Title

Ukraine's Fight Against Corruption

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
1:00pm
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562
Washington, DC
United States
Moderator(s): 
Name: 
Paul Massaro
Title Text: 
Policy Advisor
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Oksana Shulyar
Title: 
Deputy Chief of Mission
Body: 
Embassy of Ukraine in the United States
Name: 
Orest Deychakiwsky
Title: 
Former Policy Advisor for Ukraine
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Dr. Anders Aslund
Title: 
Senior Fellow
Body: 
Atlantic Council
Name: 
Brian Dooley
Title: 
Senior Advisor
Body: 
Human Rights First

Today, Ukraine has an historic opportunity to overcome its long struggle with pervasive corruption. Never before in its past has the country experienced such meaningful reforms, with the most significant being the establishment of a robust and independent anticorruption architecture. However, much remains to be done. An anticorruption court is urgently needed, as is an end to the escalating harassment of civil society.

This briefing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission introduced the Commission’s recently published report, “The Internal Enemy: A Helsinki Commission Staff Report on Corruption in Ukraine.” Briefers discussed the conclusions of this report as well as the fight against corruption in Ukraine more broadly.

Relevant issues: 
Relevant countries: 
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  • Hastings and Cardin Link U.S. Energy Security to Need for Democracy in Oil-Rich Countries

    Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), made the following statements at a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing entitled “Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?” The hearing examined whether the development of democracy is incompatible with the development of a country’s energy resources. The hearing further addressed the issue of how energy kleptocracy impacts U.S. energy security. Six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are ranked by Transparency International as some of the world’s most corrupt countries. Corruption and kleptocracy often lead to political instability and subsequently higher oil prices, which have the potential to impact the economic and national security interests of the United States. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings Statement: “Today’s hearing is the second of three hearings the Commission is holding on the topic of energy security, an issue that spans the security, economic and environmental, and human dimensions of the Helsinki process. This hearing series is designed to give the Commission a comprehensive picture of this complex issue and highlight areas where the Commission, the U.S. Government and the OSCE can take effective action. “At today’s hearing we are going to hear from our distinguished panelists about the development of democracy and civil society in countries with abundant energy resources—and why that matters to U.S. energy security. I mentioned at the last hearing the remarkable fact that only two of the world’s top 10 oil exporters are established democracies—Norway and Mexico. What is wrong with this picture? Top World Oil Net Exporters 2006 1 Saudi Arabia 2 Russia 3 Norway 4 Iran 5 United Arab Emirates 6 Venezuela 7 Kuwait 8 Nigeria 9 Algeria 10 Mexico Source: EIA: International Energy Annual (2000-2004), International Petroleum Monthly (2005-2006). “When we look at countries that are situated on oil and natural gas reserves, we think these countries have won the global version of the economic lottery. They have a built-in revenue stream that can fuel not only their own economy but also be an export commodity. But what economists have found by studying these resource-rich countries is that they often do worse than their resource-poor neighbors, both economically and politically. This problem is often referred to as the “resource curse.” “Each of the countries we are focusing on today—Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan—face some aspect of this resource curse. And while the situation in each country is unique, we can generalize and say that the lack of transparency in politics, and in oil and gas deals, is at the root of the problem. “It’s a well-known, and well-bemoaned, fact that the United States is becoming more and more reliant on imported energy to fuel our economy. We are the world’s largest consumer of oil—we account for an astounding 25 percent of global daily oil demand—despite having less than 3 percent of the world’s proven reserves. And we source that oil from some unstable and unfriendly places in the world such as Nigeria and Venezuela. “In the context of today’s hearing some of you may wonder why the United States should care what is happening in Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan, when we actually don’t rely on these countries for a significant portion of our energy supplies. Russia is only number nine on our list of oil suppliers and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan don’t event make it into the top twenty. “The answer is that unlike natural gas, oil is a commodity, so regardless of where we source our oil, what happens in other oil-rich countries impacts the stability of our price and our supply as well. As the National Petroleum Council reported last week, “There can be no U.S. energy security without global energy security.” “Oil is the tie that binds us all and threatens to choke us at the same time. “So take a minute to think about how drastically different our interactions with these countries would be if we did not rely so heavily on these countries’ resources. I think it goes without saying that we would have more leverage to promote democracy and civil society. Clearly oil constrains, if not drives, our foreign policy. “So while it is imperative that we work to limit our dependence on foreign oil and change the dynamic of supply and demand, it is just as important to create more stable and reliable sources of energy. One of the key ways the international community has sought to counteract the political and economic instability inherent in the resource curse is through programs that seek to instill transparency and accountability into the resource payment system,” said Hastings. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin’s Statement: “I am pleased that the Commission is now turning its focus to the nexus of energy and democracy. As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, we must address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. “In the search for energy security in the OSCE region and beyond, democracy is an important contributing factor. Endemic corruption is an impediment to democracy. Last year the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution I authored on limiting immunity for parliamentarians in order to strengthen good governance, public integrity and the rule of law in the OSCE region. Just recently Chairman Hastings and I met with the President of Ukraine who told us that this was one of the first things he would like to see accomplished once a new parliament is elected this September. This is an important step forward for Ukraine. “Broad immunity for parliamentarians can serve as a cover for corruption. I believe that good governance is the key to a properly functioning democracy. In many of the oil-exporting states, corruption and kleptocracy have become the norm and prevent democratic ideals from flourishing. The United States must consider the impact of its dependence on these types of states for energy security. “Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability, and in some cases violent attacks on pipelines and refineries. “Not only does political instability threaten the physical ability to export oil and gas, but it also has created a poor investment climate. If we are to support development of energy resources, U.S. policy should certainly take into account the investment incentives in these countries. Corruption not only weakens those incentives, but also prevents those investments from producing real results in terms of security of supply. There is clearly a positive link between development of democracy and development of energy resources, which can be seen in some of the recent improvements to both in countries such as Azerbaijan. Additional steps are absolutely necessary to increase transparency in oil-exporting governments, but initiatives such as the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” and “Publish What You Pay,” are moves in the right direction and need U.S. support. “In order to achieve energy security, not only must we work towards our own energy independence, for which I have introduced legislation, but we must also ensure that the countries from which we import oil and gas are reliable sources. Combating corruption and increasing transparency are part of the process of democratic development and must be supported by U.S. policy if we are to attain long term energy security,” said Cardin. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Introduction of Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I rise to introduce a concurrent resolution which addresses the current political uncertainty in Ukraine, a country of strategic importance to the United States. My resolution urges all sides to abide by the agreement signed by Ukraine's leadership on May 27th, providing for a new round of parliamentary elections to be held on September 30th, and encouraging the holding of these elections in a free, fair and transparent manner in keeping with Ukraine's commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  I have just returned from Ukraine which hosted the 16th annual Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. While in Kyiv, I met with President Yushchenko and other prominent Ukrainian officials. My colleagues and I received assurances from Kyiv that Ukraine would not backtrack on the path to political reform and good governance.  Ukraine's current political conflict is the result of the ongoing power struggle that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich have been engaged in since Yanukovich became Prime Minister last August. Rooted in hastily conceived constitutional reforms, the ongoing power struggle threatens to undermine Ukraine's hard-fought and substantial democratic gains, especially those won since the 2004 Orange Revolution.  On April 2nd, President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, asserting that the Prime Minister was attempting to monopolize power by forming a veto-proof parliamentary majority through illegal means, and called for new parliamentary elections. The parliament refused to disband and questioned the legality of the presidential decree. After several weeks of tension and standoff, violence was averted and an agreement was reached: President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Moroz came together in support of holding pre- term parliamentary elections at the end of September.  Madam Speaker, it is important to recognize that Ukraine has made genuine democratic gains since the Orange Revolution. The December 2004 presidential vote was hailed as a stirring example of the triumph of peaceful protest and democratic ideals. Just over a year ago, as head of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine, I was pleased to declare that country's parliamentary elections were also free and fair. I am pleased that Ukraine has once again invited  the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to observe the September 30 elections. Moreover, Ukraine for the last two years has been designated by Freedom House as a ``free'' country, in contrast to the ``partly free'' assessment it held during its first 13 years of independence.  Nevertheless, democratic institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine are still emerging and lacking in their ability to safeguard democratic gains. It is this fragility, especially the lack of constitutional  clarity in delineating the separation of powers that made it possible for the power struggle to ripen into a full-blown political crisis in recent months. However, it is heartening to see that more serious  turmoil was averted through careful and constructive dialogue and capped by an agreement involving the country's leading political figures.  First and foremost, my resolution calls for the leadership and political parties of Ukraine to abide by the May 27th agreement and conduct elections as scheduled for September 30th. The dispute between the president and prime minister must be resolved in a manner consistent with Ukraine's democratic values and national interest, and in keeping with its OSCE commitments.  Madam Speaker, prolonged political uncertainties regarding the government's delineation of powers is clearly not in Ukraine's interest, and that nation's political leaders need to stand together in support of free, fair and transparent elections as a way out of the current impasse. While democratic elections will not, in and of themselves, resolve all of the challenges facing Ukraine in strengthening the rule of law and delineating power among the branches of government, they are a critical stepping-stone in Ukraine's democratic consolidation and should serve as a further testament of Ukraine's commitment to a democratic future.  As this resolution underscores, Congress has been a staunch supporter of the development of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine since the restoration of that nation's independence in 1991. The consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine will further strengthen that country's independence and sovereignty, enhancing Ukraine's aspirations for full integration with the West and serving as a positive model for other former Soviet countries. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution as a demonstration of Congress's interest, concern, and support for the Ukrainian people.

  • Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?

    As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, the Commission will address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability.

  • Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    This hearing focused on the security of supply and transit of oil and gas and its role in conflict prevention.  Those testifying identified important factors for ensuring the reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas. This hearing also discussed the United States’ role in its own energy security, and in Eurasian energy security.

  • Russia: In Transition or Intransigent?

    This hearing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings chaired, focused, on Russia, a country whose role had become larger and larger, with a more assertive take on Georgia, Russia’s neighbor to the south, as well as concurrent positions in the United Nations, the Group of 8, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. In spite of an initially positive looking trajectory of representative government after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., since 2001, the Russian government had begun to recentralize power again. This has been perhaps best exemplified by the government’s curtailing of civil liberties. While the Russian Federation has made progress in certain arenas as far as human rights are concerned (i.e. having heat in the winter, getting paid on time, and access to the judicial process), there has been a vocal and growing minority that is deeply concerned about Russia’s trajectory, and the Russian government has met these individuals’ concerns with heavy-handedness and brutality. To address this situation, Commissioner Hastings expressed the need to find new ways to have more frequent interaction and with all governmental branches, as well as a substantial and sustainable bilateral dialogue at the level of civil society.

  • Remarks by the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings at the Conference on 21st Century Threats to Media Freedom

    Ladies and Gentlemen, As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I appreciate this opportunity to address threats to media freedom in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. While the now 56 signatories to the Helsinki Final Act have accepted a series of specific commitments on media and working conditions for journalists, the difficulty remains translating words on paper into deeds in practice. Before turning to concerns of the 21st century, let me recall Thomas Jefferson’s observation from 1787: “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” In a subsequent elaboration, he explained why: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed.” You don’t have to be one of our own Founding Fathers to grasp the idea. Leaders the world over who are determined to remain in office by any means necessary understand perfectly the power of the press. That is precisely why they and their associates strive so vigorously to control the media. In Aleksandr Lukashenka's Belarus, for example, media freedoms are systematically stifled and have deteriorated over the past few years. Investigations of suspicious deaths of two journalists in 2004 and 2005 have gone nowhere. And just a month ago opposition activist Andrei Klimau was arrested under a vague article of the Criminal Code. Meanwhile, the Lukashenka regime maintains a virtual monopoly on television and radio broadcasting. Last November, Lukashenka himself unabashedly admitted to reporters that his government uses “serious pressure” to control the media and that he is in charge of this process. In another context, that acknowledgment might be described as admirable candor – and certainly more than could be had in Russia. I’m sure all of you have read the obituaries for the late Boris Yeltsin. Russia’s first freely elected president made many mistakes. But all commentators have stressed that throughout his two terms, he protected the media. You may recall a TV show in Russia called Kukly which satirized politicians with hand-puppets. The show’s writers savaged their targets, including the head of state, and this in a country where the Tsar or the General Secretary could never be criticized. Yet Boris Yeltsin, who must have been chagrined, did not order Kukly off the air. That was left to his successor, whose minions made sure that Kukly never again darkened the airwaves. In fact, contrast the era of Kukly to the situation in Russia today: According to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report last year, 79 percent of the population gets its news from the three national TV networks, which are either directly or indirectly controlled by the government. And it shows. You have to look long and hard for criticism of President Putin. You all saw, I suspect, the press report that employees of Russia’s largest independent radio news network have been told that at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive,” that opposition political leaders may not be mentioned on the air and that “the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy.” The first impulse is to laugh at this absurdity of such policies. But journalism in Russia is a very serious business. Even before the assassination of prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya last October and the mysterious death of reporter Ivan Safronov earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists cited Russia as the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists over the past 15 years, with 42 journalists killed since 1992. The vast majority of these crimes remain “unsolved.” Only last week we learned that a former Kremlin reporter has felt it necessary to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom. Russia tends to be a trendsetter for its neighbors. But there are various degrees of media freedom in the former USSR. In Ukraine, since the 2004 Orange Revolution, media freedom has opened up and the egregious government instructions to the media are a thing of the past. Yet even in Ukraine, anonymous threats and attacks against journalists, especially those in the regions who expose corruption, still occur too frequently, and the 2000 murder of prominent journalist Georgiy Gongadze remains “unresolved.” Elsewhere, freedom of the press is only a cherished dream of human rights activists. Soviet-era censorship survives in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which, not coincidentally, ban all political opposition. The death of a Radio Free Europe journalist while in custody in Turkmenistan demonstrates starkly how dangerous the journalist’s profession can be. In Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, electronic media are tightly controlled. Print media enjoy more latitude but their grounds for maneuver are also limited. A reporter in Kazakhstan who wrote articles implicating local officials and businessmen in the recent clashes between Kazakhs and Chechens has been missing for about a month. Kyrgyzstan is more difficult to characterize, because the state has been weaker than elsewhere in Central Asia and less capable of asserting its control of the media. But since the Tulip Revolution, restrictions on the free flow of information have loosened and I would say that free media have developed farther in Kyrgyzstan than anywhere else in Central Asia. Still, it is very disturbing that Kyrgyz authorities raided publishing houses last week, as the confrontation between the government and protesters heated up. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to reports by the State Department and OSCE’s Representative on the Media, the government seeks to control free media, especially television. In Armenia, for example, independent TV station A1+ has never been allowed back on the air since it was closed down. As for Azerbaijan, just last week, the State Department criticized Baku for the jailing of a journalist on libel charges and expressed concern about the deteriorating media situation. The use of criminal defamation and insult laws has long been used against those who criticize the government or officials, and I commend the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media for his consistent, principled focus on this area of abuse. Georgia is a particularly interesting case. Throughout the 1990s, leaders of most former Soviet states reined in the media that had blossomed under glasnost. A historic turning point came in fall 2003, when the Rose Revolution was gathering force in Georgia. Opposition leaders who refused to accept another rigged election led throngs of protesters against Eduard Shevardnadze’s government. You will recall that at a crucial moment, the Rustavi-2 TV station aligned itself with the opposition Troika and played a critical role in galvanizing the public to reject the official election results. In short order, this resistance movement mushroomed into peaceful regime change that sparked similar events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The lesson was not lost on leaders of other post-Soviet states. Shevardnadze’s counterparts in other CIS capitals were determined to avoid his fate and they resolved that no analogue to Rustavi-2 would arise on their turf. For the most part, I must say, they have pulled it off: outside Ukraine and to some degree Kyrgyzstan, nothing of the sort is permitted. In Georgia today, opposition figures maintain that Rustavi-2 has become a pro-government station. But other TV stations air broadcasts critical of President Saakashvili. Today, Russian and Uzbek media excoriate the United States for allegedly plotting more “color revolutions.” To stem the tide, a broad panoply of tactics has been deployed. Prominent among them have been the expulsion of democracy-promoting NGOs, including many U.S.-based organizations, and the throttling of media outlets. What lessons should we draw from this state of affairs? The first is that most governments of the post-Soviet states understand Thomas Jefferson quite well. They see freedom of the media as a threat which they are determined to neutralize. Second, they have been rather too successful in this endeavor. Even outside the extreme cases of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, certain topics remain taboo in most countries, specifically criticism of the head of state or revelations about high-level corruption. This is particularly true of electronic media, and first and foremost TV. However, there is some reason for hope. I believe that pressure exerted by outside forces, including foreign capitals and international organizations, including the OSCE, can have an impact. For example, last week, Kazakhstan’s Culture and Information Minister announced that in response to OSCE criticism, the government has withdrawn a bill that would have imposed licensing requirements on publishing houses. Proposed legislation to regulate the Internet has been withdrawn and he said the authorities are ready to introduce a moratorium for “distorting the truth,” to free journalists from criminal persecution. At least under certain circumstances, then, and over the longer term, outside pressure and suasion can have a positive impact – even if gradually. But this also strengthens my conviction that now is not the time cut back on U.S. broadcasting to the post-Soviet republics. Freedom of the media is in real danger there, and those seeking alternative sources of information need our help. I am determined to make sure they get it. Let me conclude by quoting a heroic Russian journalist who understood the real meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s words over two centuries ago: Anna Politkovskaya. “My job is simple: to look around and write what I see.” That is how she described her task in accepting the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 2003 Prize for Journalism and Democracy for her investigative reporting on developments in war-torn Chechnya. Last October, an assassin’s bullet brought her brilliant career and life to a sudden end. Anna knew the risks, given the death threats against her, but this courageous professional would not be deterred. Her murder is a reminder of the tremendous risks journalists take for daring to look and report on events that others prefer remain hidden.

  • Introduction of Resolution on Ukraine Political Crisis

    Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, I rise to introduce a concurrent resolution which addresses the current political crisis in Ukraine, a country of strategic importance to the United States. My resolution urges all sides to the ongoing impasse to act responsibly and use dialogue to resolve the crisis and ensure a free and democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law. I am pleased that Rep. KAPTUR, a co-chair of the Ukrainian American Caucus, has joined me as original cosponsor. Ukraine's current political conflict is the result of the ongoing power struggle that President Victor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich have now been engaged in since Yanukovich became Prime Minister last August. This power struggle, rooted in hastily conceived constitutional reforms, threatens to undermine Ukraine's hard-fought and substantial democratic gains, especially those won since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Exactly 2 weeks ago today, President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving parliament, asserting that the Prime Minister was attempting to monopolize power, and called for new parliamentary elections for May 27. Parliament has refused to disband and questions the legality of the presidential decree. Ukraine's Constitutional Court is to rule on the legality of the decree and both sides have agreed to abide by the Court's decision. Unfortunately, some of the Court's judges have already complained of threats and pressure, especially from Yanukovich's supporters. Clearly, this is unacceptable and steps have been taken to protect the judges. Madam Speaker, it is important to note that Ukraine has made real democratic gains since the Orange Revolution. A year ago, as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I had the privilege of leading the OSCE-Ied International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine's parliamentary elections and the pleasure and profound satisfaction of pronouncing them free and fair. Also, in contrast to the first 13 years of its independence, Ukraine in now designated by Freedom House as a ``free'' country, and not merely ``partly free.'' Nevertheless, despite the progress, there have been missed opportunities and some of the promises of that historic revolution have gone unfulfilled. Democratic institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine are still emerging and fragile and lacking in their ability to safeguard democratic gains, and it is this weakness that has made it possible for this power struggle to ripen into a full-blown political crisis. First and foremost, my resolution calls for the crisis to be resolved in a manner that adheres to the rule of law consistent with Ukraine's democratic values and national security, in keeping with its OSCE commitments. It is also essential that the dispute is resolved in a peaceful manner. I am encouraged that demonstrations in Kyiv have been peaceful and that all sides to the dispute appear to recognize that any kind of violent conflict would have very negative consequences for Ukraine. Madam Speaker, prolonged instability is clearly not in Ukraine's interests and that nation's political leaders need to find a transparent way out of the current impasse that all parties will abide by. I hope that responsible dialogue consistent with the rule of law leads to a positive outcome for the Ukrainian people and the democratic path they have chosen. As this resolution underscores, Congress has been a staunch supporter of the development of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine since the restoration of that nation's independence in 1991. The consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine will further strengthen that country's independence and sovereignty, enhancing Ukraine's aspirations for full integration with the West. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution as a demonstration of Congress' interest, concern, and support for the Ukrainian people. By Mr. HASTINGS of Florida (for himself, Ms. KAPTUR, and Mr. LEVIN):  H. Con. Res. 115. Concurrent resolution urging all sides to the current political crisis in Ukraine to act responsibly and use dialogue to resolve the crisis and ensure a free and transparent democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law; to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

