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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  • Missed Opportunity in Kazakhstan: Fraud and Intimidation Spoil Election Promised to be “Free and Fair”

    By H. Knox Thames, Counsel On December 4, the Republic of Kazakhstan held its third presidential election. The results released by the Central Election Commission showed President Nursultan Nazarbayev winning 91.15% of the vote, with his most serious competitor, Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, a former Speaker of Parliament and now leader of the opposition alliance For a Fair Kazakhstan, receiving just 6.61%.  Despite promises from President Nazarbayev that the election would be free and fair, the observation mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the election “did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” Dynamic Culture – Stagnant Politics Over the past decade and a half, Kazakhstan’s political climate has stagnated, as President Nazarbayev has gradually consolidated power.  If he finishes his third term, he will have ruled Kazakhstan for almost a quarter of a century. President Nazarbayev oversees a vast country, the ninth largest in the world, stretching from the steppes of Siberia to the Altai Mountains to the Caspian Sea.  Kazakhstan is also where the Muslim and Slavic Christian worlds meet – its 15 million citizens are reportedly 47% Muslim and 44% Russian Orthodox.  The country is incredibly diverse; according to the 1999 census, 53% of the country is ethnic Kazakh and 30% ethnic Russians, with Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Germans, Tatars, Uygurs, and others composing the rest of the population. Mr. Nazarbayev was first elected chairman of the Kazakh Supreme Soviet (Supreme Kenges) in February 1990. In December 1991, just a few weeks after Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union, Nazarbayev ran unopposed in Kazakhstan’s first direct presidential elections, winning a reported 98% of the vote.  For the second presidential election in 1999, the OSCE declined to send a full observation mission to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates and pre-election conditions that “clearly and substantially” did not meet OSCE commitments.  Nazarbayev won a reported 80% of the vote in an election the OSCE assessment mission said “fell far short” of OSCE standards. Other elections have also received failing grades from international observers, including the most recent election in September 2004 for the lower house of parliament.  The OSCE observation mission concluded “the election process fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections in many respects.”  While opposition parties in previous Kazakh parliaments had held multiple seats, the September 2004 election resulted in only one seat going to a party not affiliated with the government (which the party refused to take in a show of protest). Also of note is the 1995 constitutional referendum arranged by President Nazarbayev, which drastically increased the powers of the president and continued Nazarbayev’s domination of the Kazakh political scene.  The referendum removed most checks and balances from the Kazakh system of government, as now only the president can appoint heads of regions and cities (as opposed to direct elections), initiate constitutional amendments, dismiss the government, and dissolve parliament. Pre-election Climate Considering the failure of past Kazakh elections to meet international standards, the December 4 vote presented President Nazarbayev and his government with a prime opportunity to show Kazakhstan could live up to its freely undertaken international commitments. With Kazakhstan publicly expressing interest in the 2009 Chairmanship of the OSCE and positive pre-election statements by President Nazarbayev, expectations were high that the election would be free and fair. There were some improvements from past elections, and the OSCE worked closely with the Government of Kazakhstan to improve the election law.  Election lists were published, multiple candidates were allowed to run for office, and all five candidates were given time on state television and space in newspapers.  Amendments to the election code were made in 2004 after consultations under the OSCE Round Table Process.  However, the OSCE continued to maintain that the election law required “further improvement to fully meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections.”  Additional amendments were passed in April 2005, but instead of bringing the law into harmony with OSCE standards, the amendments were described by the OSCE as having the “opposite effect.”  Most striking was Article 44.6 of the Election Code that prohibited protesting by voters and political parties from the conclusion of the election campaign until the official publication of the results. Other problems persisted in the election run up, with candidates and their party members being assaulted during campaign stops, campaign literature being seized and destroyed, opposition parties being repeatedly denied permission to hold campaign events in central locations, and the government refusing to allow the OSCE to review the programming codes for electronic voting.  NGOs reported on the politically motivated use of Article 318 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes a person who “insults the honor and dignity of the president.”  On May 5, 2005, the Ministry of Culture, Information and Sport closed the independent newspaper Respublika (“Republic”) under questionable circumstances, and later that month ordered the seizure of 1,000 copies of its successor newspaper, Set’Kz (“Kz Network”).  Soz (“Voice”) and Zhuma Tayms Data Nedeli (“Friday Times – Week’s Data”) have also faced government efforts to close them down. Violations on Election Day The author was one of 460 observers from 43 countries participating in the joint observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament.  The author observed polling stations in the rural Ilysky District north of Almaty, the largest city and former capital of Kazakhstan. Significant problems occurred on the day of the election, with the author witnessing violations in half of the polling stations visited. Contraventions included voter fraud with individuals permitted to cast multiple ballots; intimidation by uniformed police or persons believed to be connected with security agencies; irregularities in the opening of a polling station preventing monitors from ascertaining the number of blank ballots apportioned, as they were counted offsite the day before; invalid ballots issued to voters without required polling station member signatures; and unfair campaign materials of the incumbent inside some polling areas. These were not isolated events, as the OSCE found similar problems, including unauthorized persons interfering in polling stations; cases of multiple voting; ballot box stuffing; pressure on students to vote; tampering with result protocols.  The OSCE preliminary report stated, “While candidate registration was mostly inclusive and gave voters a choice, undue restrictions on campaigning, harassment of campaign staff and persistent and numerous cases of intimidation by the authorities, limited the possibility for a meaningful competition.”  The vote count was also marred, with the OSCE giving negative assessments in 27% of stations monitored. The head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term observer mission, Ambassador Audrey Glover, expressed regret that the Kazakh authorities did not provide “a level playing field for a democratic election, whereby the candidates enjoyed equal treatment and opportunities to campaign so that voters could make an informed choice. This is despite assurances from the president that the election would be free and fair.” U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew a similar conclusion: “President Nazarbayev has once again made it obvious that he is not concerned about meeting Kazakhstan’s obligations under the Helsinki Process.  It is quite clear that the promises of the Kazakh Government to hold free and fair elections that meet internationally recognized standards remain empty.” U.S. Policy in Response When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Astana in October, she spoke of the importance of the upcoming election: “Kazakhstan has an unprecedented opportunity to lead Central Asia toward a future of democracy and to elevate U.S.-Kazakhstani relations to a new level.”  Since 1995, Kazakhstan has experienced a steady deterioration of civil and political rights, in direct contrast to the significant economic reforms taken on by the government.  The limitations have come legislatively – the 1995 constitutional referendum, the 2005 election law amendments; the 2005 law on extremism; the 2005 amendments to the media law; the other 2005 “national security” amendments – and through government actions.  The election could have reversed this negative trend, but instead only continued it. The ramifications of the flawed election vote will be varied, but will certainly impact Kazakhstan’s bid for the OSCE chairmanship.  As U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sam Brownback (R-KS) concluded, “Kazakhstan’s desire to lead the OSCE in 2009 has been undermined by the conduct of these elections.”  Co-Chairman Smith added, “The massive fraud, intimidation and outright abuse of power are blatantly inconsistent with a government seeking to lead the premier human rights organization in Europe.”  The election also raises the question of whether Kazakhstan’s desire to host an OSCE meeting on tolerance in 2006 should be considered. At the bilateral level, the U.S./Kazakh relationship will not necessarily change, but there is nothing in which to justify the elevation Secretary Rice spoke of.  U.S. officials identified the three strategic interests in Kazakhstan – energy, security and expanding freedom through reform – with a clean election being key, if Kazakhstan wanted to pull closer to America.  Unfortunately, the government flouted this simple and straightforward indicator, signaling that Astana is not interested.  The United States should recognize this and hold firm, while continuing to push for democratization and human rights. The other U.S. strategic interests of energy access and security can also be met, even if the status quo holds and the bilateral relationship remains more terrestrial.  It is in Kazakhstan’s national interest to continue its expansion of access to hydrocarbons – oil and gas are the foundations for its Asian Tiger-like economic success.  In addition, roughly one-third of foreign investment in Kazakhstan reportedly comes from U.S. companies.  Considering Kazakhstan’s WTO ambitions, Kazakhstan must continue to positively engage the U.S. economically.  Lastly, concerning security, President Nazarbayev will continue to be a partner in the war on terror, at least in Central Asia, as in the past extremist cells have operated in the more lawless regions of his country and probably continue to do so. Conclusion The unquestioned popularity of Mr. Nazarbayev does not excuse the conduct of the election – in fact, it begs the question of why his government allowed these blatant and unnecessary violations.  President Nazarbayev has demonstrated the ability to implement difficult policies when he has the political will to do so.  Kazakhstan, for instance, has made tough reforms in the economic sphere, which are often more painful than democratic reforms, especially in former communist countries making the transition from command economies to capitalism. If the president were serious about wanting to elevate Kazakhstan’s relations with the United States, he could have ensured a proper vote. Kazakhstan was positioned to anchor a new “corridor of reform,” but the recent election unfortunately demonstrates that President Nazarbayev has no desire to grow democracy in his country.  The negative trend for respect of civil and political rights and the consolidation of state power will most likely continue.  As Secretary Rice said during her Astana trip, “History also teaches us that true stability and true security are only found in democratic regimes.  And no calculation of short-term interest should tempt us to undermine this basic conviction.”  Therefore, for the United States to maintain its credibility in the region, it must not ignore the conduct of the election and the events of the past year.  The United States should stand ready to expand its relationship, but only when Kazakhstan shows real interest in expanding domestic rights at home.

