Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is obligated by the UN Convention Against Torture to not return individuals if there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

  • The Human Rights Situation of Roma: Europe's Largest Ethnic Minority

    This briefing addressed the status of Roma, Europe’s largest minority and also one of its most marginalized. In particular, the causes and implications of the housing crisis facing Roma; the progress of efforts to end segregated education in the region; and the impact on Roma of rising populist and extremist movements were discussed.  Personal testimonies presented by the witnesses addressed the disproportionate levels of poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment that Roma face throughout the region, but also examined the current actions undertaken by Roma to gain control of their political destiny – including winning seats in the European Parliament and winning cases before the European Court on Human Rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Remarks on Passage of H.Res.578, Concerning the Government of Romania's Ban on Intercountry Adoptions and on the Welfare of Orphaned and Abandoned Children in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, H. Res. 578 expresses deep disappointment that the Romanian government has instituted a virtual ban on intercountry adoptions with serious implications for the well-being of orphaned and abandoned children in Romania.   Immediately after the December 1989 revolution, Mr. Speaker, which ousted the much-hated dictator Nicholae Ceausescu, the world learned that tens of thousands of underfed, neglected children were living in institutions, called orphanages, throughout Romania. A month after the fall of Ceausescu, Dorothy Taft, who is our deputy chief of staff at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and I traveled to Bucharest and visited those orphanages. We also met with government officials and spoke about the hope for democracy in that country. But one of the most lasting impressions that I have from that trip is being in an orphanage in Bucharest, where dozens of children were lined up with no one to turn them, to change their diapers and, in some cases, even to feed them with the frequency that their little bodies required. It left a lasting impression upon me.   Sadly, all these years later, Mr. Speaker, Romania's child abandonment rate that we witnessed firsthand on that trip has not changed significantly over those years. As of December 2005, 76,509 children are currently in the child protection system.   While the Romanian government deserves at least some credit for reducing the number of children living in institutions from 100,000 to 28,000, this is only part of the picture. The government statistics do not include the abandoned infants living for years in maternity and pediatric hospitals, where donations from charities and individuals keep the children alive; and more than 40,000 of the children moved out of the institutions are living in nonpermanent settings or foster care, or with maternal assistance, paid by the government or with a distant relative who do not intend to adopt them, but do accept them for a stipend.   In the context of Romania's ascension to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the qualifications and motives for those who adopt internationally and the fate of those adopted children.   Intercountry adoption, Mr. Speaker, was falsely equated with child trafficking, and Romania faced relentless pressure to prohibit intercountry adoptions. Sadly, rather than focusing on the best interest of the children, Romanian policymakers acquiesced to the European Union's pressure, especially its rapporteur, Lady Emma Nicholson, by enacting a law in 2004 that banned intercountry adoption, except by biological grandparents. By foreclosing foreign adoptions, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside of the child's country of birth.   Between 1990 and 2004, I would note, more than 8,000 Romanian children found permanent families in the United States and thousands more joined families in Western Europe and elsewhere. This possibility is now gone. Some Romanians and Europeans argue that this law, this misguided law, is somehow consistent with Hague Convention on the Intercountry Adoptions and the Rights of the Child Convention. They also allege that  “there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions in Romania because there are so few children who are legally adoptable.”   Mr. Speaker, the low numbers declared “legally adoptable” is not something to be proud of. It is a contrivance. Indeed, it is a denunciation of the child welfare system, which now places such an unrealistic priority on unification with blood relatives that it is nearly impossible to determine any child is adoptable, no matter how old and how long they have been in state care without contact with the blood relatives.   If more children were made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption. Barely a thousand children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year. As a result of the new laws, only 333 children were entrusted for domestic adoption last year.   