  • Remarks by Ambassador Clifford G. Bond at the International Forum Bosnia

    It is good to be back in Sarajevo again and I feel very much at home in this city and this country. When Dr. Mahmutcehajic invited me to speak at today’s conference on “American Policy in the Western Balkans,” I suggested that it might be best if I provided a perspective on the on-going work of the Helsinki Commission, which is where I am currently serving, and its impact on U.S. policy in the Balkans. The Commission is a unique institution made up of members of the U.S. Congress. It is not an easy task to generalize about the views of Commission members since each representative and senator is independent. Those who serve on the Commission do so because they share a commitment to human rights and democracy, and want to have an impact on U.S. engagement on these issues especially in the OSCE area, but beyond as well. Congress’ role in foreign policy, as in other areas, is to ensure that policy reflects the democratically expressed will of the American people. It balances the expertise of diplomats at the State Department and other Executive Branch agencies with a consideration of what the public will support. This is one reason why U.S. foreign policy has taken a more comprehensive view of security that includes democratic development and human rights, as opposed to a more “realpolik” view of the world. This was evident in the Balkans throughout the 1990s. In response to conflict in Bosnia, for example, many in Congress pressed the Bush and later Clinton Administration for a more activist and a more interventionist response. Members of Congress, including members of the Commission at that time, were among the first in government to advocate not only for efforts to contain the conflict but for decisive action, including the use of force if necessary, to stop it. Whenever I addressed an audience in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the past, the question invariably arose of whether the Balkans remained a priority for the U.S. Obviously the region receives much less attention today than it did 10 years ago. But it would be incorrect to say that the Balkans is ignored and developments on the ground are not being followed on Capitol Hill. There remains an understanding within Congress that the work of the international community is incomplete in this region and that the states of the western Balkans deserve to be integrated into Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions. This has sustained Congressional support for NATO enlargement and the process of EU integration of the western Balkans, a view that runs even deeper among members of the Helsinki Commission. Moreover, at the initiative of representatives of the more than 300,000 members of the Bosnian-American diaspora, a new bipartisan Bosnian Caucus is being set up within Congress to focus on and support issues of importance to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region. The Helsinki Process and the Commission Now let me say a few words about the work of the Helsinki Commission. As I said, it is an independent agency created by Congress in 1976 to advance human rights and encourage compliance with the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, particularly its human rights commitments. The Commission is composed of members of both houses of the U.S. Congress. Successive agreements within the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have expanded these common Helsinki standards into a whole framework of human and humanitarian rights. These have come to be termed the “human dimension” of the OSCE’s work. These agreements are not treaties, but political commitments which all participating states, including Bosnia and its neighbors, have adopted on the basis of consensus. Significantly, however, these same states have agreed that these are issues of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states of the OSCE and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned. Democracy and human rights are thus matters of international concern. This has created a Helsinki process of bilateral and multilateral dialogue that includes the active participation of NGOs as well as governments in assessing the level of compliance with these common commitments. One element of that process is an annual review of implementation which takes place in Warsaw. I participated in the 2006 session and can assure you that it provided a forum for frank and open exchange of how our countries are or are not living up to our OSCE commitments. My own government faced serious criticism in terms of some aspects of its conduct of the fight against terrorism. Since 1989, Europe has undergone an historic transformation and the OSCE has played a vital role in this process of transition to democracy, particularly in the post conflict situation in the western Balkans. Much of this work has been driven on the ground by its field missions, such as the one headed here in Sarajevo by Ambassador Davidson. The Commission believes strongly that this work remains critical to the states of the western Balkans in helping them to overcome a legacy of communism and war. A permanent democratic transformation in the western Balkans will require a rethinking of the overall conditions of society with an aim of protecting rights and instituting peaceful change. Public debate needs to be expanded beyond a discussion of group rights to the rights of the individual and improving the overall quality and dignity of life, which is the essence of the OSCE’s human dimension. This process has not advanced nearly as far as it must to build modern societies in the region. Integration through Consolidating Democracy and Rule of Law Let me now review some of the areas of particular interest to the Commission and its members and where it will be pushing to influence U.S. policy in future. These are areas where I think more public debate and more active local NGO engagement with governments in the region will be essential. As I said, the Commission has been a strong advocate for the integration of the region into Euro-Atlantic institutions. This remains the best long term strategy for securing both peace and prosperity. The key to that integration is consolidating democracy, rule of law and good governance. There has been tremendous progress in this regard, but complacency must be avoided. Political leaders in Bosnia have come to realize that reforming their Dayton-era constitution in ways that make the government more functional and compatible with EU requirements is a necessary step. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution (S. Res 400, 109th Congress) last year voicing support for this constitutional reform process. It did not advocate for specific changes, which must be decided by the people of Bosnia, not the international community. From the perspective of the Helsinki Commission, however, we think it critical that reforms, in addition to changes in the structure of government, guarantee the human and civic rights of all the citizens of BiH. As you know, the current constitutional provisions restrict Serbs living in the Federation, Bosniaks and Croats living in the RS, and non-constituent peoples, no matter in what part of the country they reside, from running for the post of BiH presidency. This is a violation of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. This inability of all citizens to fully participate in BiH’s political life should be corrected. If we look at elections as another benchmark of progress in consolidating democracy, we can see that virtually all countries in the western Balkans are approaching the international standards for free and fair elections. Last October’s elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were judged by the OSCE to be in line with international standards. Similarly the general elections held recently in Serbia were judged by OSCE as being conducted in a free and fair manner. Going beyond the technical conduct of these elections, however, the results and the tenor of the elections in the region are a matter of concern. In Bosnia nationalistic campaign rhetoric approached pre-war levels and polarized the electorate along ethnic lines. In Serbia the strong showing of the Serbian Radical Party and statements by other politicians indicated a lack of willingness among a large part of the population to come to terms with the crimes committed during the Milosevic era. Hopefully, over time, democratic forces in the region will prevail and a true reconciliation can be achieved. Without a meaningful break with the past and a full recognition in Serbia and the Republika Srpska (RS) of the crimes that were committed during the Milosevic era, however, this task will be immensely more difficult to accomplish. The decision of the International Court of Justice on February 26 does not change the need for this recognition or absolve Serbia or the Republika Srpska of responsibility in this regard. The ICJ confirmed an act of genocide was committed and that Serbia was in a unique position to prevent it. By failing to do so, Serbia violated the Genocide Convention and continues to violate it by not bringing the perpetrators of that genocide to justice. The court’s decision also makes clear that the full responsibility for conducting that genocide lies with the leadership and members of the military in the RS at that time. Unfinished Business It was to bring war criminals to justice and to determine the objective truth of what occurred in the Balkans that the Helsinki Commission was an early proponent of the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has pressed all countries in the region to fully cooperate with the Tribunal. The Commission has welcomed the establishment of the War Crimes Chamber within the BiH State Court, and the decision to transfer more cases from The Hague to the region for local prosecution. Despite building this indigenous capacity to conduct trials, there is a strongly felt sense within the Commission that the work of the International Tribunal should not be concluded until Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are brought to justice. The real message that Belgrade should take from the ICJ’s verdict on February 26 and convey to these indicted war criminals is that: “your time is up.” Other consequences of the war are still being dealt with. More than ten years after Dayton, additional mass graves continue to be uncovered. The Helsinki Commission recently organized a briefing on Capitol Hill at which Amor Masovic reported on the work of the State Missing Persons Commission. We believe that international support for determining the identification of these missing persons must continue. The right of refugees and displaced persons from the Balkan conflicts to return home has not been fully guaranteed. The 2005 Sarajevo Declaration on Refugee Return and Integration was a notable achievement in this regard, but implementation of this trilateral arrangement has been too slow. The Commission has urged Bosnia and Croatia and Serbia in particular to intensify efforts to ensure durable solutions for resettlement are found and displaced persons and refugees given access to all rights, including the right to property and citizenship. The legal issues involved are complicated, but with political will these can be managed and refugees re-integrated into society. In the midst of war in the 1990’s the region was confronted with a new and dangerous form of organized crime – human trafficking. Considerable progress has been made in the region in combating this modern day form of slavery, but even greater efforts are required. Trafficking also needs to be looked upon as not just as one field of criminal activity, but as part of a wider issue of corruption in the region. While criminals organize this activity, it is corruption that allows them to get away with it or go unpunished when caught. Preventing Future Conflict A fundamental principle behind the Helsinki Final Act is that there can be no true security without a commitment to democracy and human rights. Addressing the root causes of intolerance and discrimination are therefore essential to preventing future conflict in the region. The OSCE has done pioneering work in this area and is developing programs to prevent hate crimes and discrimination by confronting the sources of intolerance and by strengthening respect for ethnic and religious diversity. In a series of high level conferences the OSCE has sought to encourage states to collect hate crimes statistics, share information and strengthen education to combat intolerance as well as increase training of law enforcement officials. This is clearly a subject of importance to the entire region and governments should be cooperating in this work. We want to encourage regional participation at the next high level meeting on tolerance to be held in June in Bucharest. The Romanian government is now putting together an agenda which will cover racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance against Muslims and Christians as well as relevant programs to combat this discrimination. We want the conference to consider ways that our societies can move beyond tolerance to acceptance and recognition of diversity. I hope we can count on broad government and NGO representation from the region, but particularly from Bosnia, at the conference. Bosnia can and should be a leader in promoting dialogue among religious groups. We would very much like to see Bosnia host an OSCE event on this theme in future. At the Warsaw human dimension’s meeting last year there was only one Bosnian NGO represented. This was the National Council of Roma, but its participation was very significant for us. The plight of the Roma has been a special concern of the Helsinki Commission. No group within the former Yugoslavia has faced discrimination and exclusion so broadly as the Roma have. They continue to be deprived of housing and property rights, face difficulties in accessing personal documents and establishing citizenship. Many have no access to healthcare or education. In view of this widespread discrimination, not just within the Balkans but throughout Europe, the OSCE has sought to address the specific problems of the Roma. Your local Bosnian Helsinki Committee has also recently translated a human rights manual into Romani and I hope this will assist this marginalized community to assert and defend its rights. Eight governments of central and southeastern Europe have taken their own political initiative, titled the “Decade of Roma Inclusion,” to close the gap in welfare and living conditions between the Roma and non-Roma in their societies. Their aim is to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion by 2015. Several of the western Balkan states are active in this initiative. My understanding is that Bosnia is not yet a participant. It should be. One way to judge a society is by how well it protects the rights of those least able to realize them on their own. Any sincere effort to create modern, rights-based societies in the Balkans cannot overlook the plight and abuse of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the Roma. Among fundamental freedoms is the right to religious expression and belief. This is an issue of deep concern to Commission members. The right to practice your faith is no more secure than your readiness to acknowledge the right of others to practice theirs. Since the fall of communism various laws have been adopted in the region to provide for religious freedom, but these have unfortunately had the effect in some respects of restricting this fundamental right. They set numerical thresholds for the registration of religious groups, discriminate in favor traditional faiths, and place limits on free speech and proselytizing. These restrictions are particularly burdensome to new religious denominations and can lead to harassment against and stigmatization of their members. Albania, in contrast, has adopted a progressive law which provides for a neutral registration system that is applied universally. This is a model others in the region should consider adopting. Meanwhile, there is a need to step up efforts to respect the sanctity and ensure the safety of places of worship that have been targets of ethnically based violence in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. Governments need to adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach in responding to such provocations. Finally let me address the situation of Kosovo. The pending decision on the final status of Kosovo has given rise to much anxiety and apprehension in the region. Much of the debate on Kosovo has focused on the larger issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination. Within Congress and even within the Helsinki Commission reaching a consensus on the right outcome in Kosovo is difficult, but two things are clear. First, there is no connection between Kosovo’s future and the recognized sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Second, whatever form a Kosovo settlement takes, the fundamental issue in the Commission’s view is whether or not it improves the respect for human rights, especially the rights of those people belonging to the Serb, Roma and other minority communities. Those rights include the protection of property and the right of return for displaced persons. Any settlement should also encourage a process of integration and inclusion of these minority communities within a broader Kosovo society. From this perspective the proposed plan of UN Special Envoy Ahtissari can serves as a solid basis for compromise. Even if Belgrade and Pristina cannot agree on the issue of status, they should be engaged in serious negotiations to protect the rights of these minority communities. But whatever becomes of Kosovo, the OSCE and other international human rights standards must apply there and the OSCE must be fully involved in monitoring implementation of any settlement to assure these rights are respected. Conclusion My remarks have focused on some areas of concern, but let me say in conclusion that the region of the western Balkans has come a long way since the 1990’s. The international community has made a substantial investment in the peace, stability and reconstruction in the region, and we welcome this progress. Slovenia is a full-fledged member of NATO and the EU. Croatia is well on the road to membership in both, and Macedonia and Albania are making progress in the right direction. In a welcome development at the end of last year, Bosnia, Serbia and newly independent Montenegro were invited to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. The regional trajectory is positive. More importantly, the EU and NATO have made a political commitment to include all of the western Balkan states into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and recognized that Europe will be incomplete without your countries. That does not relieve you of the responsibility to meet the conditions of membership in these institutions, but it does offer a bright future for the region. The issues your societies now face are perhaps less dramatic than achieving peace was a decade and more ago. These are issues of complying with human rights norms and improving the quality of life and the relationship between the individual and his or her government. These issues should be a matter of open, public debate in local and regional fora like this one. For too long nationalism and an “us versus them” mentality have dominated public discussion and driven politics in the region. It is time politicians on all sides put down the megaphones and drop the rhetoric that they have been using to polarize the situation. A new dialogue based on an open discussion of these human issues needs to replace it. This is essential to preventing future conflict, promoting economic and social development and sustaining peace. Only political will on the part of governments and party leaders and the full engagement of NGOs and citizens in this Helsinki process of dialogue can get this job done and complete the transition of the western Balkan states into permanent and stable democracies.  