  • Remarks by Benjamin L. Cardin Urging the Russian Federation to Withdraw Legislation Restricting the Establishment of Nongovernmental Organizations

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support and as a cosponsor of H. Con. Res. 312, to urge the Russian Government to alter or withdraw the proposed legislation affecting nongovernmental organizations, NGO's, operating in Russia. The Russian legislation would severely restrict foreign assistance to NGO's in Russia and would also force existing Russian NGO's to reregister with the government.   The draft Russian bill raises a number of serious concerns, and may violate Russia's commitments to the OSCE. Several hundred thousand nongovernmental organizations currently operate in Russia, representing all sections of society. By forcing all NGO's to reregister, the Russian Government will have the power to subjectively deny registration to some organizations and limit the activities of others. This legislation strikes at the heart of basic democratic freedoms: the right of individuals to freely associate and participate in society. Some of the provisions in this bill would also increase the oversight of financial auditing of NGO's, which the government could use to place restrictions on opposition groups.   Just months ago, the Russian President Vladimir Putin outlawed any foreign funding of political parties in Russia. This legislation goes further and affects human rights groups and other NGO's who are only seeking to improve the nature of Russia's civil society. Foreign organizations would be required to register as legal Russian entities, seriously hindering their attempts to promote democracy and accountability in Russia. Many organizations which have conducted prominent and important human rights work in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union would see their activities curtailed under the Russian bill, which may lead to the partial or complete closure of critical offices inside of Russia.   Last month, the State Duma in Russia approved the first reading of the bill by 370 to 18 votes, despite more than 1,000 NGO's appealing for the Duma to reject it. This Friday, December 16, the Duma has scheduled a second reading of the bill. As the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission, I have worked closely with Commission Cochairman Chris Smith in opposition to this bill. The Helsinki Commission sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter in November--which I cosigned--to the Chairman of the Russian State Duma urging the rejection of this legislation. In particular, the letter emphasized the importance that nongovernmental organizations play in civil society and in fulfilling Russia's obligations as a democratic state and member of the international community.   Russia has made great strides since the end of the Cold War. There were serious concerns that Russia would not have a smooth transition to a fully functioning democracy. I am gravely concerned about recent developments in Russia. President Putin himself has said that “modern Russia's greatest achievement is the democratic process (and) the achievements of civil society." I therefore call on President Putin and the State Duma to be true to their word and reject this bill, to reaffirm their commitment to the democratic process and civil society.