For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, domestic or intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been dashed and destroyed.   Last September, Mr. Speaker, I chaired a hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe at which Maura Harty, the Deputy Under Secretary of State, rebutted the argument that the adoption ban is somehow consistent with Romania's intercountry international treaty obligations. Likewise, our witnesses, including Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota's Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.   He also talked about the deleterious effect of such waiting, being held in foster care and especially in institutions, has on a child's mental, as well as their physical health.   When Romania enacted its intercountry adoption ban, there were 211 pending cases in which children have been matched with adoptive parents in the United States. Approximately a thousand more have been matched with parents in Western Europe, Israel and Australia. In the past few weeks there have been unofficial reports that pending applications are being rejected across the board and the dossiers returned to the adoptive parents.   A document from the Romanian Office for Adoption acknowledged that fewer than 300 of these children have been placed in permanent situations, either returned to biological parents or adopted within Romania. The vast majority remain in limbo. This cannot be the last word of what we often call “the pipeline cases.”   The Romanian government repeatedly promised to analyze each pending case thoroughly, but the review that has supposedly been done was not transparent, was not done on a case-by-case basis, and was not conducted according to clear and valid criteria that is in the best interest of each individual child. These cases involve prospective families who have proven their good faith, by waiting for years for these children. Many cases involve children who will not be domestically adopted due to their special needs, medical or societal prejudices.   In at least three cases, Mr. Speaker, children are already living in the United States with their prospective adoptive parents while receiving life-saving medical treatment, including a child with spina bifida. These children were legally adoptable until Romania's new law took effect.   Let me say that when I introduced this resolution in November, I asked the question, who in the European Union will stand with Members of our Congress, to protect these defenseless children?   Today I am happy to say, members of the European Parliament are challenging the anti-adoption monopoly over this issue and that is encouraging. On December 15, the European Parliament urged Romania to act in the pending cases with the goal of allowing intercountry adoptions to take place where justified and appropriate. In March, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania's EU accession, Mr. Pierre Moscovici, reported that he notably differs on the issue of international adoption of Romanian children from the previous rapporteur, Baroness Emma Nicholson, whose virulent anti-adoption views that hurt the children of Romania are now very, very well known.   I applaud the European Parliament and I am glad that our parliament, this Congress, is poised to go on record very strongly in trying to resolve these pipeline cases.   In closing, I want again to thank Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Lantos for their tremendous support for this resolution and the underlying issue of trying to encourage intercountry adoption in a country, Romania that has now, in a misguided fashion, turned their back on those children who could find loving, durable homes with the adoption option.   Let me also thank so many other people who were a part of this, but especially Maureen Walsh, who is our General Counsel for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, for her extraordinary expertise and work on the issue and this resolution. We have had an ongoing process, contacting the highest levels of the government of Romania, from the President on down. It has been ongoing. It has been frequent.   Our hearing that Ben Cardin and I put on last year I think brought all of these issues to the fore in a way that were very persuasive on the part of the pipeline families, as well as the issue itself. The intercountry adoption is a loving, compassionate option, and certainly is far better than languishing in an orphanage somewhere where the child is warehoused.   Mr. Speaker, so we call upon the Romanian government again to reverse its position, to cease its mucking under Lady Nicholson's pressure, which is now going into reverse. The European Union, as I said before, is showing clear signs that it concludes it has made a profound mistake.   I want to thank Mr. Cardin, who is our ranking member on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who has been working on these issues side by side.  