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge passage of H.R. 5948, the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, to provide sustained support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. Mr. Speaker, I especially thank you for your commitment to bring this legislation before this Congress. Your deep personal interest in the cause of freedom in Belarus, as demonstrated by your recent meetings in Vilnius with the leaders of the democratic opposition, has been particularly appreciated by those struggling for the rule of law and basic human freedoms. This legislation enjoys bipartisan support, and I want to recognize and thank the tremendous collaboration of Rep. Tom Lantos, an original cosponsor of this bill.  As one who has followed developments in Belarus over many years through my work on the Helsinki Commission, I remain deeply concerned that the Belarusian people continue to be subjected to the arbitrary and self-serving whims of a corrupt and anti-democratic regime headed by Aleksandr Lukashenka. Since the blatantly fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, which the OSCE condemned as having failed to meet international democratic standards, the pattern of repression and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While those who would dare oppose the regime are especially targeted, the reality is that all in Belarus outside Lukashenka’s inner circle pay a price. Recent news regarding Lukashenka’s regime Last week in Riga, President Bush pledged to help the people of Belarus in the face of the "cruel regime" led by President Lukashenka. "The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and the conscience of America," Bush said, adding that "we have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom." Mr. Speaker, this legislation would be a concrete expression of Congress’ commitment to the Belarusian people and would show that we stand as one in supporting freedom for Belarus. Just within the last few months, we have witnessed a series of patently political trials designed to further stifle peaceful, democratic opposition. In October, 60-year-old human rights activist Katerina Sadouskaya was sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Her “crime”? “Insulting the honor and dignity of the Belarusian leader.” Mr. Speaker, if this isn’t reminiscent of the Soviet Union, I don’t know what is. And just a few weeks ago, in a closed trial, Belarusian youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich received a one-and-a-half year sentence for “activities on behalf of an unregistered organization.”  A report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued this past March reveals Lukashenka’s links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies’ corrupt activities. According to an October 9, 2006, International Herald Tribune op-ed: “Alarmingly, over the last six years, Belarus has intensified its illegal arms shipment activities to the point of becoming the leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic state sponsors of terrorism.” I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised that in July, Lukashenka warmly welcomed to Minsk Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. In keeping with their bent, both pledged cooperation and denounced the West. More recently, Belarusian Foreign Minister Martynov traveled to Iran where President Ahmadinejad pledged further cooperation in the energy and defense industries. Not long ago, a member of Belarus’ bogus parliament asserted on state-controlled radio that Belarus has the right to develop its own nuclear weapons. Mr. Speaker and Colleagues, Belarus is truly an anomaly in Europe, swimming against the rising tide of greater freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.  The Legislation  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction Aleksandr Lukashenka and his cronies is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring the promise of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain this momentum aimed at upholding the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. With the continuing decline on the ground in Belarus since the fraudulent March elections, this bill is needed now more than ever.  This reauthorization bill demonstrates the sustained U.S. support for Belarus’ independence. We seek to encourage those struggling for democracy and respect for human rights in the face of the formidable pressures and personal risks from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill further authorizes monies for both radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to penetrate Lukashenka’s stifling information blockade. Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Administration will make this a priority.  In addition, H.R. 5948 calls for selective sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and the denial of entry into the United States for senior officials of the regime – as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses. In this context, I welcome the punitive sanctions imposed by both the Administration and the EU which are targeted against officials – including judges and prosecutors – involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  The bill expresses the sense of the Congress that strategic exports to the Government of Belarus should be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance. Of course, we would not want the exports to affect humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions are encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, we would encourage the blocking of the assets (in the United States) of members of the Belarus Government as well as the senior leadership and their surrogates. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department’s April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush’s June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it crystal clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of all Belarusians.  Ongoing Anti-Democratic Behavior To chronicle the full litany of repression over the course of Lukashenka’s 12-year misrule would go well beyond the bounds of time available here. Let me cite several more recent illustrations of anti-democratic behavior which testify to the true nature of the regime.  Belarus’ March 19 presidential elections can only be described as a farce, and were met with condemnation by the United States, the OSCE, the European Union and others. The Lukashenka regime’s wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists and dozens of Belarusian and foreign journalists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of peaceful post-election protests underscore the contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward their countrymen.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential “elections” in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation. Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  In the last few months, the regime continues to show its true colors, punishing those who would dare to challenge the tin-pot dictator. Former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to a politically-motivated five-and-one-half-years’ term of imprisonment for alleged “hooliganism” and disturbing the peace. His health is precarious as he is now well into his second month of a hunger strike.  In early August, authorities sentenced four activists of the non-partisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”. In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, the four had been kept in custody since February 21. Two were released, having served their six month sentences. Two others, Tsimafei Dranchuk and Mikalay Astreyka, received stiffer sentences, although Astreyka has been released from a medium security colony and is now in “correctional labor”. Other political prisoners, including Artur Finkevich, Mikalay Autukhovich, Andrey Klimau, Ivan Kruk, Yury Lyavonau, Mikalay Razumau, Pavel Sevyarynets, Mikalay Statkevich also continue to have their freedom denied, languishing in prison or in so-called correctional labor camps.  Administrative detentions of ten or fifteen days against democratic opposition activists are almost a daily occurrence. Moreover, the Lukashenka regime continued to stifle religious expression. It refuses to register churches, temporarily detains pastors, threatens to expel foreign clergy, and refuses religious groups the use of premises to hold services. Despite the repressions, Protestant and Catholic congregations have increasingly become more active in their pursuit of religious freedom. I am also concerned about the recent explosion at a Holocaust memorial in western Belarus, the sixth act of vandalism against the monument in 14 years. Unfortunately, the local authorities have reportedly refused to open a criminal investigation. Lukashenka’s minions have closed down independent think tanks, further tightened the noose around what remains of the independent media, suspended the activities of a political party, shut down the prominent literary journal Arche, and evicted the Union of Belarusian Writers from its headquarters. Of course, Lukashenka’s pattern of contempt for human rights is nothing new – it has merely intensified with the passage of time.  Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders.  Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help end to the pattern of violations of OSCE human rights and democracy commitments by the Lukashenka regime and loosen its unhealthy monopoly on political and economic power. I hope our efforts here today will facilitate independent Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected. The beleaguered Belarusian people have suffered so much over the course of the last century and deserve better than to live under a regime frighteningly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The struggle of the people of Belarus for dignity and freedom deserves our unyielding and consistent support.  This legislation is important and timely because Belarus, which now borders on NATO and the EU, continues to have the worst human rights and democracy record of any European state – bar none.