  • Remarks by Christopher H. Smith Urging Russian Federation to Withdraw Legislation Restricting Establishment of Nongovernmental Organizations

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in very strong support of H. Con. Res. 312, introduced by the very distinguished chairman of our full committee, Chairman Henry Hyde, urging the Government of the Russian Federation to withdraw or modify proposed legislation that would have a chilling effect on civil society in that country.   Amazingly, as Russia prepares to assume leadership of the G-8 and the Council of Europe next month, Russian lawmakers have been working feverishly to subordinate pockets of independent thought and action to state control. The focus of recent days has been on nongovernmental organizations, especially those working in the fields of human rights and democracy. In essence, the provisions would require all nongovernmental organizations to re-register with a government commission empowered with invasive powers to monitor NGO activities.   The Duma has passed amendments to the Law on Public Associations by a vote of 370-18, but the measure must go through further readings scheduled for next week and signed then by Vladimir Putin before it becomes law. In mid-November, members of the Helsinki Commission, which I am co-chair of, sent a letter which I will make a part of the RECORD to the Speaker of the Russian Duma, Boris Gryzlov, urging the Duma to reject the pending proposed amendments, purportedly crafted with input from Putin's advisers.   The move against NGOs, Mr. Speaker, is not occurring in a vacuum, but is calculated to move in a lead-up to the critical parliamentary elections that are scheduled for 2007 and a presidential contest the following year to replace Putin, who is prevented from seeking another term.   In response to expressions of concern from the United States and others, some modifications to the draft are apparently being considered, though it is still unclear the extent to which the amendments will be revamped. We will not have a full picture until next week. By then, it may be too late to change before landing on President Putin's desk. Thus, consideration of Chairman Hyde's measure comes at a critical time for the House to be on record opposing the burdensome compulsory registration requirements being proposed.   As originally drafted, the proposed amendments will require Russia's approximately 450,000 NGOs to re-register with a government commission under a complicated registration procedure and would expand the ability of the government to deny registration permission.   Financial auditing, a tactic currently used to harass opposition NGOs, would also become more intrusive under the bill's provisions. No doubt there would be negative impact on foreign-based organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and the Carnegie Foundation, while increasing controls over NGOs of Russian origin.   Mr. Speaker, whatever package of amendments to the legal framework for NGOs in Russia finally emerges, they must be evaluated in light of that country's commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and participating state in the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe. Do the proposals under consideration in the Russian Duma fully respect the right of individuals to freedom of association, or do they undermine that fundamental freedom under the guise of fighting corruption and terrorism? That is the key question. This resolution gets us on record, and hopefully it will have some sway with the Duma and with President Putin.   Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the letter I referred to earlier to the Chairman of the Russian State Duma, Boris Gryzlov.

  • Riding Roughshod Over Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I remain deeply concerned about the violations of human rights occurring every day in Lukashenka's Belarus.   During a recent news conference, the autocratic Belarusian leader expressed confidence in his victory in the presidential election scheduled for next year, rhetorically asking why should he be rigging this election. Given his intensified assault on civil society, his dismal human rights record, and penchant for rigged elections, Mr. Lukashenka's statements ring hollow. Yet, Lukashenka's actions against democratic forces, non-governmental organizations and the independent media belie his stated confidence regarding electoral victory.   Last week, the lower chamber of Lukashenka's pocket parliament passed a law endorsing tougher new penalties for activities “directed against people and public security,” a proposal submitted to the parliament only days before passage. These changes to the Criminal Code increase penalties for participation in organizations that were liquidated or warned to stop their pro-democratic activities, or for the training and other preparations for unauthorized demonstrations or other civic actions.   Mr. Speaker, to cite just one of the draconian provisions, the Code now gives authorities the leeway to jail an individual for up to 2 years for “providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus.” Putting aside the matter of such a provision violating free speech norms, if the past is any guide, it is clear who would be the arbiter of what constitutes “false information.” There can be no doubt that the law aims to stifle the democratic opposition, and the head of the KGB (yes, in Belarus it is still called the KGB) himself recently admitted that the reasons for the law is to discourage street protests during the upcoming presidential race.   This law, while particularly blatant, is part and parcel of other actions designed to strengthen the regime's control and deny the Belarusian people any alternative voices as the presidential election campaign unfolds. Last month, a new law further controlling political parties came into force. A recent Council of Ministers decree clamps down on organizations that conduct public opinion polls. A Lukashenka decree further discriminates against independent trade unions, stipulating that only trade unions belonging to the pro-governmental federation are granted the right to premises at no cost. Yet another decree considerably limits students' opportunities to travel abroad.   Meanwhile, opposition activists are routinely beaten up or detained. Just last week, for instance, Ales Kalita was detained and at the hands of the police suffered a dislocated arm for merely distributing the independent newspaper “Narodna Volya.” Viktor Syritsya, a lecturer at Baranavichi College was fired for organizing a meeting of students with presidential opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Belarusian State Economic University in Minsk expelled fourth-year student Tatsyana Khoma because she took a brief trip to France, where she was elected to the executive committee of the Brussels-based National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), an umbrella organization of 44 national student unions from 34 countries. The police beat activist Mikita Sasim. They detained youth activists Yauhen Afnagel and others. Other repressive actions include frequent arrests of activists of democratic youth movements such as ZUBR, a ban on worship by some religious congregations and other repressive actions against selected religious minorities, and continued harassment of members of the Union of Poles in Belarus.   Moreover, there is an emerging pattern of the regime putting obstacles in the way of Mr. Milinkevich. Recently, a public meeting he held in Borbuisk was disrupted by the authorities, with participants being told by the authorities to go home and threatened with tax inspections. During a press conference, the electricity in the room was cut off, as well as a “hot-line” phone with town residents.   Especially egregious has been the regime's intensification of the war against the already repressed and struggling independent media. Newspaper closures, suspensions, threats, and exorbitant and absurd libel fines, pressures on advertisers and other forms of harassment have become routine. Outright police confiscations of independent newspapers are also not uncommon. A seemingly more subtle tactic, implemented just a few weeks ago, involved the decision by Belarus' monopoly state postal service to stop delivery to subscribers of a dozen private periodicals. Meanwhile, the suspicious murder in 2004 of journalist Veronika Charkasova has not been resolved. Authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into journalist Vasil Hrodnikau's death. Lukashenka himself recently admitted to Russian journalists that his regime applies very serious pressure on the media, somewhat incongruously adding that ``this does not mean I am crushing them.''   Mr. Speaker, what I have cited is by no means an exhaustive list of abuses perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime, merely a sampling of the types of repressive actions employed on a daily basis by Europe's last dictator. As Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, I will continue to monitor closely and speak out forcefully regarding these and other violations of Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. I urge the Bush Administration to step up efforts to break the Lukashenka regime's near monopoly over the country's information space and provide timely assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus.   It is clear that Mr. Lukashenka and his minions are laying the groundwork for yet another un-free and unfair election--similar to the 2001 presidential elections and the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections--that will fall far short of OSCE standards. Lukashenka is once again showing that, despite his confident rhetoric, he fears his own people and profoundly fails to respect their dignity as citizens and as human beings.