  • Debate on "Present World Crisis Regarding Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Beliefs"

    In the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, the people’s right to freedom of speech, including freedom of the press, and the people’s right to peacefully assemble to protest both, are guaranteed. As political leaders, we have a special responsibility—words have consequences.  When words can lead to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic or anti-Christian actions—we have a responsibility to speak out against such expression.   The recent political cartoons published in the European press which mock the Prophet Mohammed and equate Islam and practicing Muslims with terrorism are not only offensive but also irresponsible because they foster anti-Muslim sentiment. We should protect the right of the press, but we should condemn such expressions as wrong.   If we do not act, we risk leaving a terrible legacy to our children.    Such a legacy would condone hate speech and racial and religious incitement.  Such a legacy would lead to more tragic and unjustifiable violence, more discrimination against Muslims and more attempts by government to improperly control the media.   We should act effectively and peacefully.    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most profound civil rights leader in the United States in the 20th Century, cautioned all of us that the legacy of hate and violence must not be hate and violence.  The violent response to the cartoons must be condemned, but our response to the cartoons must be decisive.   The OSCE has acted against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and all forms of religious discrimination.  We have an action plan reinforced by ODIHR and our special representatives.   We need to reinforce our efforts to educate respect and understanding among all religions.  We need to strengthen training on the right and responsibility of a free media.  We need to promote specific and appropriate activities in each of our States to facilitate these goals.    As leaders, let our legacy be for each of our States—freedom of the press and greater understanding and respect for religious diversity.

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

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

  • The Meaning of Egypt's Elections and Their Relevance to the Middle East

    The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on October 12, 2005 to examine Egypt’s September 7, 2005 presidential election and its ongoing parliamentary elections.   The presidential election was the first in Egyptian history to be open to opposition candidates, while the parliamentary elections are being held in three phases over a six- week period to be concluded in early December. In the Egyptian presidential election, as was widely expected, incumbent President Hosni Mubarak of the National Democratic Party won a fifth consecutive six-year term with  88% of the vote. Out of numerous opposition candidates, the two main challengers, Ayman Nour of the Al-Ghad party and Noaman Gomaa of Al-Wafd, received 7.3% and 2.8% of the vote, respectively Post-election Analysis While the elections were generally acknowledged to have fallen short of meeting international standards, it was broadly agreed that the vote represented a change in Egyptian politics.  The nature of that change was, however, disputed by the panelists. Consequently, much of the discussion at the briefing was critical of the government’s conduct of the elections, with claims that electoral reforms that had been undertaken in Egypt had not gone far enough. “While the Egyptian elections did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness, the mere fact that the regime allowed the opposition a place on the ballot had opened a doorway,” said U.S. Helsinki Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) in prepared remarks. In a statement, Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, “The Egyptian people have tasted electoral freedom for the first time and began to debate the future of their country in a way that once was unthinkable. This is the beginning of a long process of democratic reform which over time will reverberate throughout the Arab world.” Thomas Garrett of the International Republican Institute (IRI), who had observed the pre-election period and the elections as part of a 15-member observer delegation, remarked on the significant progress made by Egypt in allowing open elections.  “For the first time in history, Egyptian voters were given the opportunity to choose from among several candidates for the position of president,” he said. Garrett noted that one of the problems in the lead-up to the elections was that access to voter lists was not provided to opposition parties until two days before the election, making voter contact difficult for all but the incumbent.  