  • 15th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence

    Mr. Speaker, August 24th marked the fifteenth anniversary of Ukraine’s rebirth as an independent state, finally being freed from the shackles of Soviet misrule that included a reign of terror, cultural suppression and a genocidal famine. The last fifteen years have witnessed peaks and valleys as the Ukrainian people have struggled to overcome the legacy of communism and Moscow’s imperialism. While the process of Ukraine’s restoration is still a work in progress, great strides have been made to consolidate that nation as an independent, free and democratic state. The December 1,1991 referendum on independence, the 1996 Constitution and especially the 2004 Orange Revolution stand as highlights, demonstrating Ukrainian resolve for independence, rule of law, democracy and freedom, and the continuing promise of a better life. In contrast to the first 13 years of independence, Ukraine is now “free”, and not merely “partly free.” The March 26 parliamentary election was one of the freest and fairest ever held among post-Soviet states. The Ukrainian economy is on the road to recovery and development after the initial post-Soviet decline of the 1990s. Ukraine is a responsible neighbor and has shown its mettle as a partner for peace and security in the world. Of course, challenges remain despite the real progress that has been made. There have been missed opportunities. Many of the promises of the Orange Revolution are only partially fulfilled. The rule of law, including a truly independent judiciary, remains to be consolidated. Corruption, although not as egregious as before the Orange Revolution, still rears its ugly head. Many Ukrainians believe all too many among the political elites look first toward their personal interests rather than to the good of the people and of the nation they are supposed to serve. As the last months have demonstrated, political stability can be elusive, and it remains to be seen what direction the new government will take. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to show tremendous potential, and I am firmly convinced that this still relatively young 15-year-old independent state will fulfill its potential. Mr. Speaker, in looking over the last fifteen years, we must not forget the sacrifices of millions who fought for Ukraine’s liberty over the course of the last century, often against great odds and at great personal risk. Whether in the struggle for Ukraine’s short-lived independence in 1918–21, or the insurgent armies that fought against both Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II, many Ukrainians made the ultimate sacrifice. More recently, in the final decades of Soviet domination, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and other human rights activists challenged the system, calling upon the Kremlin to live up to commitments voluntarily undertaken when Leonid Brezhnev signed the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. One such renowned activist, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitor Nadia Svitlychna, who served three years in a Soviet labor camp for her tireless defense of human rights and freedom, died last month. We honor the memory of Mrs. Svitlychna, recalling that it was courageous and dedicated individuals like her who, as much as anyone, paved the way for an independent, democratic Ukraine. Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the role that the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has played throughout its 30-year existence in firmly supporting human rights and freedom for Ukraine. I am pleased that the Congress has stood firm in support of Ukraine and am confident that the United States will continue to extend the hand of friendship as Ukraine moves toward its rightful place as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