  • Democracy Denied: The Outcome of the Azerbaijan Elections

    By Ronald J. McNamara International Policy Director In 1992, Azerbaijan joined the Helsinki Process, unconditionally accepting all OSCE provisions back to the Helsinki Final Act, including the commitment “to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.”  Consequently, the November 6, 2005 elections for the 125 single-member constituency seats in the parliament (Milli Majlis) – the first held under President Ilham Aliyev – provided an important opportunity for the Azerbaijani leadership to demonstrate its commitment to bringing the country’s election practices into closer conformity with OSCE standards.  Azerbaijani authorities, most prominently the President, had repeatedly proclaimed their intention to hold an election that would meet those norms. The November 2005 elections were the fifth to be observed by the OSCE, following parliamentary contests in 1995 and 2000, and presidential elections in 1998 and 2003.  According to OSCE monitors, all of these elections have fallen short of international standards. On election day, Ronald J. McNamara of the U.S. Helsinki Commission staff participated as one of 617 short-term observers deployed as part of the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM), a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Parliament (EP) and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).  The IEOM also included 30 long-term observers.  Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, President of the OSCE PA, was appointed by OSCE Chairman-in-Office as Special Coordinator to lead the short-term observers.  In all, Mission members observed the polling in over half of the country’s 5,053 polling stations and tabulation of results in 90 of 125 constituency election commissions. A Standard Still Not Met During the final days of the campaign in Baku, there was an air of guarded optimism among many international observers that the November 6th elections could meaningfully advance democratization, despite all the problems during the pre-election period.  Accordingly, a great deal hinged on what happened on election day itself, specifically the balloting and vote count. Unfortunately, despite a number of steps taken by authorities at the highest levels, including two presidential decrees, implementation fell short. On the positive side were the more inclusive registration of candidates, including controversial opposition leaders; free airtime on the state-funded media and televised debates; and exit polls.   Shortly before voting day, Baku also lifted its ban on the inking of voters’ fingers, and on domestic observers who received funding from foreign sources.  The Council of Europe and others had long been urging concessions on these fronts. At the same time, Azerbaijani authorities asserted tight control of all election commissions, including the Central Election Commission.  This was despite calls by the Council of Europe and the OSCE to make them more representative.  Other problems included undue restrictions on the ability of opposition parties to conduct rallies at desired venues, with disproportionate use of force by police against unsanctioned rallies; detentions and harassment of some opposition candidates; lack of uniformity in updating voter lists; and interference by local executive authorities in the election process with impunity. The IEOM Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued on November 7th noted, “While voting was generally calm, the election day process deteriorated progressively during the counting and, in particular, the tabulation of the votes.  The general atmosphere in the polling stations deteriorated sharply during the count.” In a telling statistic, 43% of counts assessed by OSCE observers were either “bad or very bad,” with a high lack of confidence in the announced results.  Among the more serious violations observed were tampering with tabulation protocols, protocols completed with pencil, intimidation of observers and unauthorized persons directing the process.  Official protocols reporting the results were not posted, as required by law, in over half of the counts observed.  Violations were also observed in the tabulation process at the constituency electoral commissions. Influenced by the serious violations observed, as well as problems during the pre-election period, the IEOM concluded, “The 6 November parliamentary elections did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards and commitments for democratic elections.”  Speaking at a crowded Baku press conference the day after the elections, OSCE Special Coordinator Rep. Hastings said, “It pains me to report that progress noted in the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count.” One Observer’s Perspective The experience of Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is indicative of much of what transpired in the Azeri elections: “My observations began on November 6 with the opening of a polling station at a university in downtown Baku, followed by other precincts in the capital and surrounding rural districts.  Throughout the day, at the dozen or so stations I visited, including two military bases, there were an impressive number of domestic observers, most affiliated with individual candidates or political parties.  In nearly every station I encountered voters whose names did not appear on the official voter list posted at each station, including one irate individual complaining that she had voted at the same school all her life but had been dropped from the roster.  Otherwise, the balloting generally proceeded smoothly. “However, as someone once said, ‘It’s not the people who vote that count -- it’s the people who count the votes,’ and unfortunately, most of the officials I encountered on November 6 were the very same individuals who had administered Azerbaijan’s earlier flawed elections. “The 7:00 p.m. poll closing was accompanied by a dramatic and tense turn of events at the polling station I observed when the precinct election commissioners began moving unused ballots and other materials to an office well beyond the sight of observers.  Amid shouting protests from the dozen or so domestic monitors, I reminded commissioners that all aspects of the closing and vote count were supposed to be conducted in full view of observers.  After a momentary pause, the ballots were retrieved and the count proceeded without further incident.  Aided by a low voter turnout – 30 percent at this particular polling station – the vote counting process moved along rapidly. “Ultimately, an independent candidate among the 21 people on the ballot won in the constituency.  Subsequently, however, the entire vote in the Binagadi constituency electoral district #9 was invalidated, as also happened in a handful of other districts.” The Aftermath  Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback expressed deep disappointment in the conduct of the elections, “We were hoping this election would mark a first step for democracy in Azerbaijan. Leading up to the election, the President of Azerbaijan made technical improvements designed to make the election as free and fair as possible. Unfortunately, the authorities who implemented the election did not pass the test.”  Similarly, Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith, said, “The high expectation that the elections would move democratization forward in Azerbaijan has, regretfully, not been realized.”  While Commission Ranking Member, Rep. Ben Cardin observed, “It is not at all clear where Azerbaijan goes from here, but I am not optimistic.” Considering the international community’s hopes and expectations for significant improvement, disappointment over the November 6 election was all the greater.  It is difficult to see in the conduct of the election any convincing evidence of meaningful progress – instead, the election and its aftermath resemble previous Azerbaijani elections, rather than signaling a significant opening toward greater democratization, including the holding of free and fair elections.  Since the election, the police have broken up, sometimes violently, opposition rallies.  While Azeri President Aliyev has been willing to engage with the West on the implementation of reforms so long as those reforms do not seriously threaten the status quo, it is clear that Azerbaijan’s leadership is determined to make sure that no “colored” revolution takes place such as those that took place in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine. A Final OSCE Report, presenting a comprehensive analysis of all observers’ findings and offering recommendations for further improvements is expected to be released shortly.