He was also concerned that apparent “off-the-cuff remarks”  by members of the independent electoral commission regarding candidacies and party participation were given the force of law by virtue of the fact that such remarks could not be subjected to legal challenge.  These issues notwithstanding, Garrett commented that the election broke the historic taboo against citizens openly criticize their government in a way that had previously been unheard of in Egyptian politics.  Overall, Garrett concluded, the aspirations of the voters were not subverted in that it was the clear intent of those who did vote to re-elect President Mubarak. Khairi Abaza, visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and formerly of Egypt’s Wafd Party, the second major opposition party in the election, discussed the nature of the opposition.  Abaza pointed out that although Mubarak received 88% of the vote, estimates are that only 15-23% of the 32 million registered voters participated in the election, meaning that Mubarak had the support of 6.5 million in a country of 72 million. Abaza listed less-than-democratic aspects of the election, arguing that these had the impact of lowering voter turnout. These problems notwithstanding, Abaza noted that the public gains for the opposition were very important, allowing for the first time in 50 years a real civic debate about political reform and systemic change.  He added that the lead-up to the election saw the growth of the opposition which, as a result, began to speak much more openly against the government.  However, “there’s still a long way to go before we can see free and fair elections in Egypt,” he said.  “What happened in Egypt is probably a step toward a freer system, but it could only be considered a step if it’s promptly followed by many other steps.”  Abaza also remarked that it because of its comparatively more solid national, social, and linguistic identity as well as parliamentary history, Egypt was well positioned to serve as an example for the region. A Different Perspective Somewhat in contrast to the prevailing view, Dr. Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did not view the presidential election as representing an historic step or breakthrough.  Hamzawy maintained that describing the election as historic was misleading, especially when taking into account the low voter turnout and the lack of serious competitors to Mubarak.  Rather, Hamzawy suggested, the election was simply the latest step forward in an ongoing reform of Egyptian politics that had gone on for the past 5 to10 years.  He predicted that the impact of the irregularities suffered in the election would be minimized by judges who would play a greater role in monitoring the elections than had historically been the case.  This, Hamzawy argued, would help restore the public’s belief in the neutrality of state institutions.  Hamzawy also added that he believed that opposition parties would win 15-20% of the seats in the People’s Assembly in the parliamentary elections. First Steps Counselor Wael Aboulmaged of the Embassy of Egypt noted that, as the vote was Egypt’s first experience with open presidential elections, it was perhaps inevitable that an assessment of their conduct would show them to have been deficient in various aspects. He added that Egyptians were only beginning to understand such facets of an election as campaigning nationally; how to raise funds; addressing people in different parts of the country who have different concerns; when to talk substance, when to talk style. Aboulmaged further contended that voter apathy and low voter turnout in the elections was due to many citizens lacking faith in the process.  However, he thought there was evidence of a new trend in which average people were becoming more involved politically and were beginning to feel that they have a real stake in electoral outcomes. The Counselor made note of the election’s irregularities, but reminded the audience of the significance of the recent events:  “For the first time, an incumbent president in Egypt had to campaign nationwide to present his political, economic and social agenda for public scrutiny:  to be held, in effect, accountable.  This is something that presidents in Egypt simply did not do in the past.  He had to ask for the trust of the voters.” Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a statement observed, “Nobody would mistake this election as free and unfettered.  The opposition was fragmented, its main party excluded, and campaigning was tightly restricted.  However, the sight of any public debate in the very heart of the Arab world’s most important state is the first crack in the façade of the old regime.” Witnesses Mr. Thomas Garrett, Director of Middle East and North Africa Program, International Republican Institute Dr. Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mr. Khairi Abaza, Past Cultural Secretary, Wafd Party; Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute Mr. Wael Aboulmagd, Counselor, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt Moderator Mr. Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission

  • American Agenda Moves Forward at the 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The 14th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly convened in Washington, DC, July 1-5, 2005. Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the host for this year’s Assembly, welcomed more than 260 parliamentarians from 51 OSCE participating States as they gathered to discuss various political, economic, and humanitarian issues under the theme, “30 Years since Helsinki: Challenges Ahead.”  Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) served as head of the U.S. Delegation, Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) was delegation vice-chairman.  Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice gave the inaugural address at the assembly’s opening session, thanking the members of the OSCE PA for their work toward “human rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the development of transparent, accountable institutions of government across the OSCE community and around the globe. “As the Chairman-in-Office and Parliamentary Assembly take a fresh look at the OSCE agenda and consider these and other items, preserving the integrity of Helsinki principles and ensuring that the OSCE continues to be an agent of peaceful, democratic transformation should be paramount objectives,” Secretary Rice said. Chairman Brownback in plenary remarks underscored the rich history of the Helsinki Process, unwavering U.S. commitment to human rights and the dignity of the individual, and the dramatic advances made in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.  At the same time, he pointed to the remaining work to be done in the OSCE region and beyond to meet the promises made with the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.      Offering guidance to the body, OSCE PA President and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) reiterated the gathering’s theme:  “In this new Europe, and in this new world, the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly must stand ready to respond to new threats and challenges, and this means evolving and adapting to new realities.” Agenda and Issues Among the issues considered by the Assembly were recommendations for changes in the OSCE Code of Conduct for Mission Members, efforts to combat human trafficking, and calls for greater transparency and accountability in election procedures in keeping with OSCE commitments made by each of the 55 participating States. The First Committee on Political Affairs and Security met to discuss matters of terrorism and conflict resolution, including resolutions on the following topics: terrorism by suicide bombers the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia terrorism and human rights Moldova and the status of Transdniestria Under the chairmanship of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), the Second Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment moved on a number of issues, including resolutions and amendments on: small arms and light weapons maritime security and piracy the OSCE Mediterranean dimension money laundering the fight against corruption The Third Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions tackled a number of resolutions, as well as two supplementary items brought by members of the U.S. Delegation.  Other topics addressed by the Committee included:         the need to strengthen the Code of Conduct for OSCE Mission Members combating trafficking in human beings improving the effectiveness of OSCE election observation activities The Assembly plenary met in consideration of the resolutions passed by the general committees as well as the following supplementary items: improving gender equality in the OSCE combating anti-Semitism Special side events were held in conjunction with the 5-day meeting, including a briefing on the status of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held by senior U.S. officials from the Departments of Defense and State.  Members of the U.S. Delegation also participated in the following organized events: Parliamentary responses to anti-Semitism Working breakfast on gender issues Mediterranean side meeting Panel discussion on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Human rights in Uzbekistan Meeting of the parliamentary team on Moldova In addition, while participating in the Assembly, members of the U.S. Delegation held bilateral meetings with fellow parliamentarians from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.  They also had formal discussions with the newly appointed OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. Key U.S. Initiatives The successful adoption of a number of supplementary items and amendments to the Assembly’s Washington Declaration illustrated the extent of the activity of the members of the U.S. Delegation in the three Assembly committees.  The delegation met success in advancing its initiatives in human trafficking, election observation activities, and religious freedom. As a result, the Washington Declaration reflects significant input based on U.S. initiatives. In the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Senator Voinovich (R-OH) sponsored, and successfully passed, a supplementary item on funding for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to allow it to continue its missions and responsibilities. Speaking on the passage of his resolution on combating trafficking at the hands of international peacekeepers, Co-Chairman Smith said, “In the past, the lack of appropriate codes of conduct for international personnel, including military service members, contractors, and international organization’s employees, limited the ability to counter sexual exploitation and trafficking.  That is finally changing.” The U.S. Delegation also overwhelmingly defeated text offered by the Russian Delegation that would have weakened the ability of ODIHR to effectively perform election observations.  Co-Chairman Smith, principal sponsor of the amendments that served to frustrate the Russian resolution, praised the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly saying, “The Parliamentary Assembly has reaffirmed the central and historic leadership role of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in monitoring elections….Parliamentarians from the participating States have soundly rejected the ploy to weaken OSCE election standards, holding participating States accountable when they fail to fulfill their OSCE election commitments.” On the issue of religious freedom, the U.S. Delegation carried through two amendments to the final Assembly declaration. “I am very pleased that these amendments passed,” said Co-Chairman Smith, who offered the amendments to the draft resolution.  “However, the fact that the first amendment passed by only 10 votes underscores the continuing challenge in the fight for religious liberties in the OSCE region.  The fact that parliamentarians are willing to discriminate against minority religious communities is sobering.” In addition, an amendment brought by Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) that calls on the U.S. Congress to grant voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia secured passage. Leadership Positions Commissioner Hastings was re-elected unanimously to another one-year term as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Joining the U.S. leadership on the Parliamentary Assembly, Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin was also re-elected Chairman of the General on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment by unanimous decision.  Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith continues in his role as Special Representative on Human Trafficking to the OSCE PA.  Additionally, Rep. Hoyer chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability, which works to foster greater response from the governments of participating States to Assembly initiatives. The close of the Assembly was marked with the adoption of the Washington Declaration and concluding remarks by OSCE PA President Hastings. The Parliamentary Assembly will meet again next year, July 3-7, in Brussels, Belgium. U.S. Delegation to 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