  • Kazakhstan's Candidacy for OSCE Chairmanship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • From the Maidan to Main Street: Ukraine's Landmark Democratic Parliamentary Elections

    By Commission Staff While pundits attempt to sort out the political meaning of Ukraine’s March 26th parliamentary elections to fill the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the significance of the conduct of the elections should not be missed.  “Free and fair” was the resounding assessment of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) that also included observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Office of Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR).  This unqualified positive appraisal – a first among the 12 former Soviet republics outside the Baltics that have conducted scores of elections since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – underscores the consolidation of democratic gains made in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution following years of political stagnation. These clean March 26th elections stood in stark contrast to the fatally flawed first rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections that ushered in popular revolt sixteen months earlier.  Coming on the heels of the blatantly undemocratic presidential “elections” in neighboring Belarus a week earlier, comparisons were inevitable.  The Rada elections also followed a series of recent electoral contests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which to varying degrees fell short of international standards.  The OSCE assessment in Ukraine returns the “free and fair” formulation to the lexicon of international election observations, departing from the heavily nuanced appraisals that have become common in recent years.  This development has potentially significant implications for future OSCE observations, especially with parliamentary and presidential elections expected in Russia in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was appointed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to serve as Special Coordinator for short-term observers.  Commission staff observed on Election Day, as part of the IEOM deployment of 914 observers coming from 45 OSCE countries including Russia.  In all, the group examined voting and the vote count in nearly 3,000 polling stations.  The Commission contingent observed balloting throughout the Kiev and Cherkasy regions. The Ukrainian Government declined to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an entity discredited in the eyes of many for its effusive praise of fundamentally flawed elections elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including Belarus’ undemocratic March 19 presidential contest.  The CIS stood out for its sharply critical evaluation of Ukraine’s December 26, 2004 presidential elections that resulted in Victor Yushchenko’s victory in elections widely considered to have met democratic standards.  Ukraine has refused to participate further in CIS monitoring missions.  The two dozen Russian Duma observers present offered tempered, mixed opinions about the conduct of Rada elections.   Whatever shortcomings there were in these elections – and no undertaking of this scale is perfect – they appear to have resulted from late or otherwise poor planning.  Among these were delays in the formation of some district and precinct election commissions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, long lines and crowding at some polling stations, and lingering inaccuracies in voter lists.  On the positive side of the balance sheet were the significantly freer media and decidedly more balanced media coverage; no systematic use of administrative resources; the transparent, consensual and professional administration of the elections at all levels; inclusion of domestic, non-partisan observers; and an overhaul of voter lists.        Election day began early with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m.  There were over 34,000 polling stations.  Adding to the vibrancy of the elections was the large number of domestic observers, an indication of buy-in on the part of Ukrainians young and old alike with many affiliated with particular parties or candidates and others representing NGOs.  Upon entering the polling stations, one was struck by walls plastered with informational bulletins on candidates and parties.  Forty-five parties and blocs vied for seats in parliament.  While the international community was mainly focused on the parliamentary balloting, voting was also underway for regional and local government.  Voters were thus presented with four lengthy ballots: national and regional as well as local councils and mayoral races.  While some older voters were befuddled by this collection of papers, most voters seemed to take it in stride.  Election commission poll workers seemed attentive to their duties.  This was put to the test in the complicated tabulation process that began, once polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m., typically involving the sorting and counting of thousands of papers.  Processing the Rada results alone went into the wee hours of morning, with the three remaining stacks of ballots from other contests proceeding well past daybreak. The undeniable success of the domestic observation in these elections, buttressed by years of investment in training and support by the United States and others, raises obvious questions about the need for future international observations in Ukraine.  Has the time come to “graduate” Ukraine from such scrutiny and leave that necessary task to Ukrainian stakeholders themselves?  Many believe the March 26th elections confirm that that time has come, especially if Ukraine continues on its increasingly democratic trajectory.  The greater and more prominent role of domestic observers, also reinforces the notion that the time for Ukraine’s “graduation” has come.  Indeed, the OSCE should continue to encourage domestic stakeholders to prove themselves to their own people. The Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square that featured so prominently in the massive demonstrations by orange-clad protesters in November 2004 and the jubilant crowds following Yushchenko’s victory a few weeks later, was calm on the Monday following the Rada elections.  Strolling past this bustling area, Ukrainians were going about their routines, perhaps an indicator that the politics of democracy has moved from the Maidan to the Main Streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Whatever the pundits may declaim regarding the election results or the continuing strength of the Orange Revolution, what seemed palpable was a keen appreciation for the business of governing.  Neither a democratic revolution nor a single “free and fair” election are guarantees that the resulting government will be in a position to immediately deal with the basic needs of its people.  Overcoming these obstacles will have a profound impact on how the next government meets the political and economic challenges Ukraine faces at home and abroad.                   What we can say with confidence is that the March 26th elections were a further essential step in the process of overcoming the legacy of the past – a history marred by foreign domination, genocidal famine, denial of political and cultural freedom, and more recently political stagnation.  Today, the people of Ukraine are removing the overgrowth of thorns – an image alluded to by the great poet Taras Shevchenko – that prevented them for so long from pursuing their own pathway to a brighter and more prosperous future.