  • 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

  • Religious Speech Limitations in Sweden

    Mr. Speaker, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental element of international human rights norms. It is inextricably intertwined with other fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Considering this, I am increasingly concerned by European trends to place limitations on religious speech under the guise of preventing offense or limiting hate speech. One such case concerns Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kalmar, Sweden, who was sentenced to 1 month in prison for “inciting hatred” against homosexuals.   Pastor Green’s troubles began on July 20, 2003, when he expressed his disapproval of homosexuality in a sermon, founded upon his understanding of the Bible. He did not incite nor encourage his congregation on the small southeastern island of Oland to violence. He did, however, express his personal opinion on homosexuality and made a personal moral judgment that the lifestyle was sinful. He later circulated the sermon text to media outlets in an attempt to insert an alternative view into Sweden’s “marketplace of ideas.”   When prosecutors saw the sermon printed, they brought charges against Pastor Green for “inciting hate” toward homosexuals. A district court agreed in June 2004, finding his sermon to be criminal. One particularly alarming quote from the district court’s decision stated, “It is forbidden to use the Bible or similar material to threaten or express disrespect for homosexuals as a group.” Mr. Speaker, should pastors really be sent to jail for sermons that a court deems “disrespectful” or “offensive”? Should the state really dictate how a religious leader interprets the Bible, the Torah, or other religious texts? The district court’s ruling raises the question of whether ministers and priests in Sweden are really free to preach their beliefs.   I recognize that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and not all speech is protected. After 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, we have all seen how criminals abuse religion to preach violence and lead others in criminal deeds. Authorities are within their rights to take legal action to curtail the speech when it rises to the level of posing an imminent threat of actual criminal action. The international community and the European Court of Human Rights have recognized this high threshold for limiting speech activity. Yet we must be careful to not limit religious liberties and speech rights.   Thankfully, Pastor Green has not spent a night in jail while his case is on appeal. Also encouraging was the February decision by an appellate court to overturn the conviction, saying it is not illegal to preach a personal interpretation of the Bible. However, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Fredrik Wersaell, appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Green violated Sweden’s 2003 hate crimes law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on November 9th.   Undoubtedly, Swedes enjoy tremendous religious freedoms and generally Sweden is a staunch defender of human rights. However, in this case, the government has sought to limit basic religious teachings. I believe the criminalization of the use of the Bible to express beliefs, if not overturned, will have frighteningly broad ramifications for the free practice of religion in Sweden and beyond.

  • 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.