  • Human Rights in Iran: Prospects and the Western Response

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director In response to ongoing developments in Iran, on June 9 the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing entitled, “The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response,” to examine the continuing pattern of serious human rights violations in Iran and consider how to formulate an effective transatlantic response. The hearing is part of a series to explore emerging threats to countries in the OSCE region. Iran shares borders with several OSCE participant States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan and also borders Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) focused squarely on the deteriorating human rights climate in Iran: “Across the border, Iran's human rights record is dismal and getting worse. The Iranian regime employs all of the levers of power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, even so far as execution. No effort is spared to silence opposition.” “Freedom denied” sums up the regime’s approach to fundamental human rights across the board, observed Chairman Brownback, “the tyrants in Tehran time and time again have shown a zeal for crushing outbreaks of free thought. Having come down hard on vestiges of independent media, the regime has pursued those who sought refuge on the Internet as a domain for democratic discussion.” Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew attention to the extensive economic ties between many European countries and Iran, suggesting that such interests influence policy toward Tehran. Smith also questioned the effectiveness of existing UN human rights structures and the need for major reform of the system. Dr. Jeff Gedmin, Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, testifying before the Commission, noted the paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “It’s changed our thinking about democracy, not only for the moral reasons, but because, as the president and others have said, the old realism, the old stability sort of policies didn't keep us safe, either. They weren’t fully moral, and they didn’t keep us safe.” Gedmin urged a more assertive approach toward Iran that would link the security approach and the human rights and democracy approach, and warned against concentrating on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Gedmin called for ensuring that promotion of democracy is part of any dialogue with the regime, while admitting that European commercial interests could complicate matters. In his testimony, Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, focused on the dynamics of democracy promotion more generally and efforts to foster related U.S. and European cooperation through the Trans-Atlantic Democracy Network initiative involving senior government officials and NGO activists from both sides of the Atlantic. He admitted that there are a variety of European perspectives on how best to encourage democratic change, contrasting “the more traditional Western European officials around Brussels and the newly arrived officials from Central and Eastern Europe….who are willing to be strong allies.” Citing the recently released report How Freedom is Won, Melia noted that broad civic engagement can speed democratic reform and that the absence of opposition violence in the struggle for change ultimately enhances the prospects for consolidation of democracy. Turning to Iran, he noted that the June 17th elections in that country “are not about filling the offices that matter in Iran.” Ms. Goli Ameri, Co-Founder of the Iran Democracy Project, addressed the complexities faced by Iranian-Americans who have thrived in the freedom and opportunity offered in the United States, and who hope that such liberties will be seen in Iran itself. She explained some of the differing approaches advocated within the community: “In my experience, there are three different views on U.S. policy towards Iran amongst Iranian-Americans. One group believes that the U.S. needs to take an active role and make regime change an official U.S. policy. The second group believes that freedom from decades of oppression can only come from the Iranian people themselves without any type of outside involvement.” Ameri continued, “In my travels, the majority of Iranian-Americans I met have a third, more considerate way in mind. They speak as concerned citizens of the United States and independent of political opposition groups or extremist political doctrines. They care about U.S. long-term interests as much as they care for their compatriots in Iran…Iranian-Americans support the promotion of a civil society and a civil movement in Iran. However, they want to ascertain that the format of support does not hurt the long-term security and interests of the United States, as well as not sully the mindset of the Iranian people towards the United States.” Ameri emphasized that Iranian-Americans, “differentiate between support for civic organizations and support for opposition groups, with the latter being of zero interest.” Dr. Karim Lahidji, an Iranian human rights activist since the late 1950s who fled Iran in 1979, pointed to contradictions that exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the “farce” that the regime is somehow based on popular sovereignty. He noted that “power itself is dual in the sense that, on one hand, there is this [unelected] supreme guide, who is kind of a Superman, who supersedes over the other branches of government” and exercises “100 percent real executive power.” Under the current structures in place in Iran, Lahidji stressed, “the underlying and governing principle, it's not equality. It is discrimination that really rules” in which “the rights of the common citizen are different from the rights of Muslims, or the rights of non-Muslims are different from the rights of Muslims. Women don't have the same rights as men. But common people don't have the same rights as the clergy.” He concluded, “Under the present constitution, any reform of the power structure in the country that would lead to democracy or respect of human rights is impossible.” Manda Ervin, founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women, focused on the daily difficulties facing the average Iranian, including rising unemployment, unpaid workers, and other hardships that have spawned manifestations of civil disobedience that are in turn repressed by security and paramilitary forces. Hunger strikes and sit-ins by university students and journalists are common and are met with repression by the authorities. Citing arrests of activists, including members of the Alliance of Iranian Women, Ervin stated, “The regime of Iran practices gender apartheid and legal abuse of children. The constitution of this regime belongs to the 7th century and is unacceptable in the 21st century.” In an impassioned conclusion Ervin said, “the people of Iran need our support, our moral support, our standing in solidarity with them. They don't want words any more. They don't trust words. They want actions. They want United States and Europe to stand together against the regime of Iran.” The panelists repeatedly cited Iranian youth and the efforts of NGO activists as key elements in building a brighter future for Iran. 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.