  • Regarding H.R. 1053, Authorizing the Extension of Permanent Normal Trade Relations Treatment to Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, one year ago, in my capacity as Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I traveled to Ukraine with my colleague and Chairman, Congressman Chris Smith. We made our trip shortly after the historic Orange Revolution, and I was impressed by the commitment of Ukraine’s new leaders to consolidate democracy, promote respect for human rights, and modernize the country’s economy.  I also was impressed by the leaders’ commitment to further integrate Ukraine into the European and Euro-Atlantic community. I am not the only one to have been impressed by Ukraine’s efforts.  International organizations, such as Freedom House, have acknowledged Ukraine’s progress in recent years in protecting the political rights and civil liberties of its citizens. Mr. Speaker, I believe Congress should demonstrate its support for Ukraine’s reforms by approving legislation today that would grant Ukraine Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, and thereby take it one step closer to becoming a member of the WTO. The passage of PNTR for Ukraine also will show Congress’ support for the efforts of the Yushchenko government to ensure that the upcoming March 26 parliamentary elections will be free and fair.  I am pleased that my Helsinki Commission colleague from Florida, Congressman Alcee Hastings, has been appointed as the OSCE PA Special Coordinator for our election observation mission there, and I look forward to reviewing the mission’s findings and report. So far, the pre-election process, while not completely problem-free, has been dramatically different from the period leading up to the fraudulent elections of November 2004, which ignited the Orange Revolution. In the 2004 election, the Ukrainian government instructed the media about how to cover the elections and systematically abused government resources.  In contrast, the upcoming elections are expected to be free and fair.  Mr. Speaker, I also would like to take a few moments to comment on the issue that underlies the legislation we are considering today. The issue Congress is formally considering today is whether to withdraw the application of the “Jackson-Vanik” amendment to Ukraine and thereby grant Ukraine permanent normal trade relations status. The Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was adopted in 1975, was intended to provide a way for the United States to deny trade benefits to countries that are denying the rights of its citizens, particularly religious minorities. Mr. Speaker, in light of the commitment that Ukraine has demonstrated to protecting the rights of religious minorities, I think it is appropriate that we withdraw the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Ukraine today. Since independence, each successive government of Ukraine has demonstrated a consistent commitment to defending the religious and ethnic rights of all the people of Ukraine.   Current President Victor Yushchenko has continued this unambiguous commitment by pledging to bring minority groups together and reconciling historic conflicts. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2005, published by the U.S. State Department, recognizes that “President Yushchenko has, since taking office, spoken publicly about his vision of a Ukraine in which religious freedom flourishes and people are genuinely free to worship as they please.” It must be understood, however, that there remain issues of concern – most notably the return of communal, religious property that was confiscated during the Soviet era, and the anti-Semitic activities of Ukraine’s largest private university – the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP). Mr. Speaker, I have raised both these issues in recent days with the Ambassador from Ukraine and other Ukrainian officials, and I have been impressed by their commitment to addressing these issues. Ukrainian officials have assured me that the government is committed to continuing its efforts to return communal property as required under current law, and that the Government of Ukraine will continue to condemn, at the highest levels, the anti-Semitic activities of the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Mr. Speaker, given these concerns, I am pleased that the legislation we are considering today highlights the importance Government of Ukraine’s continuing commitment to ensuring freedom of religion, respect for minorities, and eliminating intolerance. Mr. Speaker, shortly I will yield time to the gentleman from California, Mr. Lantos, the ranking member of the International Relations Committee, and our leader in Congress on issues of human rights, democracy, and religious freedom.  Mr. Lantos is the leader in Congress of our Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism, and I want to thank him for working with me, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE as we have also battled against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. Ukraine has agreed to certain commitments to fight anti-Semitism – as have all 55 Participating States in the OSCE – and let me make it crystal clear today that we intend to hold Ukraine to those commitments, including their responsibility to denounce anti-Semitic statements, vigorously enforce hate crimes laws, and promote diversity and tolerance in school curricula.  I am pleased that Section 1, paragraph 4 of the resolution before us today references these OSCE commitments. Let me make a personal reflection here.  During my visit to Ukraine last year, I also visited two monuments – the Ukraine Famine memorial, honoring the millions of victims of Stalin’s genocidal 1932-1933 famine, and Babi Yar, where hundreds of thousands of Jews and others were massacred by the Nazis during World War II. Mr. Speaker, it was a very moving experience for me to lay wreaths at the sites of these two memorials. These horrific events were a testament to the cruelty and intolerance of dictatorships.  I do believe that today’s independent Ukraine now understands that respect for human rights and a commitment to democracy and tolerance are the best inoculation against horrors like the Famine and Babi Yar.  The U.S. Government, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE look forward to working with a democratic Ukraine as they continue to build their institutions of democracy, establish the rule of law, protect human rights and religious freedom, and combat corruption. In closing, I commend Ukraine for its progress in promoting political and economic freedom for its citizens, and its integration into the global, rules-based economy.  I urge my colleagues to join me in demonstrating support for Ukraine’s efforts by voting today to grant the country permanent normal trade relations status.

  • Congratulating the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I congratulate the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund on the launch of the Chornobyl 20 Commemorative airlift.  This feat builds upon the Fund’s impressive record of having sent 31 airlifts and 16 sea shipments to Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid valued at over $53 million.  The airlifts are just one aspect of CCRDF’s vital and far-reaching work over the last 15 years in helping the most vulnerable in Ukraine – her children.  And, as a Congressman from New Jersey, I’m proud of the work of CCRDF and its supporters in the Cherry Hill-Marlton, Trenton area.   Ten years ago, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on the 10th anniversary of Chornobyl, at which CCRDF Executive Director Alex Kuzma and other witnesses, including then Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak offered compelling testimony addressing the health and demographic consequences of the word’s worst nuclear disaster.  I’m pleased that Ambassador Shamshur has accepted the Helsinki Commission’s invitation to testify at our Chornobyl 20th anniversary hearing which will be held on April 25th.   As a strong advocate of the health of all children, including the unborn, Chornobyl is of special concern.  In Ukraine and Belarus, there is growing evidence of a steep increase in birth defects, especially an alarming 4-fold increase in spina bifida that has been documented by the Ukrainian-American Association for the Prevention of Birth Defects.  Many other forms of birth defects have doubled since Chornobyl, including cataracts, deformed limbs and fingers and cleft palates.  Recent Israeli-Ukrainian studies have shown that children born to Chornobyl liquidators have a seven-fold increase in chromosome damage as compared to their siblings born prior to the Chornobyl disaster.   Last year, I authored language that was included in the State Department Authorization Act authorizing funding for assistance to improve maternal and prenatal care, especially for the purpose of helping prevent birth defects and pregnancy complications.  The monies would be for individuals in Belarus and Ukraine involved in the cleanup of the region affected by the Chornobyl disaster.  We need to make sure that Chornobyl health studies and efforts to prevent birth defects through the distribution of folic acid and better prenatal care receive sufficient funding.  These are funding priorities that I will continue to pursue.   The public health research community was caught off guard by the massive 80-fold increase in thyroid cancer among Chornobyl children in Belarus in 1993, and the world community needs to remain vigilant for other forms of cancer that may begin to emerge now that the 20-year latency period has ended.   We need to remember that the half-life of radioactive cesium is 30 years.  Thousands of children are still being exposed to dangerously high levels of radionuclides in contaminated areas of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine, as well as far-flung areas in Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe that also suffered from radioactive fallout.  There is still much that remains to be done to overcome the devastating effects of Chornobyl, and it is important for the international community – both governments and non-governmental organizations – to remember that Chornobyl is not just a Ukrainian, Belarusian or Russian problem.  The fallout will require continued international attention and commitment.   We also need ongoing support for organizations like CCRDF that have worked for 16 years to provide state-of-the-art medical technology, physician training and humanitarian aid to give Ukrainian children a fighting chance to overcome cancer and leukemia. Clearly, there is much work that remains to be done.  Again, I commend the devoted leadership, staff, volunteers and supporters of CCRDF for your tireless work and deep commitment to a most noble cause.   

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

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

  • 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.

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