Title

Troubling Trends: Human Rights in Russia

Tuesday, June 05, 2001
9:30am
334 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20003
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Steny Hoyer
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Russell Feingold
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Joseph Pitts
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Witnesses: 
Name: 
John Beyrle
Title: 
Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States
Body: 
United States Department of State
Statement: 
Name: 
Dr. Elena Bonner
Title: 
Chairman
Body: 
Andrei Sakharov Foundation
Statement: 
Name: 
Paul Goble
Title: 
Director of Communications
Body: 
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty
Statement: 
Name: 
Emil Pain
Title: 
Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution
Body: 
Woodrow Wilson International Center
Statement: 
Name: 
Boris Jordan
Title: 
General Director
Body: 
NTV
Statement: 

The purpose of this hearing was to highlight the improvements in human rights in Russia since and to focus on the areas in which reform is still needed. The politicized imprisonments, restrictive legislation that muzzles Internet publications, defamation lawsuits has made independent media outlets struggle to survive and impunity in violent attacks against journalists.

These attacks against the media were focused on well-known cases and extraordinary circumstances in Russia. From burdensome registration requirements and visits by the tax police to the confiscation of entire print runs and imposition of crippling fines, from criminal charges for defamation of individuals, institutions or the state, free media faces myriad threats and challenges today.

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  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, a bipartisan measure to provide support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues, Representatives Lantos and McCotter, as original cosponsors.  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. Belarus continues to have the worst rights record of any European state, rightly earning the country the designation as Europe's last dictatorship. Bordering on the EU and NATO, Belarus is truly an anomaly in a democratic, free Europe.  The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction the regime of Belarus' tyrant, Alexander Lukashenka, is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to note that the United States is not alone in this noble cause. Countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring hope of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain the momentum sparked by adoption of the 2004 law and the further deterioration of the situation on the ground in Belarus. Indeed, with the further deterioration in Belarus with the massive arrests of recent weeks, this bill is needed now more than ever.  One of the primary purposes of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 is to demonstrate sustained U.S. support for Belarus' independence and for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures and personal risks they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes $20 million in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill also authorizes $7.5 million for each fiscal year for surrogate radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to break through Lukashenka's stifling information blockade.  In addition, this legislation would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny senior officials of the regime, as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses, including lower-level officials, entry into the United States. In this context, I welcome the targeted punitive sanctions by both the Administration and the EU against officials, including judges and prosecutors, involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  Strategic exports to the Government of Belarus would be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, the bill would block Belarus Government and senior leadership and their surrogates' assets in property and interests in property in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department's April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush's June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it absolutely clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, whose desire to be free we unequivocally support, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of the people.  Mr. Speaker, Belarus stands out as an even greater anomaly following Ukraine's historic Orange Revolution and that country's March 26th free and fair parliamentary elections which stand in glaring contrast to Belarus' presidential elections held just one week earlier. The Belarusian elections can only be described as a farce. The Lukashenka regime's wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of post-election protests underscore the utter contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward the people of Belarus.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential ``elections'' in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.  Lukashenka, the Bully of Belarus, has repeatedly unleashed his security thugs to trample on the rights of their fellow citizens. Indeed, they demonstrated what Lukashenka truly thinks about his own people. Nevertheless, courageous peaceful protesters on Minsk's central October Square stood up to the regime with dignity and determination. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. On July 17, in a particularly punitive display against those who dare oppose Lukashenka, former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to an obviously politically motivated 5 1/2 years' term of imprisonment for alleged "hooliganism" and disturbing the peace. Democratic opposition leaders such as Anatoly Lebedka and Vincuk Viachorka have been arbitrarily detained and sentenced to jail terms which have been as much as 15 days. Last month, opposition activists Artur Finkevich received a two-year corrective labor sentence and Mikalay Rozumau was sentenced to three years of corrective labor for allegedly libeling Lukashenka. Other opposition activists, including Syarhey Lyashkevich and Ivan Kruk have received jail sentences of up to six months.  In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, authorities arrested activists of the nonpartisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”, Tsimafei Dranchuk, Enira Branitskaya, Mikalay Astreyka and Alyaksandr Shalayka. They have been in pre-trial detention since February 21, charged with participation in an unregistered organization.  Lukashenka's pattern of anti-democratic behavior began a decade ago, and this pattern has only intensified. Through an unconstitutional 1996 referendum, he usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. In its May 3 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included Belarus on its watch list, as Belarus appears to be adopting tougher sanctions against those who take part in unregistered religious activity. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have been subject to intimidation and a variety of punitive measures, including closure. Political activists and journalists have been beaten, detained and imprisoned. Independent voices are unwelcome in Lukashenka's Belarus and anyone who, through their promotion of democracy, would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator puts their personal and professional security on the line. Their courage deserves our admiration, and, more importantly, our support. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. I welcome President Bush's decision to personally meet with two of the widows in the Oval Office to discuss the situation on Belarus. An Administration report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued on March 17 of this year reveals Lukashenka's links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies' corruption. Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, working closely with the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, and non-governmental organizations, the regime of Lukashenka continues its grip on power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.  Colleagues, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 and efforts by allies in Europe will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate independent Belarus' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve better than to live under an autocratic regime reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and they deserve our support in their struggle for democracy and freedom.