  • Russia: Human Rights and Political Prospects

    Mike McIntyre and other lawmakers evaluated the degree to which human rights were being respected in Russia in light of increasing authoritarian trends via so-called power institutions. The effect of the war in Chechnya on Russian society as a whole was also a topic of discussion. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Human Rights Institute in Moscow spoke to several factors that had led to issues regarding human rights, including the situation of military conflict in Chechnya, protests initiated by individuals displeased with social and economic policies, and preventative action taken by the state.

  • Progress and Challenges: The OSCE Tackles Anti-Semitism and Intolerance

    By Ron McNamara, International Policy Director & Knox Thames, Counsel The OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance convened in Córdoba, Spain, from June 8-9, 2005. The conference, the third since the Helsinki Commission’s 2002 groundbreaking hearing on “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” was well attended with many participating States represented by senior-level officials.  New York Governor George E. Pataki headed the U.S. Delegation. Specific sessions were held on: Fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, and promoting tolerance - from recommendations to implementation; Anti-Semitism and the media; Education on the Holocaust and on anti-Semitism; Responding to anti-Semitic and hate-motivated crimes; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Muslims; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions; and, Fighting racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. Specialized workshops were focused on: Anti-Semitism and the Media; Implementation of OCDE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (ODIHR) Taskings in the Field of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination; Promoting Tolerance and Ensuring Rights of Religion and Belief; and Combating Racism and Discrimination against Roma and Sinti. Side events were organized to address:  Education on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism; Combating hate speech online in the OSCE framework; Anti-Semitism and satellite television; Teaching the Holocaust and the History of Anti-Semitism in Catholic Schools: Promoting Tolerance and Interfaith Understanding; Why Should We Work Together? The ODIHR’s Law Enforcement Officer Training Program for Combating Hate Crimes; The role of Parliaments in Combating Anti-Semitism; The Anti-Semitism/terrorism Nexus, Hate sites on the Internet; and Discrimination, Hate crimes and Intolerance on the grounds of homophobia. The Conference was preceded by a one-day NGO Forum hosted by the Three Cultures Foundation on June 7, 2005 in Seville.  The opening session included presentations by Professors Gert Weisskirchen and Anastasia Crickley and Ambassador Omur Orhun, who are the three Personal Representatives of the outgoing OSCE Chair-in-Office, Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel.   There was also a video presentation by U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback [available here]. The Córdoba Conference was the product of intense negotiations following last year’s Berlin Conference and the adoption of a number of specific commitments by OSCE countries aimed at stemming the tide of anti-Semitism and related violence.  Numerous participating States had actively resisted the convening of a meeting exclusively focused on anti-Semitism and instead argued in favor of a “holistic” approach to tolerance issues.  As OSCE Chair-in-Office (CiO) Dimitrij Rupel put it, “I also hope that Córdoba, and after Córdoba, a truly holistic approach to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance will prevail, as this is the most effective way to address this issue.” While supporting a broader approach, others, including the U.S. Helsinki Commissioners, voiced concern that the focus on anti-Semitism as a unique form of intolerance not be lost, especially given the dimensions of the Holocaust and European history. Most participating States used the Córdoba Conference to reiterate their commitment to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.  Disappointingly few, however, cited concrete steps they are undertaking to implement existing OSCE commitments.  