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Current State of Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor With the situation in Russia continuing to be uncertain, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, convened a briefing on June 23, 2005 to update Members of Congress, press and staff on ongoing developments in the area of human rights.  The focus of the briefing was on analysis by Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gefter presented balanced but critical testimony on the current state of human rights and politics in Russia, stressing that Russia was moving, albeit “slowly and controversially,” toward political normality and stability.  He described in detail what he termed a “new rise of authoritarian trends” in Russia, citing the increasing role of political institutions and security institutions in the country.  Mr. Gefter noted that there has been increased state persecution against “socially active” groups and individuals, noting that the scope and methods employed by Russian authorities were “not fair, obviously selective…and directed against those who are not liked by the authorities or just individual officials.” Specifically, Gefter focused on the resurgent trend of imprisoning citizens for political reasons, which he deemed the “most dangerous manifestations of the overall atmosphere” in Russia. “The authorities call them enemies of the state,” he remarked, “but we call them victims of the regime.” In his comments, Gefter focused on four individuals whom he considers political prisoners: Valentin Danilov and Igor Sutyagin, academics who were accused of espionage, and; Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two businessmen convicted of various charges. Gefter argued that Lebedev and Khodorkovsky were had being made scapegoats by the Russian government for everyone who was involved in the development of capitalism in Russia. Against this backdrop, Gefter suggested that foreign officials seeking to influence human rights developments in Russia should place an emphasis on the resolution of these and other individual cases rather than trying to push sweeping systemic reforms. One ray of light on the relatively dark political landscape, Gefter noted, is the fact that there has not been mass criminal prosecutions reminiscent of the Red Terror at the height of the Soviet era. However, while significant changes to the social, political and legal situation in the post-Soviet era have taken place, Gefter said, the methods and mentality of Russian law enforcement agencies have remained generally the same. The result of this lack of change within Russian security agencies, Gefter asserted, has led to many instances of political, corporate, and even personal influence prevailing over the rule of law. With respect to the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, Gefter, who works closely with the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, suggested that regions neighboring the war torn republic are most directly affected by the war, and that the consequences of the war for the rest of Russia is comparatively limited.  In this connection, Gefter also mentioned a rise in discrimination faced by Chechens and other ethnic minorities from the Caucasus.  Gefter expressed particular concern over what he termed “state violence” perpetrated by the police and security services. In a broader context, Gefter expressed doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin had the necessary time and public support to accomplish whatever economic and social reforms he had originally planned. 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. PARTICIPATING COMMISSIONERS Moderator: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) WITNESSES Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Mocow-based Human Rights Institute, co-editor of the Russian Human Rights Bulletin and editor of the human rights journal Russian Messenger and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Res. 328, a resolution recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland in 1980 that led to the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union.  This legislation praises Polish workers in the shipyards of Gdansk and Szczecin for rising up against the repressive Soviet controlled communist regime in demand of greater political freedom. The actions of these courageous and peaceful individuals were directly responsible for the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union, a profound social movement that ultimately ended communism in Poland without bloodshed.  This resolution rightly expresses the sense of Congress that our government should recognize and honor the struggle and sacrifice of the citizens of Poland, whose tireless efforts succeeded in restoring democracy to their country while simultaneously highlighting the correlation between organized labor and strong democratic institutions.  Now, more than ever, it is important that Congress pay tribute to, and support, those nations that willingly and actively allow the unimpeded formation of labor unions. For it is those countries that exhibit the most free and fair democratic policies. No such phenomenon is better exemplified than in the case of the Solidarity Trade Union. The formation of this important group ultimately led to the election of Poland's first post-World War II non-communist Prime Minister, Mr. Tadeusz Mazawiecki.  Mr. Speaker, let me conclude by again expressing my support for this legislation and encourage my colleagues' support. It should be a priority of this Congress to pay homage to members of the Solidarity Trade Union on the 25th anniversary of its inception and acknowledge the ensuing bond of friendship that has flourished between our two nations on account of workers' rights.

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to support H . Res . 328, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland that led to the founding of Solidarity. Mr. Speaker, Stalin once said that trying to impose communism on Poland was like trying to put a saddle on a cow. As history showed, that was one time the Soviet Union's dictator was right. From the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union spread its suffocating net across a Central Europe devastated by war, Poles struggled to be free. Time and again, from the 1956 riots in Poznan, when workers took to the streets “For Bread and For Freedom,” through the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, Poles struggled to stretch the boundaries of freedom. Each time, they came closer, but each time they were pulled back into the Soviet fold.  The year 1976 marked an historic turning point. In that year, Polish intellectuals stood outside the court room door while workers stood inside, waiting for verdicts to be meted out against them for their strikes at the Ursus tractor factory. At those trials, only family members were allowed to be present. And, as one onerous prison sentence after another was handed down, the intellectuals standing outside the courtroom would hear only the sobs of family members. The harshness of the regime only served to galvanize opposition to it.  By 1980, when the workers struck in Gdansk, they were no longer alone; they were joined by intellectuals who had been pursuing a parallel path. The newly elected, Polish-born Pope, John Paul II, had countenanced his countrymen and women to "be not afraid.'' And an extraordinary individual, Lech Walesa, scaled the walls at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to lead his country to a place in history. The Gdansk shipyard workers had 31 demands, one of which was a call for the Polish Government to fulfill its obligations it had under the in the 1976 Helsinki Final Act.  By December 13, 1981, the Soviet Union had seen enough of this Polish experiment and martial law was imposed. But, it seems, the power of the people could not be truly repressed. The joining of workers and intellectuals in Poland produced the only mass dissident movement in all of Eastern Europe. In spite of mass arrests and other forms of repression during the 1980s, Solidarity remained a force with which to be reckoned and, by 1988, the tide was inexorably turning. In that year, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a Solidarity activist who--in a few years’ time--would be Minister of Defense, came to Washington and testified before the Helsinki Commission about the human rights situation in his country. It was the first time a dissident from an East European Communist country had testified before Congress and then actually returned to his country. Although authorities briefly considered bringing criminal charges against him for his daring appearance before the Helsinki Commission, those plans were quickly abandoned.  By 1989, Solidarity's disciplined strikes had forced Communist officials to the negotiating table. These so-called “Round-Table Talks” produced an agreement to allow a fraction of the seats in parliament to be openly contested in June elections--the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. In July, when Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected Poland's first non-Communist Prime Minister in the post-War era, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, led by Senator DeConcini, sat in the gallery of the parliament and watched this extraordinary moment unfold.  Mr. Speaker, there are many factors that led to the collapse of communism, and many heroes--some tragically fallen--who deserve credit for restoring freedom to Eastern Europe. The Solidarity Trade Union played a singular role in achieving that great goal, and I give my wholehearted support to this resolution which honors the men and women of that movement.