  • Uzbekistan: Are There Prospects for Change?

    This briefing evaluated the political status of Uzbekistan, which, under the rule of President Islam Karimov, has been a repressive, authoritarian state that bans opposition and maintains Soviet-style censorship. Since the bloody events in Andijon in May 2005, however, repression has intensified, with a countrywide crackdown on human rights activists, religious groups and members of opposition groups. The void left by NGOs that promote democracy that have been forced to leave the country was especially concerning. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Mr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Birlik Party; Mr. Muhammad Salih, Chairman of the Erk Party; Mr. Gulam Umarov, son of Sanjar Umarov, the imprisoned Chairman of the Sunshine Coalition; and Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – addressed prospects for democratization in Uzbekistan, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election in that country.

  • Kazakhstan's Candidacy for OSCE Chairmanship

    Mr. Speaker, next week, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, will be visiting Washington. Given Kazakhstan's growing strategic and economic significance, his agenda with U.S. Government officials and Congress is likely to be broad-ranging. But a key focus of Minister Tokaev's discussions will certainly be Kazakhstan's bid to serve in 2009 as Chair-in-Office of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Kazakhstan has been avidly pursuing this prestigious leadership post since 2003. The consensus decision must be made by this fall, in time for the December OSCE Ministerial Meeting. While I support the idea of Central Asian leadership of the OSCE, my purpose today is to point out the very serious problems with Kazakhstan's candidacy. As many of my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission have concluded, awarding Kazakhstan the political leadership of OSCE in 2009 would be unwarranted and potentially dangerous for the Organization. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in his opening statement at a recent OSCE meeting in Almaty, even admitted: "We do not...have established democratic principles." Therefore, allowing Kazakhstan to assume the chairmanship by default is not acceptable. Kazakhstan's chairmanship bid must be deferred until the country substantially implements its OSCE commitments, especially those on human rights and democratization. Defenders of Kazakhstan's candidacy have pointed to the country's economic reforms and relative freedom, compared to the rest of Central Asia. I concur that Kazakhstan is far ahead of the police states of Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. But that is no great achievement. Surpassing the worst of the worst does not confer an automatic right to hold the chairmanship of the OSCE which is dedicated to upholding human rights and promoting democracy. It has long been the State Department's position "that any Chair of the OSCE must be in substantial compliance with all OSCE commitments." Over several years now, high-level U.S. Government officials have provided Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials clear, concrete indicators of the progress necessary before serious consideration could be given to U.S. support for Kazakhstan's Chair-in-Office bid. Yet long-promised political reforms in Kazakhstan have not materialized and the human rights climate remains poor, as documented in the State Department's annual reports. Kazakhstan's oil riches, strategic location and cooperation with the United States in antiterrorism programs cannot conceal the fact that the country remains an authoritarian state. President Nazarbaev has manipulated constitutional referendums and falsified elections to stay in power, while his relatives and friends have gained monopoly positions in the most profitable sectors of the economy. Independent and opposition media have been consistently harassed and pressured, and opposition politicians have been excluded from elections, or worse. Such was the state of affairs before last December's presidential election, which was widely seen as a "make-or-break" moment for Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the government failed to uphold its international commitments before, during and following the election. Despite repeated pledges from Nazarbaev to hold a free and fair contest, the OSCE observation mission stated the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments" due to "restrictions on campaigning, harassment of campaign staff and persistent and numerous cases of intimidation by the authorities" which "limited the possibility for a meaningful competition." The election was a serious blow to Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE. The recent establishment of the State Commission on the Development and Realization of the Programme of Political Reforms comes after the major elections, too late to have any definitive liberalizing effects. In addition, a string of events has accentuated the disturbing gap between OSCE commitments and Kazakhstan's implementation. Last November, opposition politician