One of the few exceptions was the Solicitor General of the United Kingdom, who reported on the evolution of anti-hate legislation in his country and a new law being considered by Parliament to address anti-religious bigotry.  The Italian and Polish delegations also noted some tangible progress. CiO Rupel reported on initiatives undertaken by the OSCE to improve implementation of commitments made in Berlin.  He also warned that “we must be vigilant against discrimination and show no tolerance for intolerance,” a theme repeated by numerous subsequent speakers. U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings addressed the Córdoba Conference in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Hastings reminded participants of the role of parliamentarians, including members of the Helsinki Commission, in ensuring that the issue of anti-Semitism and related violence were given priority in the OSCE framework. The most tangible results to come out of the Córdoba Conference was the Córdoba Declaration, as well as reports presented by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region” and “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism.”  The declaration recognized that some forms of intolerance need proper definition, and reiterated the Berlin Declaration’s  acknowledgement that “international developments or political issues, including in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” According to the ODIHR reports, 13 participating States have not provided any information on statistics, legislation and national initiatives relating to hate crimes.  Of the 42 participating States that have responded, only 29 countries have provided information and statistics on hate crimes and violent manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.  The quality of information varied widely – one country’s statistical submission consisted of a single sentence. Beyond implementation issues and concerns, three outstanding questions remain to be resolved: Will the OSCE maintain a distinct focus on anti-Semitism or will the issue be folded into a more generic tolerance rubric? Will the current mandates for the three personal representatives be extended? What form will future follow-up, including the possible location of future conferences, on tolerance-related matters take? There is also some concern that the Personal Representatives of the Chair-in-Office have been hampered in undertaking their tasks, and have been hamstrung by limitations that have been imposed on their activities.  It is also unclear whether the newly incoming Chair-in-Office will reappoint the three representatives or, if so, if he will maintain their distinct portfolios. Discussions in Córdoba did little to narrow differences on these points.  The United States has been among the few stalwarts committed to sustaining a particular focus on anti-Semitism.   At the same time, a growing number of countries prefer a “holistic” approach, where distinct issues are discussed under a generic theme. Governor Pataki in closing remarks stressed the need to move beyond words: “We have all given our speeches in the best prose we can muster, but there is more to combating anti-Semitism and intolerance than mere speeches.”  He urged that future follow-up focus on implementation; endorsed the reappointment of the three Personal Representatives under their existing titles; called for preserving a distinct focus on anti-Semitism; supported continuing efforts to combat intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Christians, and other faiths; and urged further institutionalization of tolerance and non-discrimination work.  Pataki concluded, “We can talk, we can coordinate through the OSCE, but the primary responsibility ultimately rests with the participating States.”      U.S. DELEGATION Governor George E. Pataki, Head of U.S. Delegation Hon. Jennette Bradley, Treasurer, State of Ohio The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver and Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Sander Ross Gerber, Chairman and CEO of the XTF Group and President of the Gerber Capital Management Group Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder, Simon Wiesenthal Center Kamal Nawash, founder, Free Muslims Coalition Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President for Government and Public Affairs, Agudath Israel of America

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