  • The “Yukos Affair” and Its Implications for Politics and Business in Russia

    Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, Hon. Chris Smith, addressed the subject of the rule of law in Russia and its relationship to business and politics in the context of Russia’s approaching chairmanship of the G-8 at the end of the year. An argument was made that the Yukos case was characterized by selective prosecution and blatant legal arbitrariness. The potential outcomes of Russia indifference or hostility to the rule of law were also addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Leoni Nevzlin, Former Executive of Yukos Oil, and Peter Roudik, Senior Foreign Law Specialist for the Law Library of Congress – examined the deficiencies of Russia’s legal system and the shortcomings of the criminal justice reform that was supposedly implemented and completed successfully.

  • The Uzbekistan Crisis: Assessing the Impact and Next Steps

    This hearing focused on the protests in the Andijon that were met by a violent government response and the lack of meaningful democratization reform in Uzbekistan. The Commissioners touched on the lack of separation of powers in the government and the authoritarian governing institutions that cannot produce a reliable investigation into the violent government response to the protest. Human rights activists and journalists from Uzbekistan gave testimony on their experience of the oppressive leadership of the government and first-hand account of the horrific and bloody response by the government police to remove peaceful protestors. The hearing discussed what actions the United States can take, within the OSCE framework, to push for meaningful reform.

  • 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.

  • The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response

    Commissioners Brownback, Smith, and Cardin held this hearing that focused on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, and how the U.S. and Europe together could help address this predicament. More specifically, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran did everything in its power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, including execution. The relevance to the OSCE regarding the situation in Iran lies in the fact that Iran borders multiple OSCE participating states. Likewise, events in Iran, which is a rather large country, have a direct bearing on the broader Middle East and beyond. 

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Unrest in Uzbekistan: Crisis and Prospects

    This briefing, held in the wake of protests in the town of Andijon in eastern Uzbekistan that were violently put down by Uzbek troops on May 13, examined the crisis in Uzbekistan and U.S. policy options toward the regime of President Islam Karimov. The Uzbek regime has long been listed as an abuser of human rights. Among those participating in the briefing were: H.E. Samuel Zbogar, Ambassador of Slovenia and representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office; Dr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Uzbek opposition Birlik Party; Mr. Michael Cromartie, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Mr. Daniel Kimmage, Central Asia Analyst for Radio free Europe/Radio Liberty. The participants called for Uzbekistan to strive to resolve this situation peacefully, and continue to meet its commitments as a participating State in the OSCE.