and former Mayor of Almaty Zamanbek Nurkadilov was found dead in his home. According to Kazakh authorities, he shot himself three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. The official version of his death is, kindly put, implausible in the extreme. In February, opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev, along with his driver and unarmed bodyguard, was shot in an apple orchard outside Almaty. The official investigation has placed the blame for this brazen crime on Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate, who allegedly engaged the services of some security officers. It is fair to say that this explanation for Sarsenbaev's death has failed to satisfy many observers. What is indisputable, however, is that anyone involved in opposition politics in Kazakhstan risks, in the worst case scenario, not merely electoral defeat but murder. Furthermore, Kazakh officials have backed Russian plans to eviscerate the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which, among other important democracy promoting activities, undertakes the OSCE's election observation missions. This would pose a grave threat to the OSCE as an institution and as the most credible election monitoring organization in the world. Recent statements and actions by local Kazakh authorities against a Hare Krishna community outside of Almaty and actions to penalize minority religious communities for unregistered religious practice run counter to OSCE norms and Kazakhstan's stated commitment to inter-religious tolerance. On March 20, President Nazarbaev praised Uzbek President Islam Karimov's handling of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Praise for the Andijon massacre that left hundreds dead in Uzbekistan, and which moved the OSCE, the U.S. Government and international organizations to call for an independent, impartial investigation, are hardly the "reforms" one expects of a country that hopes to chair the OSCE. The forced repatriation of Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan was equally alarming. Just today, Kazakhstan's upper house passed a highly restrictive media law that has been criticized by the OSCE's Representative on the Media and the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan. It is hoped that President Nazarbaev will not sign this problematic bill into law. Mr. Speaker, in light of these circumstances, Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 cannot be supported. I strongly believe that backing Kazakhstan's candidacy would cause more difficulties than will result from Astana's disappointment over not winning this prize. None of this means that we should not strive to develop the best possible relations with Kazakhstan, on a mutually beneficial basis. There are many areas of current and potential cooperation between our countries, including Kazakhstan's entry into the WTO, energy, military security and anti-terrorism. Nor does my inability to support Kazakhstan's candidacy for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2009 mean that I do not hope to be able to back a future bid. Nothing would please me more than to report to this Chamber that Kazakhstan has met its commitments on democratization and human rights and richly deserves to lead the OSCE. A Kazakh chairmanship would also move the Organization eastward in the symbolic sense, bridging what has become an uncomfortable gap between the former Soviet republics and Europe. But that moment has not yet come, Mr. Speaker. I would encourage the Kazakh leaders to avail themselves of the opportunity of additional time to constructively engage the OSCE. Working to ensure that the Organization succeeds would aid Kazakhstan's bid for a future chairmanship, while expressing sour grapes over a denial can only add to the impression that Kazakhstan is not ready for a leadership role. The OSCE Chairmanship represents acknowledgement of progress already made, not a stimulus to future, unproven progress. Urging the Kazakhs to defer their bid would leave the door open for Astana, should demonstrable reforms on human rights and democratization be forthcoming. That progress was promised by President Nazarbaev, when he signed the Helsinki Accords as his country joined the OSCE in 1992.

  • Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of 2006 saw a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that formed the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues addressed were developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners also focused on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.

  • 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.   

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

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

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

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

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

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

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

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

  • Statement on Human Rights in Central Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

    First, let me thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me to speak.  I applaud the co-sponsors for putting together this timely and sober gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of the Andijon events. I won’t bother talking to this audience about the human rights situation in Central Asia.  The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices routinely characterize the human rights observance in each country as “poor.”   Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here today probably consider that too lenient, and I agree with them.   It’s not surprising that countries which emerged from 70 years of communism should have difficulties creating rule of law states.  But after 15 years of independence we should be seeing some separation of powers and a strong civil society.  Instead, we see “super-presidents,” who have overwhelmed legislatures and judicial systems.  Several have been in power for about 20 years, after rigged or canceled elections.  “Royal families” control the most lucrative sectors of the economy and the media. Of course, newspapers in Kazakhstan have more leeway than in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.  But even in Kazakhstan, reports on presidential misdeeds are taboo.    Only in Kyrgyzstan do we see a freer media and hope of more in the future.  And only in Kyrgyzstan is the president’s relationship with the other branches of power not yet set in a pattern of executive branch dominance.  Yet a Tulip Revolution was necessary last year to bring about change in Kyrgyzstan, which raises serious questions about prospects for evolutionary development toward democracy in Central Asia.   This brings us to Uzbekistan.  No Central Asian country worked harder during the last 15 years to develop good strategic relations with Washington and to counterbalance residual Russian influence. But the country’s terrible human rights record complicated the development of a closer relationship.  President Islam Karimov allows no opposition, torture is pervasive, for years human rights groups were unregistered, and Tashkent has waged war against Muslims who wanted to practice their faith outside state-approved channels.    Now, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir is virulently anti-Western and anti-Semitic.  But Karimov’s exclusive reliance on repression only exacerbates matters and has probably supplied cadres for radical and terrorist organizations.   After September 11, 2001, we needed Uzbekistan’s cooperation and Karimov was delighted to help.  Uzbekistan gave us a military base and the March 2002 agreement on strategic cooperation was signed in Washington.  We agreed to support Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan pledged to move towards democracy. But Karimov only implemented the democratization commitments just enough for Tashkent and Washington to point to “progress.” Gradually, frustration grew on both sides.  It was just a matter of time before the arrangement collapsed.   People often date the breakdown of U.S.-Uzbek relations to the events that happened in Andijon on May 12 and 13, 2005. We did not condone the violent takeover of government buildings in that city.  But we condemned the indiscriminate shootings in the square that followed and when we called for an independent, international investigation, Karimov balked.    As we all know, he began to move against U.S. NGOs.  Few remain in Uzbekistan today.  Then we were unceremoniously booted out of the K-2 base.  But ties had actually soured long before, because Karimov saw the Stars and Stripes behind the Georgian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz revolutions. Most alarming for Tashkent was the Tulip Revolution which proved that “people power” was possible in Central Asia.    Like President Putin, Central Asian leaders insist that a sinister hand, based in Washington but using American NGOs working in the region, plotted the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma and Askar Akaev -- and is now gunning for them.  So a split has developed in Central Asia.  Kyrgyzstan, though plagued by criminality and sometimes seemingly chaotic, is better off than with the previous corrupt regime and well disposed towards the U.S.    Uzbekistan’s Karimov sees us as his greatest strategic danger; he has cracked down even harder and state-run media accuse us of trying to enslave Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are suspicious of our allegedly revolutionary goals but still want to maintain good ties – as long as they are not threatened by civil society.  And Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan surely assume that we want their oil and gas too much to stir the pot. What can we do about this?  How can we try to make things better, especially keeping in mind that U.S. influence is limited?   This week I will be re-introducing my Central Asia bill, to help ensure that the United States is doing everything possible to encourage these governments to respect human rights and democratization.  The act will also bring greater consistency to U.S. policy, creating a framework to guide our bilateral relations in Central Asia.   The Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Promotion Act supports the President’s freedom agenda by providing $118 million in assistance for human rights and democracy training and $15 million for increased Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America broadcasting.    The new Act will also establish a certification mechanism for the distribution of assistance to each government. The Secretary of State will determine whether each has made “significant improvements in the protection of human rights.”  This system will have a national security waiver and is modeled on the current system in Foreign Ops appropriations for Kazakhstan and expanded for all five countries.   In addition, considering the forced return of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the new Act will require the Secretary of State to report on whether any government is “forcibly returning Uzbeks or other refugees who have fled violence and political persecution.” This is modeled on language regarding Kyrgyzstan in Foreign Ops appropriations and expanded for all five countries.    Notably, my new legislation will create a sanctions section for Uzbekistan.  First, the bill concretizes into law the limitations already in place in Foreign Ops appropriations. The limitation prevents funding to the Uzbek Government unless the Secretary of State determines the government is “making substantial and continuing progress” towards respect for human rights and that the Uzbek Government begins a “credible international investigation” of Andijon.   In addition, the new Act mirrors European Union sanctions by establishing a visa ban and an export ban on munitions.  The sanctions section also establishes an asset freeze for Uzbek officials, their family members, and their associates implicated in the Andijon massacre or involved in other gross violations of human rights.   Ladies and gentlemen, it is hard to promote democratization in strategically important countries whose leaders want to keep all real power in their own hands. Our task is especially complicated by the fact that Russia – which has re-emerged as a major international player, thanks to sky-high oil prices – is working hard to undermine our efforts.  But I think the measures which I’ve outlined here in brief offer a good chance of achieving our goals.   Thank you for your attention.  I look forward to hearing the other participants’ views and your comments.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Promoting Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

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

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

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

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

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

  • 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.

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