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Russian-Syrian Connection

    By Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor On March 9, the Helsinki Commission convened a hearing, “The Russian-Syrian connection and threats to democracy in the Middle East and the greater OSCE Region” to examine burgeoning relations between Russia and Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. Additionally, the hearing explored the scope of Syria’s dominant role in Lebanon, implications for a transition to an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon, and the prospects for the broader Middle East region. Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia are OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Lebanon and Syria were originally included in the Mediterranean dimension of the Helsinki process dating back to the early 1970s. Russia’s involvement with Syria is of particular concern to the Commission as the OSCE participating States have agreed to the Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism which commits all states “to refrain from harboring terrorists, organizing, instigating, providing active or passive support or assistance to, or otherwise sponsoring terrorist acts in another State.” The U.S. State Department has included Syria on the list of states sponsoring terrorism since December 29, 1979. Syria for years has served as a base of operations and training for the terrorist organizations HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and has supported the activities of Lebanese Hizbollah. Since the liberation of Iraq, Syria has served as a safe zone for the remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein and allowed, if not encouraged, them and other terrorists to attack the military of the United States and her allies. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Ranking House Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) heard from a panel of five witnesses: Dr. Walid Phares, Professor, Florida Atlantic University and senior fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Farid N. Ghadry, President, Reform Party of Syria; Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy and Spokesperson, United Iraqi Alliance; Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy, American Foreign Policy Council; and Steven Emerson, Executive Director, The Investigative Project. Chairman Brownback opened the hearing by voicing concerns that warming relations between Moscow and Damascus are expected to lead to a series of arms deals for Syria and further transfers to Hizbollah and to others. He cited the fact that Russian-supplied SA-18s missiles, according to experts, can easily be dismantled into single man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), posing a potential threat to airliners. “The sale appears on track despite objections from the U.S., and Russia's commitments as a participating State of the OSCE not to support terrorist regimes,” Brownback noted. Commenting on the positive pro-democracy developments taking place in Lebanon, Chairman Brownback acknowledged the pressure on the people of Lebanon as they seek to restore control over their country. “The pro-democracy ‘Cedar Revolution’ is a call for freedom, sovereignty and independence. By contrast, what does Syria have to offer: authoritarianism, subjugation and dependence,” remarked Brownback. Commissioner Cardin stressed, “Syria represents a major challenge for all of us. They support terrorism. They are certainly counterproductive in the peace process in the Middle East. They certainly present a problem for the freedom of Iraq. And they clearly are interfering with Lebanon's opportunity to control its own country.” The Rule and Oppression of the Ba’ath Party in Syria Dr. Phares examined the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the support the Syrian-backed regime received from the Russian Federation in the form of weapons and intelligence. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon started officially in 1976. At that time, Syrian forces were supported by the Soviet Union. “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one would have imagined that the Russian Federation, the inheritor of the Soviet Union, would basically cease its strategic relationship with Syria. In fact, it did not cease,” said Phares. Russia continued to provide weapons and strategic intelligence support to the Syrian Ba’athist regime in a variety of ways. Dr. Phares concluded that if the Russian Federation continues to arm and supply the Assad regime, and Damascus in turn continues to provide support for terrorists operating in Iraq, Israel, occupied-Lebanon and Hizbollah, then Congress and the Administration must act. Phares stressed that the Russian Federation needs to support stability in Lebanon and Syria by ceasing to supply weapons to Assad. He reiterated that Syria must comply with UN Resolution 1559. UN Resolution 1559 (2004): reaffirms strict respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country; calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and for the immediate removal of all foreign military and non-military personnel; calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the UN Security Council for the full implementation of all its resolutions concerning the restoration in Lebanon of territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence. Farid N. Ghadry provided insight into both the Assad regime and Ba’athist Party and how they control Syria. He appealed to the Commission to work to give democracy a chance in Syria. After explaining the evolution of the Assad regime going back to 1963, Ghadry discussed Syria today. He mentioned the killing of 30,000 innocent Syrians under the order of the regime in 1982, and Damascus’ involvement with a massive drug and counterfeiting operation located in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Most recently, the Assad regime reportedly struck a deal with the Russian Federation to purchase shoulder-held SA-18 missiles. “The SA-18 is capable of downing an aircraft flying at up to 900 miles per hour, so one can only imagine the possibilities if these weapons fell into the wrong hands,” Ghardry said. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart in a state visit to Moscow in late January. Ghadry said that, given the chance to choose democracy freely, Syrians would appreciate the aid of the United States. He appealed for the Commission to understand the desires of the Syrian people -- “Only freedom and democracy can restore their rights and celebrate their contribution to the Syrian society.” Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy for the United Iraqi Alliance, noted that recent televised reports have proven that terrorist operations in Iraq were coordinated by Syrian intelligence, which is indirectly supported by the Russian Federation. He named Syria as the logistical, financial and training base for the terrorists in Iraq, stating: The leaders of the Iraqi terror campaign are high-ranking Ba’athist officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime, and all of them take refuge in Syria. The only way to win the war on terror in Iraq is to cut off Ba’athist support from Syria and expel them from the Iraqi government and specifically from the security police and army. Qanbar said the Ba’ath Party is the leading terrorist organization in Iraq, not Al Qaida, having modeled its ideology after the “genocidal” inspirations of 1930s Europe Russia’s Connection to Syria Chairman Brownback asked about the origins and development of the Ba’ath Party. The party goes back to the late ‘20s, with its founders being Michel Aflak and Salah a-Din. Aflak frequently visited Germany while studying in France during the early ‘30s. As he saw how the Germans were able to get people behind one cause and one dictator, the roots of most of the Ba’ath Party came from the “enlightenment” that Aflak obtained during these visits. Chairman Brownback sought an explanation for why Russia -- a country that has been the target of terrorism -- would maintain a relationship with a regime born out of fascism, especially with a history of links to terrorist organizations. Russia’s desire to develop a foothold in the Middle East, coupled with Cold War competition with the United States, were sufficient motives, said Qanbar. Plus, there are many common denominators between Russian ideology and the Ba’ath Party, he maintained. Dr. Phares recapped Syria’s instigation of Lebanon’s civil war in the 1970s, describing how pro-Ba’athist Siikas and other organizations moved inside Lebanon before 1975 in order to create civil war conditions. He reminded participants that Syria has never accepted the existence of a truly independent Lebanon. Listing a number of assassinations that have been carried out by Syrian Ba’athists, Phares showed how each assassination was of those who sought an independent Lebanon. Just days prior to the hearing, massive back-to-back anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian rallies had taken place in Beirut. The hearing helped reveal the connection between key actors in the region and how the United States can best support the courageous individuals in Lebanon. With regard to the pro-Syrian demonstration, Phares said, “One has to understand who is demonstrating and in which condition.” He explained that anti-Syrian demonstrators rally under threat from Hizbollah and other terrorist organizations and that if the Lebanese had the freedom to demonstrate against Syria without such threats, you would see a much larger anti-Syrian turn-out. In response to a question from Chairman Brownback on whether the Ba’athist regime should be identified has a terrorist regime, Ghadry stated it warranted such designation and his belief that Syria has sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq. “Public statements made by the entire apparatus of the Syrian Ba’athist regime have encouraged martyrdom operations,” Phares said. “Public knowledge would define by itself the Ba’athist regime in Syria as terrorists.” Qanbar volunteered that Syrian intelligence is the best he has ever seen, they are the most skilled in making car bombs, and the Ba’ath Party is not only the oldest organization that sponsors terrorism but the richest. Implications for Lebanon and the Middle East Steven Emerson explained the “dangerous” role Russia is playing in empowering and strengthening the Syrian regime, especially Russia’s agreement to upgrade Syria’s weapons systems with the sale of SA-18 Igla anti-aircraft missiles. “Syria has received extensive financial, political, military and technological support from Russia recently…while continuing to harbor, support and actively collaborate in the active commission of terrorism,” Emerson said. Emerson called for the United States to “disrupt” its trade, economic and technological relationships with Russia because of this sale of SA-18s. “As for Syria, the United States has to put on the table a whole range of new punitive actions,” he said. Emerson warned that the Russian Federation is arming Arab regimes as a resumption of Cold War strategies, saying “Russia has sought increasingly to play a countervailing weight to the United States in almost a replication of the Cold War strategy.” Ilan Berman detailed the relationship between Russia and Syria, explaining the “tangible outcomes” of the January Moscow meeting between Russian President Putin and Syrian President Assad. Bilateral ties were strengthened and long-term support was committed. Berman characterized the Russian-Syrian connection as “…a lifeline that will provide the Syrian Government with greater resources and greater capabilities to resist pro-independence stirrings in Lebanon or in its own country.” Asked about the nascent democratic movement developing in Syria, Berman replied, “I think what we are seeing are the last gasps of a desperate regime trying to provide the veneer of a new order while trying to preserve an old order.” United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason D. Mann contributed to this article.

  • Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia

    This hearing focused the disfranchisement of religious minorities Russia.  In several cases, authorities unfairly targeted religious groups with excessive force and threatened their right to worship. The hearing examined these cases and what the OSCE and U.S. have done in response. The witness John V. Hanford, III, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, gave testimony about specific measures the State Department has in place in Moscow for addressing this issue and what the administration of President Bush has done to respond directly to these violations.

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